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Why Are Male Comedians So Scared to Talk About Louis C.K.?

TIFF
TIFF

I read the reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival for Sorry/Not Sorry with some trepidation. After all, I’m one of the talking heads in the documentary from filmmakers Caroline Suh and Cara Mones re-examining the case of comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to multiple cases of sexual misconduct in 2017 and took a brief hiatus, only to come back with a Grammy-winning special that reframed his #MeToo moment as if he were the real victim.

But I’m the least famous commentator in the doc. And the trepidation I’ve felt is nothing compared to what comedians Jen Kirkman and Megan Koester have endured, first by speaking out years before C.K. copped to his criminal behavior, and then by contributing their voices once more to this film. And even that pales in comparison to the women C.K. victimized, only one of whom, Abby Schachner, participated in the documentary.

Critics who have lamented that Sorry/Not Sorry feels more like a book report than a more thoroughly investigative exposé forget that the media ecosystem sadly can become an echo chamber. This film isn’t for them, but for the masses who have largely forgotten about or minimized #MeToo. It’s for the people who believe C.K. not only asked for but received consent from the women he masturbated in front of, since the comedian claimed as much in his special Sincerely Louis C.K., which won him a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2022, following Dave Chappelle’s Grammy win three years earlier for performances in which he described C.K.’s victims as “brittle-ass spirits.” As I said in the documentary: “Making fun of the victims is still good for business.”

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Disappointingly, Suh and Mones couldn’t get C.K. or many other men in comedy to speak on the record for Sorry/Not Sorry, so they relied on the things these men had said in specials, podcasts, and interviews to speak for themselves. Most notably, that includes C.K.’s own declaration about men in his 2013 HBO special, Oh My God, that “we’re the worst thing that ever happens to (women).” There’s even footage of him miming masturbation in his past performances, including an episode of FX’s Louie in which he forces himself on a friend played by actress Pamela Adlon.

Elsewhere, we see influential figures such as Joe Rogan and Neal Brennan minimizing what C.K. had done on Rogan’s podcast. We also see clips of now-disgraced TV anchors Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer—Rose interviewing C.K., and Lauer asking Jon Stewart about the C.K. news in 2017—without even mentioning their hypocrisy or complicity.

Still, some men were willing to participate. Noam Dworman, owner of New York City’s Comedy Cellar, defends his decision to allow C.K. back onstage at his club, suggesting it’s up to comedy customers to draw their own lines. And Michael Schur, the creator of The Good Place, acknowledges his own regret in casting C.K. on Parks and Recreation despite having heard the stories about him. “I was like, ‘Well, the fact that I thought it wasn’t my problem is the problem.’ Like, that’s exactly the problem,” Schur says.

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Although Stewart didn’t give any new interviews for this film, we do see how his opinion of C.K. changed over time. At first, the then-host of The Daily Show was dismissive of questions regarding the Louie star (who not only appeared on one of Stewart’s final episodes, but also convinced the host to return to the Comedy Cellar and stand-up). But after he learned the truth about C.K., Stewart told Howard Stern he wonders if he would’ve reacted any differently in hindsight had he known more beforehand: “I can’t honestly answer, and that makes me feel shitty.”

Actor Michael Ian Black, who received plenty of pushback online in 2018 when he asked what the parameters might be for C.K. or anyone else to make a professional comeback, suggested to filmmakers that perhaps people are reluctant to come forward and participate in discussions about C.K. or #MeToo because everyone has skeletons in their closet.

Is that what’s happening here? Are men in comedy staying silent because they’re worried about what we might find out about them? Or are they submitting to some sort of “snitches get stitches” bro code?

We need to keep talking about C.K., and Sorry/Not Sorry, though not earth-shattering, is a start. The film—which was acquired this week out of TIFF by Greenwich Entertainment, after having previously been dropped by Showtime—may feel like it’s raising more questions than it answers, but that’s kind of the point. This conversation must continue.

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