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Return of Louis C.K. divides comedy world

Louis C.K. performed a surprise set at an NYC comedy club.
Photo courtesy of The Verge

Comedy now hostile environment for women

Louis C.K. recently made a surprise appearance at the famous Comedy Cellar in New York City and performed a new standup set, less than a year after five female comedians accused C.K. of sexual misconduct.   

There have been conflicting reports on the audience’s reaction to C.K.’s performance. The New York Times reported that C.K. received an enthusiastic standing ovation. However, Vulture interviewed two female audience members who stated that several women in the crowd appeared stone-faced and uncomfortable.   

Club owner Noam Dworman admitted that one audience member told him afterward that they would have liked to know ahead of time that C.K. was performing, so they could make an informed decision about whether to attend. Dworman defended the decision to let C.K. perform, telling The Washington Post “handing out punishments is something that institutions of courts of law do.” 

The idea that not allowing C.K. to perform or continue his comedy career is too harsh a punishment has been echoed by fellow comedians. Michael Ian Black and Michael Che both expressed support for C.K.’s return after his surprise performance. Others have been altogether dismissive of the severity of the allegations against C.K. In his special The Bird Revelation, Dave Chappelle said the allegations against C.K. “made [him] laugh” and said the accusers were “weak” individuals.   

Others believe arguing over what type of punishment C.K. deserves doesn’t address the serious issue of workplace safety. Comedian Ian Karmel stated in a Twitter thread that standup comedy is not a “solitary line of work…You spend tons of time with other comedians, often in situations where there’s an imbalance in power.” 

Gina Portolese, a CU Denver student and stand-up comedian, agrees that many of C.K.’s allies “don’t recognize the implications of his actions” regarding how it affected the women he harassed.

In an op-ed featured in Vulture earlier this year, comedian Rebecca Corry, one of C.K.’s accusers, describes how her experience with C.K. 12 years ago has followed her into “work-related events, on TV sets, social settings, and comedy clubs” for years. Corry adds she often wonders what rumors others have heard about her from C.K.’s allies. She insists journalists should focus on “people struggling in the aftermath” of the #MeToo movement, instead of wondering which celebrity abusers will make a comeback. 

Portolese adds that it might be appropriate for C.K. to make a comeback if he were “donating his time to organizations that deal with sexual assault or being open about what he is doing to improve,” but this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Comedian Kathy Griffin suggested there is an obvious double-standard in the comedy world, as many are not nearly as willing to forgive female comedians who’ve run into controversy. Griffin herself was widely condemned last year for taking a video posing with a bloody mask that looked like President Trump’s face.   

Griffin said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that she lost “90 percent of her friends” and only two fellow comedians called her to express support after the controversy. She notes that she “didn’t break the law,” unlike C.K. 

In a recent Twitter thread, Griffin also suggested that men in the comedy world are eager to see C.K. return because many of them are complicit in mistreatment of female comedians.   

Portolese says she has faced specific challenges being a female comedian as “men have to be impressed by you to think that what you’re saying is actually funny.” However, she has noticed more diversity in the comedy world since the start of the #MeToo movement. She also thinks female comedians are now less interested in seeking the approval of men as “we don’t need another place to feel small.”

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