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Louis C.K. Receives Standing Ovation in Return to Stand Up

Louis C.K. returned to the famed West Village club the Comedy Cellar on Sunday night and performed a 15-minute drop in set, the New York Times reports. Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman told the Times that the comedian—who just nine months ago admitted to exposing himself to women without their consent and masturbating in front of them—was greeted with a standing ovation by the sold out 115-person crowd before C.K. even began his set.

Dworman said he was at home when C.K. dropped in, but his staff texted him about the disgraced comedian’s appearance. He also said he later watched a video of the set, which he described as “typical Louis C.K. stuff” like parades, racism, and tipping waitresses. Much like Aziz Ansari at his standup show in Milwaukee this past weekend, it sounds like C.K. didn’t broach his #MeToo allegations in his set.

“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 said.

In November, the New York Times published a report in which five women, fellow comedians or other entertainment professionals, discussed being harassed or propositioned by C.K. in professional settings. One claimed that she left comedy all together after an upsetting encounter with C.K. Prior to the Times report, C.K. repeatedly dismissed unsubstantiated reports of his inappropriate behavior as just “rumors.” 

As for the ethical quandary of allowing a guy who admitted to harassing colleagues to perform in your comedy club, Dworman sounds quick to let himself off the hook. From the Times:

“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.”

But, he added, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” The social standards about how to respond to errant behavior are inconsistent, he said, and now shifting ever faster, and audiences should have the leeway to decide what to watch themselves. “I think we’ll be better off as a society if we stop looking to the bottlenecks of distribution — Twitter, Netflix, Facebook or comedy clubs — to filter the world for us.”

“Permanent life sentence” is an interesting choice of words considering that exposing yourself to an unwilling person is an actual crime. The only “sentence” C.K. ever served entailed dropping out of public life for nine months before performing at the Cellar.

If C.K. accuser Rebecca Corry’s account is any indication, the most severe punishment is reserved for the victims who speak out against abuse, not the powerful abuser themselves.

“Since speaking out, I’ve experienced vicious and swift backlash from women and men, in and out of the comedy community,” Corry wrote in a Vulture essay in May. ” I’ve received death threats, been berated, judged, ridiculed, dismissed, shamed, and attacked​.”

If C.K. is indeed angling for a redemption arc, it would be interesting to see what work, if any, he makes to atone for the lost professional opportunities and social fallout suffered by his victims.