I love comedy. I regularly check out the latest specials on Netflix, read books written by my favorite comedians, and watch their sitcoms and movies. I’m an avid listener of Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, and I’ve seen more comics’ live shows than I can count, both national acts and local folks trying to get their big breaks.
But it’s hard to be a female comedy fan. While there are a ton of great female comics, watching male comics can be a bit like sitting really close to the field at a baseball game – you’re probably going to see a good game, but you can’t stop flinching lest a baseball labeled “random sexist bullshit” suddenly lobs you in the head.
That was why I loved Louis C.K. Sure, he could be crude, crass, and kind of gross about sex, but so are a lot of my favorite female comics. And he also always seemed to genuinely like and appreciate women as people. C.K.’s self-deprecating style and willingness to self-reflect made him one of the few male comics who really seemed to “get” his female fans – or at least try too.
In other words, a woman could watch Louis C.K. without flinching.
At least that’s what I thought. It turns out that while I was regularly singing his praises as one of the best comics alive today, he was regularly (or at least more than once) masturbating in front of unwilling women, most younger and virtually all far less powerful than him. It turns out, he was causing A LOT of women to flinch – he was just doing it behind closed doors.
This probably shouldn’t have been as startling a revelation to me as it was. It turns out, these rumors have been swirling about him for years. But I’m not a comedian or an insider, and, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t do a lot of research on him. I just watched his shows, read a positive article about him here or there, listened to his appearance on Maron’s podcast – one of the best Maron has done.
The only time I remember having doubts about him was when there was some controversy over a particular episode of Louie, his former show on FX. In the episode, he basically chases Pamela Adlon’s character around his apartment, trying to force himself on her. The episode made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t really buy his or Adlon’s explanation that it wasn’t rape-y just because his character was so clueless.
Still, it was just that one mistake, I thought. A miscalculation about the line between funny and creepy, between satire and disturbing. He was only human, right? People make mistakes.
Unfortunately, it turns out that episode showed a little more about C.K.’s twisted views of consent than maybe he meant to reveal. His recent statement about the accusations against him, in which he admitted what he’d done before weirdly pointing out that he’d always “asked” first only drives the point home further. It didn’t matter to him that the women weren’t interested. It was ok, so long as he asked. In fact, his need to keep emphasizing their “admiration” for him in his statement indicates that he subscribed to that age-old notion of self-justifying sexual offenders everywhere – that no means yes, at least if the woman “admires” you.
I was so profoundly saddened when this story broke a few days ago. Not about losing Louis C.K. in particular. There are plenty of fantastic comedians out there today to watch instead.
Instead, I’m saddened by the fact that, even the seemingly “good guys” in comedy may have skeletons like this in their closets. That now I have to wonder about all of the other male comedians I adore. That now I have to watch their jokes like a hawk, looking for signs of hidden sexism, instead of just relaxing and watching the show.
That now, every time I watch a male comedian, I once again have to flinch.