Comics: Louis C.K. spotted at Comedy Cellar, ‘but he doesn’t go up’

Despite his fall, Louis C.K.’s photo has not been removed from the Comedy Cellar’s “wall of comedians” at its entrance. Photos by Gabe Herman

BY GABE HERMAN | After multiple accusations of sexual misconduct were reported against Louis C.K. in November 2017, the comedian quickly admitted to wrongdoing, expressed remorse and disappeared from public life. He wrote that, after a long career of saying anything he wanted, he would “now step back and take a long time to listen.”

Half a year later, New York comedians say that Louis C.K. not only can come back, but his return to the stage is inevitable. Several comics said they have recently seen him at the Comedy Cellar, at 117 MacDougal St., though not performing.

The notion of an entertainer being given a second chance by the public is nothing new in America. However, it remains to be seen how an attempted comeback could play out in the #MeToo era, especially for a stand-up comedian who interacts directly with audiences.

Comedians recently interviewed in New York differed on how soon Louis C.K., who admitted to multiple episodes of masturbating in front of women, might be accepted back by the public, ranging from right now to several years or more from now. Some comedians noted the mixed feelings — the public’s, and sometimes their own — in trying to reconcile Louis C.K.’s actions while still being a fan of his comedy.

“I think he could probably make a comeback. Definitely,” said New York comedian Melissa Diaz. “What is this, not the world? This is the world we live in.”

Diaz thinks it could be four years before Louis C.K. is able to gain the public’s forgiveness and develop new comedy material.

“It’s going to be a couple of years probably, but he’ll be back,” offered comedian Keanu Thompson on a recent night outside the Greenwich Village Comedy Club, at 99 MacDougal St. “I think a lot of comedians think that.”

Thompson noted that Louis C.K. has a large fan base, and he added, “He’s not a Harvey Weinstein.”

Thompson said Louis C.K. has been spending time lately at the Comedy Cellar, where he often performed throughout his career.

“He hangs out with [comedian Dave] Attell at the Cellar all the time but doesn’t go up [on stage],” Thompson said. “We saw him walk by the other day. And that’s just in the past couple of weeks I’ve heard that.”

The entrance to the Comedy Cellar, underneath the Olive Tree Cafe, on MacDougal St.

Comedian Gene Getman, also interviewed on MacDougal St. outside the Greenwich Village Comedy Club, said he has spotted Louis C.K. at the Comedy Cellar but didn’t know whether he had been on stage. Getman said he thinks it helps that Louis C.K. admitted to wrongdoing immediately after The New York Times report.

“I think people are willing to forgive,” said Getman, who has been a comic in New York for six years. “Especially if he comes back acknowledging it. He did apologize.”

Getman said, in his opinion, the #MeToo movement affected how much Louis C.K. was penalized for his behavior. He said that some of Louis C.K.’s actions “crossed the line a little bit,” but that “in a lot of cases, it was mostly consensual, and what people are really criticizing is a fetish that he had. They’re essentially slut-shaming him about his sexual preferences.”

Comedian James Camacho, speaking backstage at the Greenwich Village Comedy Club right after performing, said Louis C.K. will definitely be back, adding he would pay to see him tomorrow if he performed. Camacho said that Louis C.K.’s actions were wrong, but not an abuse of power.

“To me, it’s weird,” he said. “It was probably just a lapse of judgment. He came out and admitted it, so he knows he’s wrong.”

However, for Jean Halley, a sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center who specializes in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, Louis C.K.’s actions, in fact, were an abuse of power and also not unusual.

“He was just doing the most normal thing in the world for a man who had a little power,” she said.

Halley has been a fan of Louis C.K., noting that “as comedians go, he’s somewhat feminist.” But she expressed conflicted feelings about a potential Louis C.K. return.

“I would have a problem with it,” she said. “I’m mad at him about what he did. I think he did perpetrate something that is a big piece of the culture in which we live. I think all women have to face this. And yet, on the other hand, it’s so normal that are we going to wipe out everybody’s career?”

Halley pointed to research showing that change is difficult for those who commit a certain level of violence.

“I don’t know about Bill Cosby. I don’t know about Weinstein,” she said. But she said that Louis C.K.’s actions did not rise to that level.

“For me, I would draw a line with Louis C.K.,” she said. “I think what he did was wrong but I don’t think that should mean he shouldn’t have a career.”

There needs to be space, said Halley, for nuanced discussion about the normalcy of what Louis C.K. did, and how society can change.

“What he did, it seems to me, is not the same as raping someone,” she said. “So I do want us to have the space to think about doing things differently. That seems like the only way to a kind of healing.”

For her part, Diaz said she thinks comedy will adapt as the culture shifts to less tolerance for sexual misconduct and more equal opportunities for women. After all, she said, the comedy industry is still a business.

“It’s still going to be commodified at the end of the day,” she said. “What you’re seeing is changing, but its profit-driven model isn’t. It’s just entertainment adapting to a new group of people and what they want to see.”

All of the comedians interviewed agreed that Louis C.K. would immediately have to discuss his behavior if he returned to the stage.

“He’s going to have to address it, and he’ll make it funny somehow, and he’ll be America’s sweetheart again,” Thompson said, adding that she couldn’t help but have mixed feelings when discussing Louis C.K.

“I like him,” she said. “I wanted to be angrier with him than I was, but it’s hard. It’s easier to be angry with someone you don’t admire so much.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *