It’s been two years since comedian Louis CK admitted in the New York Times that the allegations of lewd behavior made about him by several women were true. He said in the statement that he planned to “step back and take a long time to listen,” but the Times reported on November 2 that the comedian is embarking on a world tour.
The tour started in Richmond, Va. and will see the comedian perform in such far-flung locations as Israel, Slovakia, and Hungary, as well as all over the United States.
These are not his first performances since running afoul of the #MeToo movement. He took the stage in August 2018 at Manhattan’s Comedy Cellar and has made other appearances since then. However, the current world tour is his most ambitious attempt yet to put his career back on track.
When he admitted to the allegations against him, Louis CK became one of the most visible symbols of “cancel culture,” in which celebrities are boycotted and lose professional opportunities in response to allegations against them. In his case, his film “I Love You, Daddy” was dropped from distribution and he lost his lead role in “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”
Now that he’s returning to the stage, it raises questions about the effectiveness of “cancel culture.” After all, is it accurate to say that he’s been “canceled” when he can wait a few months for the uproar to blow over and then go right back to performing?
According to culture critic and writer SJ Palm, host of the Popculty Podcast, the answer is yes, although it has more to do with information overload than anything else.
“In this day of the 24-hour news cycle, stories that would have dominated a year’s worth of media coverage a decade ago are breezed past within a day,” Palm said. “People lose track of time, and they forget how bad the crimes were, so they figure it’s probably been long enough… we should just be honest and call it ‘time-out culture.'”
Comedian, writer, and actor Kevin Allison said that if Louis CK wanted to return to the spotlight, there’s a historical precedent for the way he should have handled it.
“When the story about Louis broke in the Times a couple of years ago, I figured he’d lay low for two or three years, then come back with an hour-long show that was more soul-searching than dismissive, a show that dared to get serious,” he said. “There’s plenty of great moments in stand-up where someone like Richard Pryor came out and basically said something like, ‘Look, I regret something. There’s a solid reason for me to get real up here now and attempt to repair some damage.'”
He added that while Louis CK acknowledged that the stories his accusers told were true, the comedian could have done more to recognize the damage he did.
“Louis’s case is not on the level of, say, Bill Cosby’s,” Allison said. “But several women have said that this whole thing with Louis has had a negative effect on their lives. I don’t know what he’ll ultimately do on stage, but I’d respect him more if he didn’t act like those women were making much ado about nothing.”
Louis Carter, author and CEO of the Best Practice Institute think tank, said that if Louis CK’s “cancellation” seemed to end quickly, there’s a reason for that. He said that it’s in human nature to forgive, primarily because it feels good, and also because it’s easy to forgive when you’re not the victim.
“There are numerous studies on how forgiveness positively affects mood,” Carter said. “When the transgression is hypothetical to others, or others are far removed from the effects of the transgression, it is far easier to forgive.”
The real barometer of how welcome Louis CK’s return is will be the success or failure of his tour. If it sells out, then one can likely assume that he’s back in the public’s good graces. If he tells his jokes to the empty rooms of the world, then it probably means the opposite.
Whatever it means, author Collette McLafferty said that apart from choosing not to see the comedian perform, people who are still upset by his actions can take positive steps to offset that feeling.
“For anyone who is against Louis CK going on the road, I recommend taking that energy to actively seek out and support the projects of the women who told their stories instead – Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Rebecca Corey, and Abby Schachner,” she said. “They paved the way for women and men to come forward sooner than later.”