It’s been 291 days since Louis C.K. admitted that he repeatedly masturbated in front of unwilling women.
Since then, the comedian has learned that sexual misconduct is no joke; his behavior torpedoed relationships with several television networks and he was dropped by his management company, his publicist and his booking agent.
But as of Sunday night, C.K. is back, testing the waters with a surprise (and short) stand-up set at New York’s famed Comedy Cellar.
Yes. No. Maybe. It’s complicated.
In a perfect world, all humans are redeemable and all actions are forgivable. Some argue that C.K. has already paid for his misdeeds, what with his 10-month timeout and loss of professional opportunities.
But beyond sitting and thinking about what he’s done, how has C.K. suffered in the last few months, really? Sure, he was denied opportunities and faced career upheaval, but so did his victims. For years, the comedian denied the rampant rumors that he was a sexual predator, making his accusers out to be liars and inappropriately wielding his power in the comedy community.
If we lived in a perfect world, marginalized individuals would have the same access to opportunities as disgraced comedians. So, no, maybe C.K. shouldn’t get a second chance.
Then again, the “Louie” creator has gone a step further than many individuals exposed by #MeToo: He apologized. In lieu of talking, he admitted to his wrongdoing, he expressed regret and he dedicated himself to listening more.
That’s something. There’s a sense of responsibility there utterly lacking in too many #MeToo offenders. Maybe C.K. isn’t a lost cause after all.
But what about other people who have faced accusations as part of the #MeToo movement? Both Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose have been rumored to have comebacks in the making. Casey Affleck told the Associated Press that he had learned a lot from the conversation surrounding #MeToo after being sued for sexual harassment.
As the C.K. redemption controversy bubbled up on Twitter Tuesday morning, Wonkette founding editor Ana Marie Cox suggested that 12-step programs could serve as a helpful template for making amends after sexual misconduct.
“Don’t apologize and assume that’s enough,” Cox wrote on Twitter. “It never is. Ask (an expert, if not your victims) what you can do to ‘make things right.’ ”
Making amends, after all, is wholly different from apologizing. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, amends are rooted in restoring justice, in action as opposed to mere words.
C.K. can’t un-expose himself to unwilling women any more than a bell can be un-rung.
But he could establish a foundation to support female comedians looking for opportunities otherwise denied them. C.K. could work in conjunction with an organization such as R.A.I.N.N. and do outreach on how not to impose on someone’s sexual autonomy. He could live his life differently and focus not just on rebuilding his career but on building a better, safer community in comedy for women.
It’s not enough for C.K. to sit out of the spotlight for a few months, and his words of apology are empty without action to support them.
The owner of the Comedy Cellar said C.K.’s Sunday night set consisted of “typical Louis C.K. stuff,” including racism, waitresses’ tips and parades.
But that’s a lie. Because the heart of C.K.’s comedy has always centered around his own experience as a crappy, crude white man. It’s disingenuous for C.K. to come back to comedy without openly addressing his own failures and doing the work necessary to heal the hurt he’s caused.
Can C.K. be redeemed? Yes.
Is he there yet? No.
Is he willing to do what he has to do to make amends? Maybe.