This past weekend, Louis C.K. returned to his “home stage,” The Comedy Cellar. He’d taken a hiatus from performing since admitting to sexual abuse at the end of last year.
“I understand that some people will be upset with me,” said Noam Dworman, owner of the Comedy Cellar, who described Louis C.K.’s 15-minute standup set as “typical Louis C.K. stuff” including riffs on race and tipping at restaurants. But, he added, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”
His return has raised the undying question of whether famous sex criminals should be allowed a path to redemption. Was Louis apologetic enough? Should he be welcomed back sooner if he’d donated to RAINN? Would we be more willing to applaud his comedy if he attended sex therapy and spoke on what he’d learned? Is there salvation in him supporting the women he’s traumatized or raising up women he’s never met? These are all weighed and debated by women individually when it comes to forgiveness.
Women are doing their own thing. But men must come to a much simpler conclusion:
If a man is excommunicated, he’s not guaranteed a path back to the limelight. “But that’s not fair,” says Michael Ian Black in more words. I don’t mean to denigrate compassion, and he did seem to eventually get the picture, but he’s also correct: us men had the unfortunate chance to end up living during the first era of retribution exacted by victimized women. Yep, for you, and me, and any man who might have stumbled up our forefathers’ ladder in decades past, to be born now, no longer during a time when pretty much any misogynist aggression, from macro to micro, could be waved away with enough money or clout? Shit timing.
Because if we can admit that Priapus’s sun is setting after mere millennia, we can recognize who suffered for being born sometime during known human history. If it is difficult for men right now, it has been as difficult–at minimum–for billions of women. The majority of those women didn’t survive to see this day, all they knew was a crushing patriarchy. And men can relinquish that in many ways, but shutting up on topics like forgiveness is an easy one. The women of today deserve the choice to hold the reins and the bullhorn and the flaming whip, because, if we’re talking fairness, that’s a stab at it.
The banishments (banishments), permanent or not, are growing pains. There’ll be celeb “casualties” like Louis, those who are no longer given the chance to comfort us with their (still valuable) contributions to culture. There will be art lost, whether immediate (I Love You, Daddy) or potential (any future seasons of Louie). I’ve watched every stand-up special by Louis and marveled to witness a drop-in at Los Angeles’s Comedy Store. For my undergraduate thesis, I situated him in a long line of utopia-seeking comics, from Lenny Bruce to Richard Pryor to Bill Hicks to him, here and now, the promise of shifting the entire comedy paradigm progressively. And yet his loss, like that of Ansari and Hardwick and other cusp-of-comeback kids of this moment, is maybe necessary for an eventual equality, and that goal is worth all the earth-shaking boner jokes in Louis’s head.
So when Noam Dworman states “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong,” I have to insist that actually there can, it can just happen, the third law of thermodynamics isn’t “the dickflasher must be given stagetime.” It’s “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and buddy, we’ve still got a hefty dose of reaction before we’ve hit equal.
That said, I don’t figure that the women of today wish to go Amazonian on our asses. It’s not that I think of women as gentler or kinder (imagine if that’s the turn this essay took), but rather the effort required to yonically oppress for just as many years seems too much for any human. Men fell into it, right? Our monkey brains kept “might makes right” at the forefront and only recently have come to understand that there are other things that make right! Even as we reaped the rewards, most humans aren’t evil and so most men aren’t evil. Just bumbling and ignorant, and the tides may be turning on that front too. When it comes to the exiles and re-configuring our gender’s expectations, my mewling men, I’m guessing it’ll take three generations. That’s what I expect. Not for me to decide, but what I expect.
So just chill, my sweet dudes. Our input isn’t wanted or needed. Isn’t that freeing?
But if your pity still swells for Louis, shoving his victims from the frame; if you can’t grasp the damage wrought by asking “what about the men,” then consider perverts and misogynists who don’t possess the comedian’s clout or resources. Louis with his Comedy Cellar and adoring fans, Mario Batali and his restaurants peppered around the globe, Matt Lauer and the bulwarking upper echelon of Manhattan media. Their redemption comes far easier than that of a man from your high school who’s abused women (as we all have to varying degrees) and, upon reflection, dedicates himself to righting it. He can’t make the huge donations, he can’t afford the Beverly Hills therapist or the PR spin-master. Without access to a blacklist, his victims (and bless them for their vindictive power) may bring charges against him, and he may end up irreparably damaged, sexually or otherwise, by a stay in prison himself. To say nothing of the imprisoning outcome of the offender registry, restricting where he may work or live. Oh, and perhaps he’s not white as a bleached harp seal cub. That too.
This nobody-man still deserves his punishment however it unfolds, but if you’re dedicated to your psychopathy and seek for anyone to care about other than the women: why do you give a shit about Louis? He could leave the country today and live in comfort until death. He thinks nothing of you; there are millions of you. Even in your misogyny you can do better.
Perhaps it’d be more worth your time to care about the women.