Apology or no apology, Louis C.K. is screwed

The comedian's removal from the industry has progressed at record speed

Published November 10, 2017 7:00PM (EST)

Louis C.K. (AP/MediaPunch)
Louis C.K. (AP/MediaPunch)

On Thursday, the New York Times published yet another bombshell exposé, unveiling sexual misconduct allegations against comedian, director, writer and producer Louis C.K. Five women went on the record to recount interactions with the prominent comedian and producer in which he masturbated or asked to masturbate in front of them.

Comedians Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov were among the five accusers who said Louis C.K. invited them to his hotel room to celebrate after a late-night show. Upon their arrival, the comedian “asked if he could take out his penis,” which the women took as a joke.

“And then he really did it,” Goodman told the Times. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”

On Friday, Louis C.K. released a statement about the allegations in a letter read as an ultimately compromised apology for his actions. Questions about why he waited so long to address the longstanding rumors that have, according to his own admission, turned out to be true, remain. Other aspects of his apology have also drawn criticism in some circles.

Nonetheless, his statement stands as a rare, so far singular, instance of a celebrity admitting wrongdoing in a time when so many other notable men — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Oliver Stone, Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, Roy Moore and Donald Trump to name a few — have faced similar accusations and steadfastly and defiantly declared themselves free of guilt.

While Louis C.K.'s rare mea culpa may preserve his good standing with his many fervent fans, it also seems that in our current, highly reactive climate, it comes too late. Certainly, the industry is rapidly turning its back on the star.

In response to the accusations, several companies have severed their ties to Louis C.K. Most prominently, the Orchard, the distribution company that owns the rights to his forthcoming film, “I Love You, Daddy," cancelled the release of the the already controversial movie, which was scheduled to come out Nov. 17, reported Time Magazine.

In the film, Louis C.K. plays a writer and producer who is trying to keep his teenage daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) from getting sexually involved with a 68-year-old director (John Malkovich). The Times pointed out that the film, in addition to his often sexual comedic skits in which he pretends to masturbate, reads as either a confession or a deflection. In retrospect, it is a wonder it ever got made.

One esteemed writer and cultural critic wondered out loud:

Given that the Orchard has already made the emphatic move of saying that it will not distribute the film, selling its rights would appear a public capitulation of sorts. Subsequently, allowing another company to purchase and distribute "I Love You, Daddy" may be out of the question, and the film — much like some of Kevin Spacey's work — may never see the light of day.

HBO, FX and Netflix are among the companies that are reviewing or have backed out of Louis C.K. projects. Netflix has already canceled production of a C.K. stand-up special and HBO has rescinded his invitation to appear on “Night of Too Many Stars,” a charity event for autism that will feature celebrities like John Oliver and Olivia Munn with Jon Stewart as host, according to Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. HBO has also removed C.K.’s projects from its streaming services.

Perhaps most crushing of all for Louis C.K. is the Friday news that FX — the channel that was the home of the comedian's well-regarded show "Louie" as well as series he produced including "Better Things," "Baskets" and others — has now parted ways with the him in a statement that reads:

Today, FX Networks and FX Productions are ending our association with Louis C.K. We are cancelling the overall deal between FX Productions and his production company, Pig Newton. He will no longer serve as executive producer or receive compensation on any of the four shows we were producing with him – "Better Things," "Baskets," "One Mississippi" and "The Cops."

Louis has now confirmed the truth of the reports relating to the five women victimized by his misconduct, which we were unaware of previously. As far as we know, his behavior over the past 8 years on all five series he has produced for FX Networks and/or FX Productions has been professional. However, now is not the time for him to make television shows. Now is the time for him to honestly address the women who have come forth to speak about their painful experiences, a process which he began today with his public statement.

A similar statement was released by Louis C.K.'s longtime management firm 3 Arts Entertainment at the same hour. "We have terminated our relationship with Louis C.K. We are committed to ensuring a safe and secure environment for our staff, clients and the community at large,” the company said. “We are doing a full internal review regarding this situation and are taking additional steps to strengthen our processes and procedures while engaging with our staff to address any concerns about harassment or abuse of power. This behavior is totally unacceptable in all circumstances and must be confronted and addressed.”

Other celebrities, including those in the notoriously self-protecting comedy community, reacted to the news on Thursday night after the Times story broke. Gregg Rogell, Jim Norton and Judy Gold addressed the allegations at New York’s Comedy Cellar, reported Vulture. “Do you guys mind if I masturbate in front of you? Would that be a problem?” Gold joked.

While their denunciations were less complete or committed as those of FX, the Orchard and other companies, it is still notable that comedians are finally addressing a subject many of them knew about, but didn't deign to speak of onstage.

The world of comedy is an insular place with a loosely observed code of silence. There's plenty of internal gabbing and squabbling, but comedians rarely assail other comedians in public. That the performers above and others on Twitter (who have been far more damning) are beginning to speak up shows the extent to which Louis C.K. has lost his once considerable sway.

All in all, it paints a picture of a non-coordinated but near universal rejection of Louis C.K. by the industry, one that closely resembles the seemingly permanent banishments handed down to Weinstein and Spacey once their long-rumored alleged trespasses became public knowledge. Add that to the sense of betrayal many feel toward this intermittently enlightened, progressive performer, and he is, for the moment, well and truly screwed.

There are some key differences here, however, which may suggest that Louis C.K. is not without some hope of an eventual return.

First, there is the fact that, relative to the many other charges leveled against many other men in the last four weeks, Louis C.K. is not accused of rape, of abusing a minor, or of consistent sexual assault. He harassed, he suppressed, he shoved a woman, he performed sex acts on himself without the consent of those viewing it. Yet, those crimes pale in the eyes of the public compared to say, the accusations against Weinstein or Toback. In short, his road toward forgiveness is simply not as long.

As well, there is his fanbase, which, even now, supports him. Weinstein, Toback, Spacey and others can't boast the truly loving following Louis C.K. has. While many may reject him in the short run he will, like O'Reilly, have a crew of lifers to carry him through.

Finally, there is the nature of what happened over the last 24 hours. The fact that Louis C.K. admitted to and apologized for his behavior will be remembered no matter how disingenuous parts of his confession are. Unlike others, he has denied nothing.

As well, the speed at which Hollywood distanced itself from him was record-setting. Perhaps with a script to follow thanks to Weinstein and Spacey, companies now respond quickly and decisively to such allegations in hours rather than days. Simply, the Band-Aid has been torn off and the wrangling is over. Perhaps other women will come forward, but Louis C.K.'s descent was near immediate, and played out over a single news cycle. Given that it took so little time to execute, it will, to many, be easier to either forgive or forget (not that anyone must do either of those things).

Just over 24 hours after the Times report surfaced, Louis C.K. is already positioned to begin the rehabilitation process. That is, to an extent, unfair. The root of his problem has not been addressed even if his punishment has been handed out. Regardless, the potential for a comeback is there.

But as for "Louie," all those standup specials, "I Love You, Daddy" and so on, they're gone, parts of the past. Whatever cultural capital Louis C.K. built up over the decades is gone.

Writing in New York Magazine, Matt Zoller Seitz declared in a headline "Louis C.K. Is Done." There he speaks of legacies, of Louis C.K.'s work being "Of Archival Interest Only," and of whether we can enjoy his comedy at all. It reads, appropriately perhaps, like an obituary for a career. Indeed, it's hard to disagree that the future Zoller Seitz describes of "moving on to something new — not just new work, but a new paradigm for relationships in show business, and all business," is exactly what should happen.

Perhaps Seitz is being too optimistic. Perhaps he's too assured that all these allegations are lowering our tolerance for misconduct rather than raising it.

For Louis C.K. to be fully, permanently screwed, for him not to be able to take advantage of the elements listed above that might allow him to return to public approbation — much as Mel Gibson has — there must be some sort of massive and underlying shift in American culture. So far, we've seen a lot of #MeToo, but we haven't seen men, the responsible agents here, change all that much.

If things stay even half as they were before Louis C.K. got sucked into Weinstein's whirlpool, then he will not stay down for long. But it will not matter. If that turns out to be the case, it is us who will be truly screwed.

By Leigh C. Anderson

Leigh C. Anderson is an editorial intern at Salon.

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