Almost a year after #MeToo accusations against him, comedian Louis C.K. is returning to the limelight.
Commentators and public alike are occupied with the question: Can C.K. and Hollywood’s other outed abusers regain their celebrity status and our trust? Or, in other words, is there a path to redemption?
Important questions, but I’d like us to consider others. Let’s start with: How do powerful men define loss? And why must we adopt their definitions? How much—or how little—are we willing to ask them to do to make something like amends?
If you recall, in November 2017, the New York Times reported that C.K was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women who said C.K. masturbated in front of them. The next day, C.K. issued a written response, stating “these stories are true.”
Since then, he’s been testing the waters with sporadic unannounced performances, including a set last week at the West Side Comedy Club in New York, where he actually addressed his sexual misconduct for the first time since his written statement. In August, he performed at the Comedy Cellar, also in New York; his set included a joke about a rape whistle, described by two women audience members as “uncomfortable.” Not the sign of a transformed or even faintly sorry man.
In the recent West Side Comedy Club appearance, C.K. put a dollar amount to the cost of his behavior, saying he lost $35 million dollars in his journey from “hell and back”—words that echo new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s angry bluster that credible sexual misconduct allegations took him “through hell and then some.” But don’t feel sorry for C.K.; aside from his atrocious behavior, his net worth was estimated at a sizable $16 million in 2013.
No one can dispute that C.K. has certainly lost work and face. After his admission, the theatrical release of his film, I Love You, Daddy, was canceled by The Orchard, the film’s distributor. The cable network FX canceled his production deal and announced that he would no longer serve as executive producer of the series Baskets and Better Things, nor would he receive any further compensation from the network. Rightly exposed for his predatory behavior, C.K. then quietly retreated from public life, not giving interviews or performing standup for several months.
But a critical element of a comeback is a direct and seemingly sincere apology (admittedly, crafted by handlers and public relations firms). C.K. has neglected to offer a direct apology for his actions. Despite copping to every allegation, at no point in his very strategically worded statement last November did C.K. ever actually apologize for his actions. He also didn’t expressly apologize at West Side Comedy Club last week, but he was indignant about all that he’s lost.
Spending a year out of the public eye may feel like “hell” for someone who’s in show business or an egomaniac. Losing a massive amount of money, if we can believe C.K.’s numbers, hurts.
Yet, at minimum, C.K.’s focus on his “injury”—not his actions—indicates the lack of a truly apologetic stance. Perhaps more to the point, it shows that men like C.K have a very skewed and entitled idea of what it does and does not mean to lose everything.
In most cases of male power brokers-perpetrators, including Louis C.K., the timeline for a comeback seems to be clocking in at less than one year since news of their alleged sexual misconduct broke. News of CBS host Charlie Rose’s alleged sexual misconduct surfaced in November 2017, less than a year ago. Accusations against Matt Lauer also came to light last November, shortly before he was fired from The Today Show. In April came reports that both Rose and Lauer, like C.K, have been quietly plotting their comebacks. Barely a year’s penance seems to be enough for these men. After a short exile, they expect to return to the stage, when the people they’ve harmed are likely still grappling with their abuse, many suffering in silence.
And lest we argue that men are vulnerable to losing “everything” in this moment, in the year since #MeToo became a cultural phenomenon, we’ve only seen charges leading to a criminal trial in two of the most prominent cases—Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, who was sentenced and remanded to prison last month for sexual assault.
This doesn’t exactly lend credence to the claim that any of these men, including C.K., have gone through “hell and back.” Nor does it support the implication that most of these outed men have lost everything. In fact, before NBC decided it wouldn’t give the fired Lauer a payout, he was jockeying for a $30 million package. Lauer and his fellow disgraced broadcast journalist, Charlie Rose, still have their freedom though also diminished professional opportunities.
But while their names are stained, it’s probably not beyond repair. Our society comes with built-in resilience for elite men, narratives of scheming women, and sometimes corporate compensation packages for the trouble they caused.
In addition to not apologizing in his statement, C.K. also failed to mention two important names—Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov. The Chicago-based comedy duo both claim that C.K. masturbated in front of them at a comedy festival in 2002. C.K.’s former manager, Dave Becky, later admitted to mistakenly trying to silence the women and actively covering for C.K.; for their part, Goodman and Wolov avoided any projects associated with Becky, an influential figure in the comedy world, for fear of retaliation. The pair said other comedians were reluctant to work with them after they spoke publicly about the incident.
They responded to C.K.’s “hell and back” quote from their joint Twitter account.
Boo fucking hoo. Is he on unemployment? Does he get rape threats? Does he carry a brand new taser when he walks at night because he's been told that he will be beaten to a pulp for ruining comedy? No? Just us girls? Ok cool. https://t.co/UVyvWVAe1f
— Dana & Julia (@DanaAndJulia) October 17, 2018
Goodman and Wolov are not the only ones who suffered consequences following predatory behavior from C.K. Comedian Rebecca Corry, who said C.K. asked to masturbate in front of her while working together in 2005, has said that she received death threats when she spoke out against him. In both cases, C.K. was the wealthy, more famous comedian, preying on women attempting to get a foothold in a male-dominated industry. Because they spoke out, they suffered grave professional repercussions. The fact that C.K. felt it necessary to note his own lost income with no acknowledgment of how his behavior damaged these women’s careers shows he is far more concerned with his comeback than with the gravity of his actions.
And that’s not all. Comedian Abby Schachner said she was discouraged from pursuing a career in comedy after she was sexually harassed by C.K. It’s impossible to know how many women were intimidated out of the profession altogether due to C.K’s actions and the actions of the people who covered for him.
It doesn’t escape me that after testifying before Congress about her attempted sexual assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford is probably still unable to return home due to a deluge of death threats against her and her family.
That is what hell looks like. That is what it means to lose everything. Without addressing the pain he inflicted, C.K. is far from the point where he should be calling the hole he’s dug for himself “hell.” And he’s even further from the expectation that he should be welcomed back with open arms—even with his clothes on, fly closed.