Ten months ago, the long-whispered rumors about Louis CK became reality when The New York Times published on-the-record allegations, followed by a public statement by the award-winning comedian in which he confessed to masturbating in front of female comedians without their consent.
Over the weekend, CK showed his face in two comedy clubs. First, Governor’s in Levittown on Long Island; then, late Sunday night, he dropped in unannounced at The Comedy Cellar and performed a 15-minute showcase set.
We can certainly go off on a tangent already about the irony of CK not asking or alerting The Comedy Cellar about his intention to perform Sunday, as well as what he chose to say onstage (and more importantly, what he didn’t say), and whether and when it’s even appropriate for any comedian to stage a comeback. And what part comedy club owners and bookers play in that. But that’s for a separate post. For now, I want to focus on how his fellow comedians chose to interpret CK’s decision and his motives. It may be instructive to see which men and women in stand-up comedy chose to voice themselves publicly, and how.
It’s important to shut up and listen. And read.
Let’s start with Jen Kirkman. A fellow Bostonian-bred comedian, who was pilloried a couple of years ago when it sounded as though she was ready to out CK. Kirkman told the backstory today on Twitter:
“I didn’t have proof he did any of this masturbation stuff. Only rumors. He verbally did some sick stuff to me. I got harassed so bad for speaking on it with no one in my community to back me up I stopped. He apologized. And lied to me about the others. This is the mess of it all.
So don’t you dare put me on trial for my clumsy handling of my own harassment and having no idea what to do about it, how to handle that speaking out got me nothing but rape threats, and then me questioning if what happened to me was even that bad. THAT is literally the trajectory women face. I didn’t even realize what I fucking thought of it until I had a lifetime in comedy to process so many aspects of it not just him but the entire system of how women are treated offstage by their peers.
I’ve never been in a shower crying over how bizarre he treated me for years. What’s upsetting is I tried to tell my story on my own podcast of how being a woman in comedy means being too afraid to go on the road with a peer who asks you. I feared him cuz of the rumors and cuz of what I had experienced with him. I didn’t use his name in my podcast. Tons of press picked it up. Named him. And suddenly it’s implied he physically harassed me. I pulled down the podcast and was accused of being paid off. Think pieces about me and him ran for years. I couldn’t do interviews for my specials or books without the male interviewers insisting I talk about this. I didn’t personally know the women he assaulted in Aspen. I only heard rumors. And after over a decade when it was all still rumors and he apologized to me I thought “God maybe he’s just a creep with compulsive issues – I’m not in any specific pain over our literal interactions” (just pain over current harassment I got online for discussing I’m)….And I wanted the harassment to stop. The Today Show and People magazine and places like that often called my reps offering me to be featured but not for my work – just to expose him. The constant tweets, comedians from NY asking me wtf was I doing….I wanted it to stop. So I decided to say publicly that I can’t prove rumors. Maybe there isn’t a thing. I don’t know. He’s my friend in comedy. He apologized. What else can I do. Then a month later The NY Times piece came out. I realize he’d lied to me. I was done. It’s a nuanced story but if you’re (a) dude who already hates women you’ll use my story against me. It’s been happening to me for years. And most men in the comedy community didn’t back me up on Twitter. Instead they told me “don’t feed trolls” and other not helpful advice. My experience unlike the other women was different. Which is why I declined to be in the Times piece. My harassment was ten fold from the internet and the media and thousands of men who don’t know me. It stemmed from LCK being a voice for many and less an experience where it was about me having trauma over how he treated me. I didn’t like it but it wasn’t quite what the other women experienced. My story has always been it sucks to have to not trust men in my industry and miss out on opportunities due to that.
I already did a thread on this back in November. But no surprise I had to do another. It’s always women who are on trial and no one ever talks about how we need redemption. We have to stay in jail forever. I knew the second he hopped on stage again that if I tweeted my distaste for how he’s handling his return that I would be harassed all over again. But I didn’t stay quiet because this time finally my peers see what’s up and while they mostly stay quiet they know I’m not nuts. And it feels safer because women on here are speaking up en masse. I no longer feel like a lone wacko who is – as many of my male peers used to accuse me of- “getting into twitter fights.” As though I were debating my favorite movie and not being harassed for being a woman. I’m done telling my story on here. The questions that prompt it are never in good faith anyway. I’ve been disenchanted with performing lately. Just a slump. But no more. This has lit a fire under my ass to never shut up and never get off stage. Except to pee and stuff.
Sorry. Insomnia. More to say. It was also known in the comedy circles that IF the rumors were true – the women involved were okay with it. It was seen as a schoolboy prank. Some female comics even were like “that’s just Louie.” The way we whispered about him was more of an an eyeroll. More like “aw sad married dude with a penis obsession.” Us women had internalized sexism. We accepted boys will be boys mentality because come on he didn’t rape anyone! We didn’t even know how we felt. We knew how men felt and so we subconsciously felt that. And I know guys reading this do NOT understand how that feels. Because you’re part of the dominant culture. When you’re not part of it you subconsciously ape it so you don’t get fucked with. It took me years to realize what sexism really looks like. I’m fucking embarrassed for myself. I’ve always been a loud mouth feminist. But to get some goddamn peace from the internet and the press I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I never once dug deeper to investigate the rumors. I regret that. I was totally selfishly thinking of myself. How can I make this nightmare go away where every month someone writes a think piece wondering if he touched me and why I won’t speak out. When I finally said he didn’t physically harass me, his fans went crazy gaslighting me. They taunted me and accused me of lying about that. They said “He’s paying you off. Why are you lying about being physically harassed?” Why weren’t they mad at HIM if they thought he harassed me so much. Anyway He and I were in touch a few times the last couple years. I asked him if this stuff is really not true and it’s just me he had said some weird things to can we please make a joint statement to the press? He said no. I envied how he doesn’t have to use social media to make a living and can avoid daily harassment. He was kind to me and said that by being a creep he had handed me a pile of shit and I could do with that shit what I wanted. Talk about it. It feels manipulative looking back. Maybe he was being contrite hoping I wouldn’t dig further into rumors of others. I didn’t. Maybe he was just being nice cuz I’ve known him twenty years. I dunno. But he lost his ability for me to give him the benefit of the doubt so I don’t. That’s just how behavior works. You fuck up. You lose credibility with people you know.
Again when my story becomes about HIM then you’ve stopped listening to me. My harassment was from his fans, online news outlets, men in general and some comedians who told me I’m causing trouble. THAT is the story. I’m glad men are jumping on my train now but I can’t say it’s easy to shake off the bitterness of how many in the comedy community unfollowed me or stayed quiet when I was knee deep in online harassment begging men to talk to their male fans about not harassing women. One of the most ridiculous forms of gaslighting harassment was a male feminist journalist while interviewing me about an upcoming book asked me about HIM. I said no comment. He then shittily said something like he thought I was a feminist and he’s giving me a platform. I didn’t want his platform. Where he gets to control the narrative. The fact that I said no comment became the story and the headline described me as a comedian and a LCK Accuser. Oh that’s funny. That’ll sell albums. The whole time I was dealing with harassment for not talking about harassment correctly my male peers were having fun on Twitter joking about swords and wizards or what not and I was coming off as Earth’s least funny comedian. And on the micro level this is the issue. I wanna sell tickets. I stay silent sometimes not from some pressure from anyone. But internalized pressure to just be funny. Use this platform to sell myself. But I just can’t. I just can’t not also use it for this. And it hurts my bottom line for sure on the road. I’m sure if it. “I thought she was funny but her Twitter is so serious/angry/feminist…”. So before you all fawn over someone’s comeback just understand women who talk about this stuff need support too. If you want some hope – I’m about to fall back asleep and I’m not afraid of waking up to comments or think pieces or harassment. Because I feel a community here finally. And maybe cuz I’m older IDGAF if I look nuts. But that feeling is improvement. Things will get better. Just wanna be super clear about #17. Everyone in the comedy circles was wrong about the fact that the women this happened to didn’t think it was a big deal.
Unrelated to the LCK scandal …. I used to have to take Twitter breaks all the time due to harassment in general and I always asking the guys in comedy to get involved. It’s been a long slow climb. We are still asking.”
Thankfully, Kirkman did not stand alone.
Kathy Griffin has her back, and yours, ladies. Griffin has dished plenty about celebrities over the years, but she also has endured more than plenty of harassment and debasement pointed straight at her.
A) There's also something we're not talking about…general abuse of/retaliation against women in the workplace that isn't in the sexual misconduct department. I got a message from a famous woman comedian the other night that broke my heart….(cont) https://t.co/PvDo9GdCw5
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) August 29, 2018
I’ve known this woman for years, told me she was basically done with being a comic. She was tired of going up against the boys club…exhausted with being made to prove herself — something successful male comics don’t have to do — after over 15 years in the biz..Not sharing exactly how long she’s been in the business because i don’t want people guessing who it is. But as I read this message from her I got emotional because successful male comics don’t ever have these thoughts. They don’t feel beaten down by the business…You’ll never hear a successful male comic say that dealing with women in the business is just exhausting and that they have reached their limit. Or that they’re tired of years of having to beg to be treated the same as women or that they’ve had enough of the emotional abuse…
Why should you care about this…this isn’t a rant about rich sensitive celebrities. First, what happens behind the scenes in entertainment, the people who are in the business, impacts the media you consume…without balance you get a male dominated view point. The brilliant
@JenSiebelNewsom has pointed this out repeatedly…the media we consume impacts how we see ourselves. Second, this business may make a handful of people wealthy but the average Screen Actors Guild member makes $32k a year…hardly wealthy. Most of the people in this business are hardworking people who make just enough to pay their bills and are living paycheck to paycheck. Finally, what I’m discussing in this thread can be applied to any industry…we are talking about sexual harassment more than before..That’s a great thing…but there’s a big layer of stuff we haven’t even begun to discuss…how women are treated in the workplace generally.
The entertainment business is toxic, sexist, and dysfunctional…and many of us wouldn’t be in it if it wasn’t what we were meant to do Most of us aren’t in this business for money…I know that sounds ridiculous as I type this out from my big fancy house, but I basically worked for free in this business until my mid-thirties. From 18 to age 35 I wasn’t making more than a few thousand a year TOTAL. But i stayed in it and continue to stay in it because I can’t imagine doing anything else. This thread came about because of that text message I got from that female comic but there’s no doubt that the situation with Louis CK has me and other women in this business thinking You know how many women I know who have had their careers effectively ended because they asked for the same amount of money as a man or who dared to make script suggestions on a show they were working on? How quickly they were labeled as “difficult” and thus un-hirable?
Louis CK can go jerk off in front of women w/o their permission & then his management destroys their careers and he just gets to waltz back in without any accounting for his behavior and what he’s done to fix it? Hell, he hasn’t even done a sit-down interview with a reporter. Did you notice what was missing yesterday after the news about Louis CK was revealed? You didn’t see any big women comics speak out about him…I want to be clear, this isn’t an attack on these women, many of whom are my friends… the reason they haven’t said anything is fear. For women in this business, success doesn’t insulate you the way it does for men. A successful male comic can go spout off about an issue he has and he will not receive any blowback from powerful people in the business. But if a woman does it she is still going to be told that she shouldn’t have said anything…and she’s going to be put in a category by men (and some women) that’s labeled “watch out for her.” Think about it, one of the biggest male comics in the business, in the era of
#MeToo, is gliding back in after doing nothing to prove that he’s done anything to deal with what he’s done to women in the past and you don’t have any super successful women in the business talking out? FEAR. These women aren’t stupid, they know the boys club closes ranks and protects its own. And many men in the business Want to see Louis come back because deep down inside they know they’ve also done fucked up shit to women (sexual misconduct or misconduct generally) and they want to know that it’s not going to hurt them on a permanent basis. Louis is their test case…So many women in this business stay quiet out of fear, even when it comes to men who really don’t have tons of power, because they fear the label of being difficult or disruptive. Women comics generally have a desire to disrupt but they focus on external material rather than internal material (entertainment business) because they know who butters their bread. As many of you know, I have had no problem focusing on the internal but it has hurt me within the business. Whenever I do a story time or talk about some jerk in the business my agents and publicists (I don’t have a publicist right now) get nervous and warn me that I’m burning bridges. I’m labeled as “crazy” by some members of the press. You don’t think women in this business look at the reaction I get and say to themselves “Not risking it!” But seriously it’s time to end the culture of silence, all of us women in the business, collectively, are way more powerful than any executive or producer. There are so many fucked up things that have happened to us in this business…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women in the business say things like this “(Insert executive/producer/director name here) told me I was too ugly for this part.” or stuff like “I was at a dinner party and so and so told me in front of 10 other people that I’m a bitch” All of this stuff gets buried because we just want to keep working. I’ve been financially fortunate in my life, i’ve worked hard and saved a lot, but you think an actress or comic who makes $100k a year with two kids is going to start spilling the tea? No way So for the men who are saying that we need to let Louis CK work again, you’re dealing with decades of scar tissue..of abuse we’ve put up with, stayed quiet about, and laughed off. We’re tired of being labeled difficult after we ask for what we deserve. Hell, we’re tired of being labeled difficult after we just ask not to be abused. And we’re tired of normalizing your behavior. I hope I’m not the only woman with a large platform to speak out on this…but if I am, I’m fine taking that position…I’m used to it. But I have one question for my women colleagues: how can we go out there and talk about feminism if we’re not standing up for our own sisters in the very business we work in? How can we fight for women’s rights overseas if we’re not fighting for it on the studio lot?
To be fair, some men in comedy have stood up to say perhaps now isn’t the best time, and this perhaps not the best way, for Louis CK to return to the stage.
Paul F. Tompkins wrote: “The fact that Louis, a comedian whose whole thing is plumbing the depths of his own psyche, apparently didn’t mention his most recent, famous news in his surprise set tells you all you need to know about his desire for “redemption,” right?”
Jimmy Pardo suggested: “Imagine being the MC the other night… “you know him from his many late night talk show appearances, the star of his own show & not even a year ago admitted to sexual misconduct… put your hands together and make some noise for…“
That didn’t happen, of course.
As Julian McCullough noted the irony: “Hey dudes If I worked at Enterprise Rent a Car and found out my co-worker Gary was jerking off at other coworkers and then he tried to walk back through the front door less than a year later I’d be like “get out of my Enterprise you fucking weirdo.”
Matt Braunger warned: “If I’m backstage in a comedy club where it’s all male comedians and one of them goes “I mean, can you believe what they’re doing to Louis?” I will literally start jacking off and staring at him.”
Michael Ian Black suggested he “will take heat” for encouraging Louis to find his way back, and then after much blowback for that Tweet, realized just how much heat that stance meant. He wrote a more thoughtful take on his own site. In part:
“Men need to be called out and face consequences for their bad behavior. I don’t think there’s any debate on that topic. Sometimes that behavior rises to the level of criminality and those men ought to face criminal consequences. Sometimes it does not, and those men need to face the public opprobrium that follows.
No matter what happens from this point forward, each of these men will wear always their scarlet letter. Is that enough, or do we need more? Do we need a better public apology than the one Louis offered? Rehab? Reparations of some sort?”
But let’s hear from some more women. Ladies, please…
Alice Wetterlund: “LOUIS CK IS WEALTHY LOUIS CK IS WEALTHY LOUIS CK IS WEALTHY LOUIS CK IS WEALTHY FUCKING STOP ASKING “HOW WILL HE FEED HIS FAMILY” HE WILL FEED HIS FAMILY NOTHING BUT TRUFFLE OIL AND BE FINE. SEXUAL PREDATORS ARE NOT THE VICTIMS OF THEIR CRIMES. THEY ARE THE CRIMINALS.”
Natasha Rothwell: “My thoughts on Louis CK might be controversial but I really feel like Flint doesn’t have clean water yet; Puerto Rico has yet to receive sufficient support to rebuild and update infrastructure; and if appointed #BrettKavanaugh will be a threat to US democracy for decades to come.”
Aparna Nancherla: “louis ck getting a standing ovation for dropping in to a comedy club less than a year after admitting to sexual misconduct tells you all you need to know about how society applauds powerful men for doing less than the minimum of decency.”
And Padma Lakshmi, not a comedian, but definitely famous and talented in her own right, threw her support behind some other funny comedians who aren’t quite so problematic.