The Corner

Culture

Was Louis C.K. Supposed to Disappear Forever?

Louis C.K. attends the premiere of American Hustle in 2013. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Louis C.K. is back, and his detractors are angry. They complain that cancel culture didn’t work on a man whose sexual misconduct led to the cancellation of many millions of dollars worth of contracts in 2017, and also resulted in the shelving of his still-unreleased movie, I Love You Daddy, which as I’ve written before is a thoughtful and interesting piece of work.

C.K. did some disgusting things but also didn’t commit any crimes. What then? Well, he seems to be unwelcome in polite company. Major corporations, perhaps understandably, no longer wish to be associated with him. On the other hand, C.K. is in an unusual position in that he doesn’t need any institutional support to do what he does. He makes his living by talking. No costumes, no sets, no props, no Hollywood production budgets, and no corporations are needed. In order to go back to work, all he needed to do was rent out some spaces, sell tickets, and talk.

Which he did on his successful North American tour last year. To make his latest set available to a wider public he doesn’t need HBO or Netflix to back him. He can simply sell the performance on his personal website, which this weekend he began doing. The price is $7.99. I’ll review it soon.

Woke bloggers are up in arms, but what else did they expect to happen? There are a lot of jokes along the lines of the one from 2018, on the Mary Sue blog, which says, “Louis C.K. Whips Out a New Comedy Special No One Wants to See.” This is the opposite of the truth. Unlike the average blog, Louis C.K. produces content a lot of people are happy to pay for. Mary Sue’s writer has this point to offer:

Fan [sic] argue that he’s “served his time”, but C.K. has done nothing to earn the redemption he expects. Aside from his public apology (after years of denial), there have been no attempts to learn, no donations to women’s rights groups, and no recognition or processing of his behavior. For someone who was known for baring their soul onstage, C.K. has refused to address his misconduct in his act.

Neither the Mary Sue writer nor I can look into C.K.’s soul and tell you whether he has made “attempts to learn” or accomplished “recognition or processing of his behavior.” As for addressing the misconduct in his act, he did so, albeit in a way that the Mary Sue blog probably disapproves of — i.e., via jokes. This leaves us with the only remaining complaint, that C.K. made “no donations to women’s rights group.” In other words, what is really unconscionable is that C.K. didn’t . . . behave like Harvey Weinstein.

You will recall that when Harvey Weinstein was first publicly accused of misbehavior in 2017, he famously offered to purchase indulgences by spending his money in three sanctified subgroups in the church of liberalism: the gun-control lobby, the anti-Trump crowd, and, yes, women’s right’s groups. These were Weinstein’s words at the time:

I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party…I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC…It will be named after my mom, and I won’t disappoint her.

C.K. didn’t commit “sexual assault” as his detractors claim but gave five women ample cause for complaint. I fail to see how C.K. owes anything to womankind in general; it’s just those five with whom he should make amends, and I hope he has done so. He remains one of the most talented comics in America, and I’m eager to hear what he has to say.

The real source of frustration on the part of woke bloggers is, I think, that they realize that their second-order attack policy didn’t work and couldn’t work on this occasion. Thirty or 50 years ago, those who sought to shut down speakers they disliked would do so via calls for direct action — boycotts that almost never worked.  “Don’t buy Beatles records, John Lennon thinks he’s bigger than Jesus!” These days, activists deploy the much more effective strategy of attacking via one remove, by shaming corporations and advertisers that ultimately fund the speakers they dislike and that are averse to controversy. In the case of C.K., he doesn’t need corporations and advertisers. The woke bloggers can’t shut him up, and they don’t like it. I suggest that if you don’t want to listen to C.K., then don’t.

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