The attempted comeback of Louis C.K. continued on Monday — but this time, it wasn’t a surprise. The comedian delivered two sets at New York’s Comedy Cellar, for which he was an official but late addition. Though a pair of protesters held signs up outside the venue and pleaded with ticket holders to bail once C.K. took the stage, many stayed through his performances and The New York Times reports he was “greeted warmly.”
According to The Times (the same publication, by the way, that broke the stories of sexual misconduct against C.K., which he eventually admitted to), the comic once again kept references to his troubled image brief. He repeated jokes about losing “$35 million in an hour” after the scandal broke and needing to retake the stage to earn an income. “Hard things, you survive them or you don’t,” he added. “I think even hell you can survive. Hell is not that bad. I’ve been there.”
While it seems he’s moved on from ill-advised rape jokes, he did bring up the issue of race. “So what kind of year have you guys had?” C.K. asked to open his set. “They tell you that when you get in trouble you find out who your real friends are. It’s black people, it turns out. They’ll stick by you.”
It’s hard to peel back the layers to such a joke — what it says about black people, cancel culture, or how sexual misconduct is perceived based on race lines. Regardless, it seems the crowd also stuck with C.K., at least through his set. The Times reported that there were no hecklers, and few walked out of the set. In fact, the paper notes that some entering the venue were made “were visibly uncomfortable” by the two protesting women outside.
“I respect those women for doing that,” said Maria Bocanegra, a vacationing 36-year-old Chicago woman who had reservations for the show before C.K. was announced. “We respect that, totally. But was I ready to, like, leave a show for that? I don’t think so.”
One of the protestors, 37-year-old Jennifer Boudinot, held up a sign that read, “When you support Louis C.K., you tell women your laughter is more important than their sexual assaults and loss of their careers.” The other, a 27-year-old named Lana McCrea, had written, “Does this sign make you uncomfortable, Louie? #CancelLouieCK” on her board.
“Every female comedian he has harmed deserves a place on the Comedy Cellar stage one hundred times before he should be allowed back on the stage,” Boudinot, who said she was a sexual assault survivor, told The Times.
As for the owner of the Comedy Cellar, Noam Dworman, he has been uneasy but steadfast in his choice to allow C.K. onto his stage. Dworman said it’s not his place to block performers some might find offensive from trying to earn a living. “We’ve taken a lot of criticism for surprising people with his unannounced performances,” he remarked. “I’m afraid now we will be criticized for the opposite.”
Like black people apparently, C.K.’s longtime friend and fellow comedian Sarah Silverman has also stood by him. In a recent interview on Howard Stern, she revealed C.K. had at times masturbated in front of her with her consent. While this is the same act that got him into his current troublesome situation, Silverman emphasized that their situation was different. The five women who detailed multiple incidents of sexual misconduct from C.K. were up-and-comers in the comedy world, so there was a strong power dynamic at play considering the male comic’s stature and celebrity. Silverman, on the other hand, saw C.K. as a peer.
“It’s not analogous to the other women that are talking about what he did to them. He could offer me nothing,” Silverman explained. “We were only just friends. Sometimes, yeah, I wanted to see it, it was amazing. Sometimes I would say, ‘Fucking no, gross,’ and we got pizza.”