Not wasting a minute, Louis C.K. opened his sold-out San Jose show last week by directly addressing the subject that made him a persona non grata. “I like to jerk off, and I don’t like being alone,” he said.
Ever since being accused last year of masturbating in front of younger comediennes, C.K. has been struggling to relaunch a career that until so recently seemed unstoppable. In recently leaked sets, C.K. is heard joking mordantly about his fall from grace (“I have lost so much fucking money in a day,” he said in a Long Island comedy club. “35 million. You don’t tell people you have 35 million, but you can tell them you lost 35 million, because that shit is hilarious.”)
But this is one of the first times in which the disgraced comic joked about the sexual misconduct accusations themselves. According to The Daily Beast, C.K also tied his behavior to one of his latest controversy-making bit. In December, C.K. drew even more liberal ire by mocking the over-sensitivity of Millennials and the over-exposure of Parkland school shooting survivors. On Wednesday, he addressed the backlash — by doubling down.
“If you ever need people to forget that you jerked off, what you do is you make a joke about kids that got shot,” he said.
C.K., whose talent for taking every joke to its cruelest conclusion, revisited more material from the leaked sets only to give them a darker twist. Echoing a previously used joke, he began:
I got on a plane once. And this couple comes up to me as we’re boarding. There’s an empty seat next to me, and this woman says to me, ‘Would you mind moving so my husband and I can sit together?’ And he’s behind her and he’s like [shakes his head to indicate, "no”]. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t wanna upset him. But I don’t wanna sit with his fucking wife. So I just got off the plane.
To that, C.K. added, “And then the plane took off. And it hit the World Trade Center.” The punchline was met with groans from the audience, and The Daily Beast described the moment as the point in which he started losing the audience.
Outside the venue, dozens of protestors were chanting for C.K. to make a more permanent exit. “Shame!” went the cries, “Louis C.K. has go to go!”
C.K. had fully owned up to his misdeeds before, acknowledging the accusations against him soon after they were made public.
“These stories are true,” he said in a statement in November, 2017. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”
And yet, many liberals refuse to accept his penance. Many found flaws in the apology: That it came too late, or that it was never delivered personally to the accusers. To even consider giving C.K. another chance reeks of male privilege, some of his #MeToo critics insist. (When comedian Sarah Silverman, who was one of the people Louis C.K. had harassed, said that he should be back on stage, she came under such heavy fire she had to walk it back.)
His defenders, on the other hand, see his stunted comeback not as a sign of the comedian’s moral descent, but as the shrinking Overton window of progressive tolerance.