A year ago, stand-up comic Louis C.K. confirmed sexual misconduct accusations made against him, which included incidents where he masturbated in front of female colleagues, were “true."
Then he said he was going to disappear for a while.
“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” C.K. said in response to a New York Times investigation into the matter. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen."
In a new, crude stand-up routine recorded inside a Long Island comedy club in December, which leaked online over the weekend, C.K. explains what he did during that long listening window. He fled New York City, which he now hates, and did some traveling in small U.S. towns, which he said made him uncomfortable. C.K. lost money, he said, a lot of money — $35 million in one day. Then he went to France “because I thought I should leave the nation,” he said.
The set, which continued for 45 minutes without directly mentioning the actions that derailed his career, included a sexually explicit joke about 9-year-old girls wearing Old Navy boyfriend-style jeans. The routine mocked young people who identify as gender-neutral, featured a five-minute bit about what the comic believes is an absurd political correctness surrounding the word “retarded” and criticized the student survivors of mass school shootings for testifying before Congress.
“What are you doing? You’re young. You should be crazy, unhinged. Not in a suit, saying ‘I’m here to tell…’" C.K. said in the audio clip. “You’re not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot. Why does that mean I have to listen to you? How does that make you interesting. You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way and then, now I gotta listen to you talking?”
The bit continued, referring to the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff.
Everybody gets upset when there’s a shooting at a high school. I don’t really see why it’s any worse than anybody else dying. I don’t. Cuz a lot of people die, every day 7,500 people die in America, okay, so that day 17 kids got shot in a school. What about the other... 7,500 people. They didn’t die in their sleep. Some of them got electrocuted. By their parents. People get upset because they’re young. Because they died so young. That’s offensive to me.
Those who survived the Parkland massacre, and parents of those who didn’t, quickly slammed C.K.'s routine. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, blasted the comic in a tweet Monday morning.
“To anyone who knows Louis CK, please deliver this message for me,” Guttenberg wrote. “My son ran from the bullets. My wife and I deal with loss everyday. Why don’t you come to my house and try out your new pathetic jokes?"
Delaney Tarr, a co-founder of March for Our Lives who survived the Parkland shooting, wrote on Twitter that their group has “worked with plenty of comedians who have talked about us in a genuine, hilarious way.” But C.K.'s bit, she said, was different.
“This is just being a [jerk],” she said.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for gun legislation, summarized it like this: “Imagine thinking the best way to resurrect your career after admitting to sexual misconduct is to mock trans people and Parkland gun violence survivors,” she tweeted.
“Hey Louie CK,” Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland survivor who testified before Congress that she hid beneath a dead classmate’s body during the shooting, wrote on Twitter. “Since you like making fun of me and other Parkland survivors behind closed doors, I’m right here if you want to talk. Just try to keep it in your pants, ok?”
Cameron Kasky, who also co-founded March for Our Lives, said it was “not his job to police comedy just because I find it offensive.” He added, though, “Louis is an ass for the jokes he’s making which sucks cause he used to be really funny and not just a professional jerk.” Kasky said he used to enjoy episodes of the FX TV drama “Louie,” which was a fictionalized version of C.K.'s life as a single dad and successful stand-up comic in New York City.
“Seems now like he’s becoming more of a Milo-style provocateur as opposed to just a non-PC comedian,” Kasky wrote on Twitter, referring to far-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who helped launch Breitbart News into the mainstream.
Long before the New York Times investigation published last fall in which five women accused C.K. of sexual misconduct, the comic’s jokes were perceived as crude. He rejected so-called political correctness and embraced his reputation as the guy who would say aloud the uncouth thoughts everyone else managed to contain within their own minds.
The leaked audio recording shows a comic who, despite the last year (“I bet none of you had the kind of year I had"), has no plans to change his brand of funny. He told one joke about liking the way his Jewish doctor touches him. Then the doctor says C.K. should stop eating ice cream, and the comic responds by using slurs to describe him.
He talked about his daughters and his issue with the way young people today conduct themselves. They should be doing jello shots and having sex, he said. Instead he called them “boring.” He continued:
“‘You should address me...’” They’re like royalty! They tell you what to call them. ‘You should address me as they/them, because I identify as gender neutral.’ Oh, okay."
In the joke, C.K. said he would like to be called “there” because he identifies “as a location,” and the location is their mother’s genitals.
C.K. and his representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
James Dolce owns three Governor’s Comedy Clubs on Long Island. Dolce said C.K. performed half a dozen times at his clubs during a two-week time period in mid-December. The owner said he believes the leaked audio recording comes from one of those performances.
“Everyone in the audiences, and all the sold-out shows, they were there to see Louie,” Dolce said Monday afternoon. “Louie’s a genius when it comes to comedy. It’s why he has so many followers. It was nothing but applause, like he always gets when he’s onstage.”
Dolce, who has known C.K. for years, said he had not listened to the leaked recording of the show. He has strict rules at his club about recording devices because often comics are trying out new material.
“Nobody wants their material being heard before it’s totally 100 percent polished,” Dolce said. “That’s basically what he was doing.”
The performances at Dolce’s clubs weren’t C.K.'s first ventures back onstage. In August, C.K. performed a 15-minute, surprise set at the Comedy Cellar in New York, an institution he frequented before his downfall. He made other surprise appearances throughout the city, the New York Times reported, and protesters assembled outside the Comedy Cellar in October when the club advertised he would be performing back to back on a Monday night.
C.K.'s appearances raised a greater question about the comeback tours for male celebrities accused of sexual misconduct as part of the #MeToo movement and whether comedy club owners should be the gatekeepers who prevent powerful men who have hurt people from rising again.
Dolce said C.K. has performed at his club many times before and always treated his staff with kindness and respect. He added it was not his job to comment on the content of a comic’s routine.
“You know who you’re coming to see,” Dolce said. “Comedy is a real opinionated profession. They say what they want to say. That’s comedy.”