Louis C.K.'s New Special Is Amazing, Say Louis C.K.'s Friends

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Louis C.K.'s New Special Is Amazing, Say Louis C.K.'s Friends

This article was originally published on Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in comedy. Subscribe here to get posts like this in your inbox.

Louis C.K. recorded his August shows at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater and will release them as a new special, according to his recent opener Shane Gillis. Appearing on a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience with Mark Normand and Ari Shaffir—the same episode where Rogan claimed the power of autofellatio—Gillis said he can’t wait for everyone to see “the king”’s new hour. Gillis opened for C.K. at a few shows in California last month, where the two apparently had a fun time together:

I’ll tell you a cool story. He’s gonna be mad. I don’t want to disrespect the king… It’s just a funny thing. I got to the hotel and he was like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “I forgot my sunglasses, I’m gonna go buy a pair of sunglasses.” He was like, “All right, I want you to come to my hotel room before you leave”. And I was like… He was fucking with me. When the doors were closed he was like, “I’m not gonna jerk off.” I probably shouldn’t have said that on here. That’s all right… He’s the king. What he wanted to show me was some of that, that he filmed. And then I saw the hour and it’s like, I cannot wait for everyone to see it.

The problem, in short, is that nothing changed and nobody’s trying to change it. From The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month:

The world in which these women plug away isn’t the pinnacle of packed arenas or Netflix specials (though that, too, is an almost exclusively male preserve: Forbes‘ 2019 list of the 10 top-grossing stand-ups, the last before the pandemic torpedoed touring, featured just one woman, at No. 7: Amy Schumer). It’s what happens further down the ladder at the stand-up clubs and bars across the country that cultivate talent.

These female comedians, with no recourse of a union or corporate management, let alone a human resources department, are freelance contractors in a realm that, with notable exceptions, remains a boys’ club, one in which “ladies’ nights” still tokenize performers. They’re working rooms where colleagues are also competitors, and audiences, by their nature, largely care more about letting off steam than fostering civility. “There’s no protection,” says San Francisco-based performer Dhaya Lakshminarayanan.

The #MeToo movement, they observe, has been met with mixed results. While plenty of men within the scene have become more conscious about their words and actions, others have lashed out. Performer Jenny Saldaña, who organizes stand-up fundraisers for breast cancer research, sees this reaction as rooted in defensiveness and a sense of loss. “These men are now an ‘other,’ ” she explains. “Suddenly they get what we get: ‘You’re too this, you’re too that.’ The pass that they’ve been given for so long, it’s been revoked. They’re threatened and they attack.”

The Louis C.K. exposé was published by the New York Times four years ago. He released his comeback special 19 months ago. He’s preparing to release another one soon. He’s currently on a nationwide tour that next year will become a worldwide tour. The guy’s fine, he’s rich, he’s popular, he’s working, my friend saw him walking his dog in Greenpoint, all the fuss was for nothing. What can we learn from this? Not much—just that comedy is the same industry it was before the entire world discovered one of its most beloved comedians was an abuser and a fraud.

That Louis C.K. may never work in television again (and I suspect he probably will) doesn’t matter to the vast majority of comedians, who will never work in TV either. Most comedians work in live comedy venues, and live comedy venues are all in on sexual harassment. Any sort of meaningful transformation there would require star comics, people in positions of comfort and security, to make loud, sustained demands of comedy’s ownership class, who are highly responsive to public shaming. In the absence of change, the onus remains on comedians who don’t want to get abused to steer clear of spaces that cater to abusers.

As comedian and writer Kate Willett observes in the Hollywood Reporter article, this strategy functionally requires those comedians to deprive themselves of work. This in turn allows those spaces to just keep getting more toxic in the absence of any sort of self-regulation. The end of this road is the road itself, the world we’re living in now, the one described by the Hollywood Reporter: a world where abuse is the norm in comedy and where the people responsible are joking about it as they perform in huge theaters for adoring crowds while their friends go on Joe Rogan’s hundred-million-dollar podcast to complain about how oppressed they are.

But hey, at least people get to laugh again. Comedy’s back!

Seth Simons is the writer of Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in the comedy industry. He’s on Twitter @sasimons. Subscribe to Humorism to get articles like this in your inbox.