The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Louis C.K. performs for the first time since admitting sexual misconduct nine months ago

Cast member Louis C.K. attends the “American Hustle” movie premiere in 2013. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

On Sunday night, Louis C.K. did what he’s done for much of his career, walking on stage for an unannounced set at the Comedy Cellar, the revered institution in New York’s Greenwich Village. In front of a sold-out crowd that reportedly gave C.K. an ovation before he began a 15-minute set, the comedian performed for the first time in almost 10 months since admitting to numerous instances of sexual misconduct.

In a set filled with bits on racism, parades and waitresses’ tips — what Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman described to the New York Times as “typical Louis C.K. stuff” — the comedian was said to be “very relaxed” in his return to the public eye. What was not addressed, however, was his admission of wrongdoing that made C.K. one of the many men to face the consequences of the #MeToo movement.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen as soon as it did,” Dworman told the Times, saying that one audience member called the Comedy Cellar to object to the club allowing C.K. to perform. “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.”

In November 2017, five women came forward to tell stories of C.K.’s sexual misconduct dating back more than a decade, including instances involving masturbating in front of them. The day after the New York Times report, C.K. confirmed the accusations.

After being accused of sexual misconduct by five women in a New York Times report, comedian Louis C.K. says their stories are "true." (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post, Photo: Evan Agostini/The Washington Post)

“These stories are true,” C.K. said in a statement in November. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was O.K. because I never showed a woman” his genitals “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 genitals “isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them.”

The initial sexual misconduct accusations, and his admission a day later, led to FX Networks ending its production deal with him, essentially killing the release of “I Love You, Daddy,” a film that included scenes with the kind of behavior mentioned by the women who came forward.

Though some loyal fans expressed joy at his return, the majority of the response on social media to C.K.’s return appeared to be criticism from comedians, writers and journalists.

“Back by NO demand, sexual predator Louis C.K. does more of his completely necessary and revolutionary observational comedy,” comedy writer Mitra Jouhari observed. “What a relief that this voice is back on the scene.” (Jouhari appears to have since made her account private.)

It was a sentiment echoed by MAD Magazine editor Allie Goertz. “I believe people can grow and change, but this urgency to bring him (and others) back SO soon just sends such a bad message,” she tweeted.

Others were more explicit in their feelings of what C.K.’s return means to the #MeToo movement.

There was also anger directed at the Comedy Cellar for allowing C.K. a stage to perform so soon after his admission of sexual misconduct.

Dworman told the Times that he understands why people were angry with him.

“I care about my customers very much,” he said. “Every complaint goes through me like a knife. And I care about doing the right thing.”

Dworman did say, however, that “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.”

The set comes on the heels of Aziz Ansari returning to do shows in several cities seven months after a story on regarding an unnamed woman’s experience with the comedian after a date.

A longtime haunt of C.K.’s, the Comedy Cellar was a likely place for his unexpected return to the public eye. The front of the club was prominently featured in the introduction to “Louie,” his FX show that aired from 2010 to 2015.

While it remains unclear what comes next for C.K., seeing the fallen star working on new material at the Comedy Cellar is emblematic of something much larger potentially happening in the next year. In his 2016 autobiography, “Louis C.K. and Philosophy: You Don’t Get to Be Bored,” C.K. detailed how he’d work on his act at smaller clubs, like the Comedy Cellar, until he was ready to produce a new show for that year. The Sunday show might not be any different, Dworman said.

“It sounded just like he was trying to work out some new material, almost like any time of the last 10 years he would come in at the beginning of a new act,” Dworman told the Times.

In his November statement, C.K. said that he was lucky to have a career that allowed him to say anything he wanted.

“I will now step back and take a long time to listen,” he said at the time.

With his return to the stage, that time for listening might have ended.

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