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 he admitted to numerous instances of sexual misconduct.
In a set filled with bits on racism, parades and waitresses’ tips — what Comedy Cellar owner Noah 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 their stories of C.K.’s sexual misconduct dating back to more than a decade ago, including instances involving masturbating in front of the women. The day after the New York Times report, C.K. confirmed the accusations.
“These stories are true,” C.K. said in a statement last November. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK 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 their 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 has been widely met with 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.”
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.
There was also anger directed at the Comedy Cellar for allowing C.K. a stage to perform so soon following his admission of sexual misconduct. “many good, well-employed comedians regularly perform at the Comedy Cellar. they all have the power to make it clear that Louis CK’s return is not acceptable,” Seth Simons wrote on Twitter.
Dworman told the Times that he understood 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 Babe.net regarding an unnamed woman’s experience with the comedian after a date.
A longtime haunt of his, the Comedy Cellar was a likely place for C.K.’s 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.