Approximately a year ago, Louis CK’s life fell apart. The comedian had a massively popular hit TV show and a series of major live gigs and specials lined up. Then, the bombshell that blew it all to pieces. In the heat of the early days of the MeToo movement, CK was one of the biggest names to be hit with sexual misconduct allegations. The allegations were made in a scathing New York Times article, which related the stories of five women, all of whom accused CK of harassment.
Almost immediately, the comedian’s star began to crash. A feature film was canceled and his peers were asked to divulge any secrets they knew or had heard to the voracious entertainment press. As the fallout continued, many wondered what would happen next for the comedian. Was his career over? Could it be resurrected, and if so, when and how?
While it may be some time before those questions are fully answered, the first step in finding those answers was made last week, when Louis CK stepped out onto the stage to perform an impromptu 15-minute comedy set at NYC’s popular Comedy Cellar. Sure, The Comedy Cellar has a tradition of comedian’s coming by and doing a quick set unannounced, but this was a unique situation. Both the comedian and the venue management had to be wondering what would happen: how would the crowd respond, and what would be said once word got out?
The answer to the first question was answered in a New York minute… well, 15 of them, to be precise. At the end of his set, CK received a standing ovation. According to the venue manager, as quoted in the NY Times, only one audience member complained about the surprise act.
As far as the answer to the second question… Well, that’s a bit more complicated. No matter when he came back, if he chose to get back into the spotlight, it was likely that Louis CK would face negative messaging and a ton of blowback. That was certainly the case in this instance.
Social media, as it does, exploded with rage, both at CK and at the venue that allowed him back on the mic. That’s par for the course just about anytime anyone says or does anything publicly these days, and that dynamic is amplified given CK’s situation and the nature of the allegations against him. Fellow comedians also spoke out against the move, some saying it was too soon and others insinuating it would always be too soon for him.
That said, the “should I or shouldn’t I” of this, for both the comedian and the venue, comes down to the question: is the criticism worth the reward? Can Louis CK use this as a springboard to rebuild his career? He already has the core of his fans who either believe he was railroaded or think a life sentence is not acceptable for someone who made the bad decisions he admitted to making. Sure, that won’t be everyone, and it probably won’t even be the majority… but this is comedy… very few people ever appeal to everyone.
Given that basic math, CK, his management, and the club, had to decide if him going on would generate a reward that was worth the negativity. What happens next will show how committed they are to their thinking as well as if they thought this through. Comedy has always been how CK works out his problems. Handled properly, this could be another opportunity to do just that. But, these days, forgiveness is hard to come by, and it will take a lot more than 15 minutes to earn.