Comedy Cellar Owner on Louis C.K.: ‘He’s Not Banned by Any Means’

Louis C.K. Photo: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

In the wake of multiple performances by Louis C.K. at both the Comedy Cellar and other New York venues, Cellar owner Noam Dworman has walked into the headlines again this week with two podcast interviews — one on Slate’s The Gist and another on the New York Times’ The Daily. On The Gist, Dworman said that he is in communication with C.K. regarding upcoming appearances at the Cellar, while on The Daily he said he is open to C.K. returning to the venue at some point. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He’s not banned by any means,” he said. “I think he will be back. That’s why we have the ‘swim at your own risk’ policy.”

On Slate’s podcast, Dworman responded to two comedians who have commented on the C.K. comeback controversy and Dworman’s choice to give C.K. a stage. Here’s what Dworman had to say about stand-up Ted Alexandro’s set about C.K. at the Cellar that went viral late last month:

I looked at him and I said “Ted, if you were to look me in the eyes right now and tell me that ‘Noam, 15 years ago I did something like what Louie did – I don’t do it anymore, I’m ashamed – but I did it,’” I said “Ted, would you expect me to say ‘Get your crap and get out of here, you don’t work here anymore”? And I think the answer to that is obviously no. That doesn’t happen in the real world. Somebody admits something or confesses something, a boss gets wind of it – if it doesn’t concern his current behavior, you don’t throw somebody out for that. Now interestingly, he would not engage on the question. He looked away like a dog looks away when there’s danger. And that has been telling to me – that when I make an argument like that, they don’t refute it, or they don’t acknowledge it in some way and then integrate it “Yes you’re right, but however…” like I could make the argument. But because everybody’s looking, we have to worry about the impact on #MeToo. That wouldn’t occur if nobody knew about it.

Dworman was also asked about a Twitter thread Paul F. Tompkins shared earlier this month accusing Dworman of having “no moral courage”:

Well, first of all, I do have moral courage. It may not be the moral take that he has on things, but there’s no benefit to what I’m doing here except trying to not behave in the way that is because people on Twitter and social media are attacking me. Again, if I reached out to Paul F. Tompkins and said “Why don’t you come down, let’s talk about this,” there are competing principles, and that’s difficult especially when a principle becomes important. Like even “Thou shall not kill” – well actually, there are competing principles to that: self-defense, war, whatever it is, you know? … There are competing principles, so I object to that.

On The Daily, Dworman said that he doesn’t want C.K.’s admitted sexual misconduct, comeback, and the resulting online backlash to set a precedent for who he can and can’t give stage time to at the Cellar. “I have drawn lines, but those are my personal lines, and I don’t want to talk about them. But I’ll tell you this: When I draw a line, I don’t expect the club next door to draw the line. I do not judge them. If there’s somebody who walks in and I can’t bear to sit at the table with them, then I don’t need to book them, but I don’t want to be part of this team that is going to make sure that this person is punished: ‘Let’s lock arms, all the club owners, and make sure that Louie never gets to get onstage again!’” Dworman later added that it’s “beyond my purview as the owner of the Comedy Cellar — to start addressing that incident or every incident in a man’s past.” He later expanded on those thoughts:

I can’t be in a position where I’m gonna start getting phone calls about people who work for me, onstage or offstage, [saying] ‘He did this to me in the past,’ ‘He did this to me in the past.’ And I’m not denying that they’re true. Just any one of these incidents that we’re talking about here, the testimony on any one of these incidents might take eight hours. That is how much detail a system of justice requires. And you can’t ask employers – we don’t want to live in a country where employers start making drastic decisions.

Also on The Daily, Dworman posed the idea that it’s not just club owners who should be questioned about their standards for giving comedians like C.K. stage time, but the people who are calling for C.K. to get none:

I don’t mind living and dying based on what the audience feels. But the people who are saying that Louie shall not work, they need to be questioned more closely as to where they draw the line. What’s their worldview? What are their standards? How much evidence do they think is enough? How long is enough? How long should somebody go without working? What should they do when they’re not working? Should they become wards of the state? Can they do some jobs but not other jobs? Is it okay for Walmart to hire Louie, or is he so radioactive that nobody shall hire him? These are the tough questions. There’s dozens and dozens of very very important questions that are gonna be short-circuited here if we’re just gonna allow employers to decide “I heard what this guy did in his past – he shouldn’t work for me anymore.”

Later, Dworman broke down his perspective of both sides of the controversy. “People who feel that he should never work again, when they hear the ovation that has been recorded and released of him going onstage, they will feel repulsed by a society that seems to not take what they feel seriously enough,” he said. “Other people who believe in redemption, who believe in forgiveness, in second chances and these kinds of things, they might take the message that ‘Good, we have a society that manages to dole out punishment while at the same time forgiving sinners.’”

In both interviews, Dworman used Bill Clinton as an example of why he feels that standards toward sexual predators are inconsistent when it comes to backlash for people like C.K., and he stressed that he doesn’t want his opinion to be swayed by the social-media “mob.” What Dworman didn’t directly address — in his rhetorical framing of a comedian who “confesses” to misbehaving many years ago regarding something that “doesn’t concern his current behavior” — is that, had it not been for the women who came forward to the New York Times last year, it’s possible that C.K. could’ve continued his misconduct without ever admitting to it at all. “I don’t know,” Dworman said on The Daily, “and maybe I haven’t thought it through … I don’t know that there are many would-be sexual abusers who are looking at whether or not Louie gets to do his set or not.”

Comedy Cellar Owner: Louis C.K. Is ‘Not Banned by Any Means’