In what turned out to be a surprise for zero women, Louis CK returned to stand-up comedy this week with a “surprise set” at New York’s famed Comedy Cellar for the first time since he admitted to nonconsensually masturbating in front of several women, almost 10 months ago. The comedian was reportedly met with resounding applause as he walked on to the stage and received a standing ovation after his 15-minute set ― one that comprised an uncomfortable “rape whistle” joke.
Two women who sat through his set told Vulture that “there seemed to be a divide between how men and women reacted to CK’s presence”. And to think that back in November, the chain of events that followed his admission actually had us believe that his career could be dented. At the time, his manager Dave Becky ended their professional relationship, the comedian lost his production deal with FX, Netflix, and HBO, and the release of I Love You Daddy, the film that he wrote, directed, and starred in, was cancelled. But less than a year since his hiatus, CK quietly forged his return under the aegis of a protective comedy club and a largely white male audience that had a man telling him that “it was good to have him back”.
This warm reception to his comeback however doesn’t change the facts: CK’s admission is proof that he is a repeat sex offender. Let’s remember that if convicted by a court, he would have not only gotten jail time, but would also have his name entered in a database that would disclose his status as a sex offender in every potential neighbourhood he chose to live in. Contrast this with the two things that have instead happened to him: Someone willingly gave him a platform and the public lapped it by by making him believe that he’s already atoned for his sins.
After Comedy Cellar put CK on that night, at least three other comedy club managers have now chipped in with sympathetic views (“Everyone deserves a second chance”). It’s nothing but a testament to the fact that every time a powerful man falls, there will be no dearth of other powerful men who will step in and help out.
Our patriarchy runs deeper than we’d like to admit. Historically men have had to live up to very little accountability as long as they were the breadwinners.
But as a member of the audience, what prompts people to give a sexual predator, a hero’s welcome? Granted that there were a few people who wouldn’t have been at the club had they previously known that he would be performing. But the rest seem to comfortably believe that he has suffered enough. So he is welcomed back into the fold, just like Aziz Ansari who made a comeback with a set on dating. Similarly, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski continue to make films, just the way serial offender Salman Khan remains one of India’s biggest superstars and Sanjay Dutt gets a sympathetic biopic.
But the worst part is that we, the audience allow them the luxury of forgiveness. For some inexplicable reason, we’ve collectively assumed that a sabbatical is punishment enough. All it takes for a transgressor to cleanse his image is to lie low for a few months.
While it’s not surprising that a completely different set of rules apply to celebrities and their transgressions, it’s indeed amusing that these relaxed rules seem to apply only to male celebrities. “Bad boys” might be a global phenomenon, but we’re yet to coin an affectionate term for women who’ve done terrible things. Compare our treatment of male celebrities (whose crimes have had very real victims), to our treatment of female celebrities like Winona Ryder who admitted to taking drugs and shoplifting. It took her almost 10 years after the charges to be seen in a film (Black Swan) and another five to land Stranger Things. Clearly, women are restricted from the Bad Boys Club of Second Chances.
Considering that CK was the first high-profile man condemned by #MeToo to chart a comeback, it’s evident that the next year could see a resurgence of many more.
Image Credit: Netflix
Closer home, Kangana Ranaut, who’s acting in and producing Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, has been branded a bully for leaving no stone unturned to ensure that her ambitious project is a roaring success. Know what we call Aamir Khan, a male Bollywood actor, who has built a brand for doing the same? A perfectionist.
Our patriarchy runs deeper than we’d like to admit. Historically men have had to live up to very little accountability as long as they were the breadwinners. Because boys and girls have always been raised so differently, we live in a culture where men are overwhelmingly told that if they want something, they should “just go for it”. Women, on the other hand, are instructed to put others before themselves. This “just go for it” attitude that contributes to the sense of entitlement powerful men harbour, is the reason why Louis CK thinks it’s okay to masturbate in front of anyone he wants. You see, the greater their power, the more they begin to believe that they are untouchable.
Considering that CK was the first high-profile man condemned by #MeToo to chart a comeback, it’s evident that the next year could see a resurgence of many more. At this point, #MeToo has only ensured a momentary “naming and shaming”. But has it really impacted the careers of male celebrities? In Kevin Spacey’s case, it seems to have made a lasting difference: His latest film Billionaire Boys managed to rake in only $126. On the other hand, if Louis CK is any indication, evidently not.
More than anything, the anger is rooted in how easy we’ve made it for disgraced men to be absolved of their crimes: CK and Ansari resumed stand-up without so much as apologising or addressing the elephant in the room. It’s no different than performers who had earlier denounced Pune’s High Spirits, are now flocking back to the haunt. The anger is then not only toward the gatekeepers of the entertainment world who are only too happy to help, but also directed at the audience that laughs along. And it’s about how as a society, our affection for male celebrities trumps our sense of fairness.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius