Why I’m Still, Kind of, Rooting for Louis CK

Months after his return to comedy, Louis CK hasn’t just not apologized for his wrongdoing—he’s punching back against the sensibilities that brought him down.

The person who recorded the set shouldn’t have posted it online. They betrayed the purpose of live comedy—they should have been present while CK performed his set and let it stay in the room when the set was over.

But no matter the source, CK’s material about transgender pronouns and Parkland shooting survivors sounded lazy and mean. You could hear the anger in his voice. His frustration was sincere. There’s always been a sense, from his sorry-less New York Times apology to his premature comeback, that CK felt he was being made an example of. He was unfairly lumped in with Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, and therefore thought he only had to wait a little while before people should get over it. And it sure sounds like CK’s new material confirms his feelings of #MeToo martyrdom.

The crowd loved CK’s jokes and were clamoring for more. One audible audience member added commentary, including a “fuck ‘em!” when the comedian was going on about Parkland students. That’s certainly not how I reacted to the material, but that’s okay. There’s an audience for everything in 2019, even hacky “kids these days” comedy. Dennis Miller is still employed. If that’s what some people want to see, that’s their right. But as predictable as CK’s turn may have been, it’s hard for me to accept that pandering to right wing audiences is his final form.

I’m not ignoring Louis CK’s sketchiness. His material has always been purposely vulgar and creepy; he’s always been too comfortable using the n-word, and his many jokes about masturbating are downright cringeworthy now. In light of his actions, everything he’s said deserves reexamination.

Still, most of his previous material was thoughtful and expertly crafted. His wisdom may ring hollow at this point, and he doesn’t personally live up to his on-stage enlightenment. But he’s still part of a very small percentage of the human population that has the ability to make just about any subject funny, no matter how controversial or gross. Surely a comedian of CK’s caliber could mine his bad behavior for introspection and humor.

But that route would’ve been much more difficult. He’d have to actually taken time to listen (as he said he would in his apology), acknowledge his wrongdoing, and fully apologize before turning his comedic gaze inward. There was no way for CK to move forward without making himself the primary target of his own comedic ire. Or, as comedian Paul F. Tompkins suggested, at the very least CK could’ve sought therapy or donated to causes that help victims of abuse.

Instead, CK took the easy route, riffing on using alternate pronouns (the easiest joke in the world to do, btw) and kids who have the audacity to loudly demand gun reform after seeing their classmates murdered. It’s perfect, if your goal is cheap laughs.

Maybe that’s just who Louis CK is—a faux-woke comedian who starts frothing about SJWs at the first sign of adversity (in the wake of a sex scandal entirely of his own making). He already proved he hadn’t learned anything about consent during his absence. Maybe the onus is on me for expecting more and conflating his material with who he actually was. I still think CK can get to a point of significant reflection, whether he makes it funny or not. I hope he does. But the more time passes, the less likely that seems.