Well, I’m exhausted.
In case you have not yet logged on today, Louis C.K. made his first return to stand-up at the Comedy Cellar in New York City since admitting to sexual misconduct against various women late last year. This is the same venue that has been featured heavily in his FX show and also recently made a quiet welcome to Aziz Ansari.
To quote my friend, comedian and writer Megan Koester, “Imagine a world in which people cared about female comedians’ comedy as much as they cared about female comedians’ ‘hot takes’ on the sex crimes of male comedians.”
Not today, Satan—welcome back to the “Make Them Leave” series, which I will now tentatively suggest be renamed “They’re Never Going to Fucking Leave, How Do We Take Care of Each Other In a Society Designed to Make the Majority of People Within It Unsafe Physically, Emotionally and Professionally? Please Pass the Mike’s Hard Lemonade.”
Earlier this month, we discussed the people accused of (and, in some cases, who have admitted to) sexual harassment and abuse being put back in their positions of power. Today, we’ll talk about who is responsible for that happening, and how that is what will be the death of a promising movement. Inhale, exhale.
At its best and its worst, the entertainment industry reflects our culture. The reason for that is because it seeks the attention and money of that culture. So yes, I am frustrated and unsurprised that Louis C.K. is back onstage, that T.J. Miller never left and is actively negging his accusers, that Aziz Ansari is “quietly workshopping” new material, that Chris Hardwick’s name is back on the Nerdist banner, and those are just the people in my line of work off the top of my head. The entertainment industry is littered with men who many expressed concern would be ruined permanently returning to their position of power less than a year later—look no further than reports from the past week about Matt Lauer, earlier reports about Bill O’Reilly, and the non-firing of people like Les Moonves for evidence that that’s not happening.
So yes, absolutely fuck that. It’s important to remember that this behavior is not limited to entertainment and politics—these are just the industries most carefully scrutinized and likely to be reported on. According to statistics from the US Employment Equal Opportunity Commission, the top three industries where sexual harassment claims are filed are in food service and accommodation, retail trade and manufacturing. The finance, science and videogame industries, all of which historically underrepresent women and minorities, have sexual harassment issues that run rampant internally. The majority of abuses going on are in workplaces that are not given the same amount of coverage or consideration as entertainment, and as of last year an estimated 75% of total claims go unreported altogether. Outside of the workplace, domestic violence remains a massively underreported issue in America.
For every bit of anger you feel against your entertainment or political heroes returning to positions of power after abusing another, keep in mind that they are a reflection of the society that embraced them.
Noam Dworman, the owner of the Comedy Cellar, had the following to say to the New York Times about Louis C.K. being brought up at the club on Sunday night:
“I understand that some people will be upset with me. I care about my customers very much. Every complaint goes through me like a knife. And I care about doing the right thing.”
He also had this to say:
“There can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”
He also had this to say:
“I didn’t think it was going to happen as soon as it did. I had thought that the first time he’d go on would be in a more controlled environment. But he decided to just rip the Band-Aid off.”
Dworman’s complicity in C.K. getting back onstage is important, as is his half-hearted befuddlement that it happened. While he is entitled to do what he chooses with his business, his response implies that he has no control over what happens there. He absolutely does. If he wants to bar alleged abusers from performing at his venue, that’s within his power. Allowing multiple alleged abusers back onstage within months of their accusation and after no demonstrated rehabilitation or even attempts at rehabilitation reflects on his venue’s values and how consumers should approach it moving forward.
#MeToo opened the eyes of many to a major issue, and those who are complicit in the return of abusers are the reason it’s now failing less than a year later.
The past year has accomplished a lot. Many people in positions of power are looking at their ingrained behaviors more critically and recognizing the need to support and lift up those who do not have the same privilege they do. Victims have been able to come forward in larger numbers, and some of them have even gotten justice. However, as a recent Last Week Tonight segment demonstrated, these periods of reprieve are cyclical, and are ended by the perpetrators of harassment and abuse being empowered by complicit third parties.
For those who question what ‘rehabilitation’ in abusers not being punished by the law should look like (hi, Michael Ian Black!), LA comic Jenny Yang has assembled an excellent game plan:
Atoning for Sexual Assault in Comedy Idea #1: Privately apologize to each of your victims.— Jenny Yang (@jennyyangtv) August 28, 2018
I highly recommend you read Yang’s whole thread and, while you’re at it, her entire body of work. She’s the best.
What this all means is that I got it wrong. Making them leave isn’t enough. Being a quiet millionaire for nine months isn’t enough. “Due process” is a phrase most frequently used by the only corner of society it can be realistically afforded to.
Your options are to make noise, not support the institutions where the tolerance of these people are taken in complicit stride, and to put your money where your mouth is where you can. I’d encourage everyone to give the price of a Comedy Cellar ticket (between $14 and $25) to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, instead. It’s a small, marked way to be productively angry. Support artists you like, and whose values align with the rights of others.
Welp, talk to you when this motherfucker’s next special is announced.
Jamie Loftus is a comedian, writer and social media victim of the International Olympic Committee. She’s the creator and star of the Comedy Central online original series Irrational Fears. You can find her some of the time, most days at @jamieloftusHELP or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.