Louis C.K. refuses to be canceled.
Two years ago, the comedian admitted that he had abused his standing within the industry to satisfy his pervy predilection for masturbating in front of young women.
As a result, C.K. faced harsh repercussions. His movie, “I Love You, Daddy,” was pulled just before it was due to be distributed; two television networks severed ties with him; and the Disney Channel even redubbed a character he had voiced in three episodes of an old animated show. All in all, C.K. estimates that he lost $35 million as a result of the scandal.
When it was announced that, as part of his rehabilitation tour, C.K. would be performing here in Israel, this particular fan was torn. I have enjoyed and written about his television work for years — his self-funded “Horace and Pete” remains one of the most innovative and exciting shows of recent years — and his stand-up specials have withstood the test of time.
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C.K. returned to the stage in August 2018, just nine months after the scandal erupted and without having fully addressed the allegations. He claimed all along that he had always sought consent from the women, but did not seem to understand the underlying problem: He had abused his position as a successful and influential comedian to put women in a position where they felt that saying no to him was not an option.
Under those circumstances, I reached the conclusion that I could not, in all good conscience, see one of my favorite comics perform. In the words of the handful of protesters who stood outside Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, that would make me complicit in legitimizing and normalizing his behavior.
Then something happened to change my mind: My 24-year-old daughter, a mindful and thoughtful law student, asked me to accompany her to the show. I was taken aback. My daughter was crushed when the sordid details about C.K. emerged in 2017. She had been a huge fan of his Netflix specials, and his message. The fact that he seemed to respect women and seemed to be a decent person merely deepened the sense of disappointment.
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But, after several long conversations about the cancel culture, about forgiveness and about how we both really need a good laugh, we decided to go. And, despite the misgivings, despite the guilt-inducing protest, we laughed a lot.
C.K. was on fine form. His hilarious brand of gratuitous and graphic language, self-deprecation and surrealism is as sharp as ever. He machine-guns jokes at familiar targets: political correctness, religion, relationships. He talks about how his grandfather fled from Hungary to Mexico, while the rest of the family was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Needless to say, there are a few Holocaust jokes thrown in for good measure, which C.K. delivers nervously at first — this is Israel, after all — but relaxes when his audience shows him that laughing at the Holocaust is perhaps the most Jewish response of all.
C.K.’s funniest gag of the night was so inspired by two of the comedians he has cited as his main influences — Woody Allen and George Carlin — that it almost felt like a pastiche or homage. In it, C.K. imagines God giving a press conference to let human beings know where they’ve been going wrong. He tells us that he doesn’t care who we sleep with and that we shouldn’t be eating the animals, we should be having sex with them. “You’ve been eating them?!” God exclaims. “That’s disgusting!”
In the best tradition of stand-up, C.K.’s jokes are radical, shocking and very, very funny.
To his credit, C.K. did address the scandal during his hour-long set. Of course, he turned it into a joke — because that’s what he does. Funny jokes, for sure, but jokes nonetheless. And far from owning his sin, he tried to play the victim card. The lesson he claims to have learned is that consent isn’t a one-time thing; it needs to be obtained and then, according to C.K., needs to be reaffirmed more than once.
He postulates that even sounds of apparent pleasure are not to be taken at face value. “That’s like plantation owners hearing the Negro spirituals and assuming that the slaves are happy because they’re singing,” he quipped. That, of course, is true, but it again proves that C.K. still doesn’t recognize how his standing and stature “forced” these women to acquiesce to his request.
The fact that C.K. is selling out venues across Europe as part of his comeback tour — and will presumably do the same when Americans are exposed to his new show — proves that a wealth of talent, a reservoir of residual goodwill and an audience willing to forgive can overcome the vocal but ultimately ineffective cancel chorus. Whether or not that’s a good thing for humankind remains to be seen. For comedy, it’s excellent.