If you don't like him, don't watch him
Back in 2017, when coronavirus was no more than a twinkle in a lab assistant’s eye, Louis C.K., among the most famous comedians in the world, was revealed to have exposed and pleasured himself in front of unsuspecting women on several occasions. His upcoming film, tours and specials were cancelled. He has only performed at a few gigs since.
Should Louis C.K. still be ‘cancelled’? No. It was sexual misconduct — and pretty appalling behaviour at that. But he was not a predator a la Harvey Weinstein. The hapless comedian made no physical contact with these women and appears, in his dense way, to have believed that these encounters were consensual. That does not acquit him from responsibility, of course, as being less bad than other people does not mean being good, but it is not something that should cost him his life’s work — especially as a comedian, where being a scumbag is almost to be expected.
Venues enforcing a blanket ban against him seem excessively punitive. The feelings of the audience, however, are more complicated. There is little use in lecturing disgruntled ex-fans about the damaging effects of cancel culture. If you feel badly towards him, you’re unlikely to get a kick out of his comedy skits.
I take no umbrage with those making individual choices around the man. However, as a commentator, I am less sympathetic towards media coverage of Louis’ comeback. “Disgraced Comic Louis C.K. Comes Out Of Hiding,” says the New York Post as if he has been holed up with Elvis and Lord Lucan in some sort of mysterious underground lair. Rolling Stone, meanwhile, states:
Am I out of line, or is “public figure who committed sexual misconduct years ago announces tour in same week unrelated public figure is accused of sexual misconduct” not the big coincidence this writer thinks it is?
A lot of people will turn out to see Louis. But he will never transcend these dark insinuations — or the thundering literal-minded earnestness with which his edgier jokes are now greeted. (In 2018, he performed a little riff about how just being in class at the time of a school shooting qualifies people to speak authoritatively on gun violence. This was met with furious demands for apologies as if he had insulted survivors to their faces.)
It is not enough to ignore the people we dislike. We have to get mad about them. This is not some inexplicable cognitive error. We like getting mad about them. It is entertaining and it makes us feel good about ourselves. For many people, being outraged is more fun than being amused. The state of social media makes no sense if it is not seen in the light of this fact.
Of course, to some extent I am feeding the process by getting mad about people getting mad. The humour of that is not lost on me.