The outrage over the comedian re-taking the stage after nine months of seclusion included scathing comments from industry figures like Kathy Griffin, who knows a bit about controversy and comedy. Critics of C.K.’s return — who, naturally, soon spiraled into sparring matches with opponents defending the comedian’s right to seek redemption — argue it’s way too soon for a comeback, if such a thing can even be possible. (See a selection of tweets below.)
Inside the club, Louis C.K. reportedly got a standing ovation. But the online storm reveals the degree to which Hollywood is still wrestling with the concept of coming back almost a year after the #MeToo movement began.
Not many A-list names waded into the Twitter fray. Deadline reached out to several people on the front lines. Anita Hill, who heads the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, declined to comment to Deadline. A rep from TimesUp did likewise. Twitter itself refused to provide any analysis of the trending topic. And since Louis C.K. had already walked away from deals with Netflix and Universal and fired most of his team of reps last fall, there wasn’t an obvious list of people who would feel pressured to weigh in, especially in the waning days of August heading toward a holiday weekend.
Unlike older stars who have been brought low in various ways — everyone from Bill Cosby to Woody Allen to Dustin Hoffman — C.K. could theoretically still have a lot more to say depending on how things unfold. At age 50, he had been in peak professional form before admitting to “irresponsibly” coercing five young female comedians into repeatedly watching him masturbate.
Once the string of incidents came to light last fall in a New York Times story, the comedian issued a long statement promising to “step back and take a long time to listen” to women. A film he directed and starred in, I Love You, Daddy was indefinitely shelved on the eve of its release. The vitriol greeting C.K.’s attempted comeback has seen digital media — the very arena he has used so effectively to disrupt the normal channels of TV distribution and concert ticketing — become his biggest obstacle.
This episode has followed reports that Aziz Ansari is back doing stand-up and Matt Lauer told fans in a Manhattan restaurant that he’d soon “be back on TV.” While Lauer was ousted from NBC News over a spate of sexual harassment claims, Ansari’s brush with #MeToo was comparatively mild. with the Master of None creator facing scrutiny over a post on Babe.net by a woman who went on a date with him and said she came to view the encounter as sexual assault. (He insisted any of their sexual contact was consensual.)
Unlike the litany of #MeToo cases involving criminal allegations or workplace cultures off the rails, the Ansari story was left open to interpretation, with one New York Times writer describing it as “insidious attempt … to criminalize awkward, gross and entitled sex.”
On stage during his initial shows after the article forced a withdrawal from the spotlight, Ansari hasn’t included any discussion of the #MeToo movement in his sets, according to many first-hand accounts. Neither did C.K.
And yet, what unites all of these cases is the core question they raise about the nature of redemption in the era of #MeToo. In the hothouse environment of Twitter, there is not much room for nuanced consideration of that weighty matter. When comedian Michael Ian Black staked out a position on Twitter that Louis C.K. should be given a second chance, he faced a backlash so intense that hours later he was taking a few steps backward.
“People have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives,” he wrote. “I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” Later, after a flurry of exchanges, he tweeted his thanks to women who “did some great work today to make me defend a position that was, ultimately, not defensible. I understand that and, again, I apologize.”
Here is a sampling of the commentary, beginning with Griffin’s tweets: