Louis C.K. is fond of telling people how he lost $35 million in a single day, thanks to that pesky backlash over how he forced women to watch him masturbate. It’s a recurring bit in his sporadic stand-up sets, including his controversial performance in December, and one he’ll likely keep using when he inevitably launches a full-scale comeback tour this year.
It certainly appears that C.K.’s self-imposed exile from the public eye to “take a long time to listen” is over, but it remains to be seen who’ll hire him. James Dolce, the owner of Governor’s Club where C.K. made fun of the Parkland-shooting survivors, had no qualms: “You know who you’re coming to see. The people who were upset about it probably weren’t at the show. He got a standing ovation.” Noam Dworman, owner of the Comedy Cellar, where C.K. made a handful of surprise appearances, argued it wasn’t his place to judge because of something that happened in the past. The Cellar has a “swim at your own risk” policy, meaning audiences should know they could be offended on any given night.
Many club owners and talent bookers agree, especially given the cash windfall, while others believe C.K. should never be heard from again. Others still are somewhere in the middle, open to the possibility of redemption or willing to book him if their audience, staff, and peers feel it is fine. Vulture reached out to 70 club owners, managers, and talent bookers to discuss their feelings on C.K. While most wouldn’t talk to Vulture (40 never responded, 13 declined comment), 17 went on the record about whether they would welcome C.K. to their stages. From enthusiastic to profanely against it, here are their responses.
Trish Nelson, founder, producer, talent booker
Bantergirl.com (New York, New York)
If I know someone is blatantly sexist or misogynistic or has harmed people, I do not go out of my way to give that person a platform. My shows are created for the audience. I feel a responsibility to the ticket buyer to create an experience that I can fully stand behind. “Swim at your own risk” caters to a particular audience who lead a more privileged life. It shows that the venue lacks a general sense of social awareness. And if money is the main factor driving someone’s creative endeavors, it is time to reevaluate.
For people hoping for redemption, we’re all human and mistakes are going to be made. In order to earn that chance I ask, ”Have you done the work? Do you take responsibility for causing life-lasting damage to people? Saying that you are ‘sorry’ is just the beginning. What portions of your proceeds are you donating to organizations that fight against sexual violence? It’s not the victims’ responsibility to forgive you, but are you doing anything to earn their forgiveness?”
Jared Thompson, owner
The Comedy Attic (Bloomington, Indiana)
I would assume he would know that today he wouldn’t be able to just throw a dart at a board and be able to perform anywhere he wants the way that he could have before. I don’t think there’s any question that he would be able to draw people. Where I think he‘s lost equity with some comics and more free-thinking bookers is, whether we’re talking about this issue or any sort of social issue, it’s not the right move to look back at the past and say, “Well look what so-and-so got away with.” The only thing we can do as a collective group is the same thing that we’re trying to do with social issues, which is improve and make it easier for people to exist, and this type of thing where he still wants to go out and perform comedy is, in my opinion, the wrong move if we’re going to believe women.
I’m honestly shocked that he decided to come back this quickly. If he felt the need to get out there and work, maybe there would have been a better time, once you’ve proven to us that you’ve gotten better or changed, or at least understood what you did was as bad as you said it was in that letter. This was like a blink of an eye, right?
Gary Rideout, co-owner
Comedy Bar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
There’s always room for redemption for some people, but based on my knowledge of the situation, I don’t think he’s served enough time. Also, he’s rich enough to just go away forever. Clearly it shows his narcissism that he needs this so badly that he needs it so soon.
I don’t want him in front of an audience in my place. He’s welcome to perform wherever he wants. I’ve read that thing where he did the set at the Cellar [and] said, “I lost $35 million dollars in a minute.” I imagine he said that in an attempt to sound funny. I hope he wasn’t saying it to get sympathy from the audience, because why would I have any sympathy for someone who blew $35 million of their own volition? It’s his fault he lost money.
Mike Mulloy, comedian and host-organizer
Faded and On Deck (Los Angeles, California)
Louis C.K. can toss my salad and peel my potatoes. He’s not sorry. He’s sorry he got caught. He’s sorry for himself. He didn’t learn anything from this shit, and letting him back without taking ownership of anything he’s done just reminds him his actions don’t have any real consequences. He doesn’t need to do stand-up to make a living. He’s a fucking millionaire. He should have to sit out twice as many years as he lied about it. He should have to sit out twice as long as the women whose careers he’s directly impacted. Any comic who disagrees can kiss my ass.
Lynn Harris, founder
GOLD Comedy (New York, New York)
My policy: If a comic is a known harasser or sexist, racist, whatever, or jeez, even a known time-goer-over, for me that’s a hard “nope.” I don’t care if they’re a “genius.” Comedy is a workplace, and if they do those things, they are not good at their job! We don’t need them. Someone else will hire them. They’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Let’s give stage time to the thousands of amazing comics who don’t need a disclaimer at the door.
Adam Cayton-Holland, co-founder
High Plains Comedy Festival (Denver, Colorado)
Our goal at High Plains has always been to create a fun, inclusive, safe comedy space for performers and attendees alike. Anyone that does anything to compromise that atmosphere isn’t welcome at our festival.
Karen Wachtel, executive producer
High Plains Comedy Festival (Denver, Colorado)
We need to hold abusers accountable and create, or at least allow for, a path of redemption for offenders. Someone who made stupid, drunken choices 20 years ago but has sought out rehab and/or taken responsibility for their actions and tried to be a better person for a decade is not someone I feel the need to further punish. On the other hand, if there’s someone who’s a habitual harasser or abuser and has taken no measures to improve, they don’t deserve the stage time.
Obviously that leaves a lot of gray area in between, so really it’s a case-by-case basis. I would argue against booking a known offender who hasn’t made any attempts to redeem themselves. Yes, you might make a profit, but you also might lose money if there are boycotts or other performers refuse to share the bill, which is happening more and more. On top of that, I just can’t feel good about giving someone I think is a bad person an opportunity when there are hundreds of equally talented good people out there.
Bob Fisher, owner
The Ice House (Pasadena, California)
Some people have called comedy clubs the last bastion of free speech in America. I believe that and feel a duty to protect that concept. With that in mind, I’m very reluctant to disallow an individual stage time because of their views or personal life. If Louie C.K. were to ask for time onstage, I would allow it as long as I could advertise his appearance in advance. I’d want those in the audience that night to know he was going to appear. They would be at the club specifically to see Louie. I wouldn’t spring his appearance on an unsuspecting audience.
Clark Jones, host and producer
Knitting Factory (Brooklyn, New York)
It depends first on your audience, and next, your ethos. I don’t like creeps and had to say no to a famous name because our audience trusts us. They come out of loyalty and a belief that we are giving them 100 percent quality, so putting up someone based on their fame would breach that trust. But if your audience doesn’t care and comics are going to keep performing there regardless, what motivation is there to change?
Dave and Angela Dennison, owners
Laughs (Seattle, Washington)
Dave: I let it be known to every comic, I don’t want any weird stuff going on. If I hear anything, you’re banned from the club. I typically only book comics that are on their way up, not down to prison. Believe me, we’re the small guy. We need to make money, and to pass up a paycheck because it’s socially unacceptable kind of sucks for someone in our position.
Angela: Yeah, there are people that are well-known for being sexual predators. We had one about five years ago call up the club and Dave said, “There’s no way I’d book you.” Everyone knew but he could’ve been stopped years ago. We have to think about our staff. We have women that work here, and if you book someone that’s a known sexual assailant, it’s like letting them into your house. Or as Dave said, what if they find a customer they decide to go home with? It could be a matter of liability. I want to be on the right side of history, too. I can’t look back 25 years later and say, “Well, I made ten more dollars, but I put everybody at risk by letting them work with sexual assailants.” We try to take it on before it gets to the Louis C.K. level. We don’t want these people to even start in comedy. You’re a creep? Get out.
Brian Thompson, owner
Side Splitters (Tampa, Florida)
Louis is going to sell tickets. If we booked him for 2019, I don’t think we would have a lot of people upset to the level that they’re protesting.
There’s something to be said for admitting that you may have done some things wrong. It’s a weird business, because a lot of these guys are so open with their demons, so it’s tough to hold these guys to the same standard that we do with other people. Of course, there are still morals that you know you would hold anybody to.
I wouldn’t hesitate to book him. Booking somebody doesn’t necessarily mean you’re condoning things they may have done or been accused of, either. I believe in second chances and like to be open-minded about things. Certainly if I was one of the alleged victims I would hate to see his name on things. I’d hate to see him on TV and all. But the reality is he is a business, and if he still sells tickets, people will still book him.
Candi Clare, booker
Stand Up NY (New York, New York)
As a comedy booker, Louis C.K. popping in doesn’t do anything for the club and I’m not okay with it. The way that he’s coming about this isn’t the right way to do it. You don’t get to just walk in and be “that guy” anymore. I don’t know what it will take for him to overcome that with me personally. He’s decided that he’s served his time and without doing anything to set the record straight or to be honest, which is amazing to me because his premise is being this honest, honorable man. He has every platform available to him to do that and he hasn’t. That’s what’s so irritating.
Vinnie Brand, owner
Stress Factory (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
The marketplace should be the arbitrator on that. If Louis C.K. goes out and enough people want to see him, then I guess enough time has passed. I would imagine that anywhere he goes, he’ll find people that support him and people that think he’s the worst thing that ever walked the Earth. The truth is somewhere in between, right?
He admitted to making mistakes. If he came in wanting to work the Stress Factory, I’d take it into consideration. I might say, “Give it a little time,” or I might say, “Okay, let’s see what you’re doing onstage.” If we put Louis C.K. on tomorrow and it sells out, does that make it okay? Am I defending his right to say whatever he wants or am I going, “Hey, this is going to be a big payday”? The real test would be if this guy was a nobody. The truth of the matter is, if he was a nobody, his career would probably be over.
The forgiveness line is always close to the money line. And if enough people can make money, he’s going to have a fantastic career.
Mark Breslin, owner
Yuk Yuk’s (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
We should only be so lucky to book him. The thing that concerns me the most is the possibility of recidivism and the safety of my staff, my customers, and the other comics. I just can’t believe, with everything that’s gone on to hurt his career, that he would go and do it again. He would have to be psychotic. Would there be negativity from the community? Yes. But would there be enough negativity to offset the public demand to see him? No.
In talking to people, their opinion of Louis is he’s committed a serious misdemeanor but not a crime that removes him from public view for the rest of his life. That would not be true for Bill Cosby, for instance. Every case has to be taken on its own. I remember back in the late ‘80s when I used to book Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay, there would be a lot of negativity about that from feminists. We did it anyway and it was successful. Everybody’s got a different threshold of what they can stand. I have a high threshold for bad behavior, and you shouldn’t be in the comedy business if you can’t tolerate some of that. The public is different. They’re touchier, but I still think that if Louis C.K. got booked into a 2,000-seat venue, he would sell it out.
I’m also one of the few people who have seen the movie he had to buy back [I Love You, Daddy]. It’s genius. I’m sure it’ll come out within a few years. People go, “Well I don’t want to see it because it’s full of morally queasy issues.” No, that’s really why you want to see it, because he’s exploring these things about himself and other people that are really uncomfortable.
Kelly D’Amour, senior booking agent
Yuk Yuk’s on Tour & Funny Business Inc. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
I saw Louis live and I came away not a fan. Comedians reveal who they are onstage. It’s an act but it’s not an act, right? He’s done some unlikable things, and it comes with great discomfort to book these people. What I’ve seen from Louis is no remorse exhibited. He’s not giving two shits about the harm he caused these people. Their voices have been silenced.
I agree with my my boss [Mark Breslin]. I don’t think somebody’s entire life should be ruined, especially if that’s the only thing they know how to do. That’s how they earn their living. In the case of Louis, who is a multimillionaire already and doesn’t need that money, I wouldn’t book him. He still has the capacity to live a pretty fucking sweet life, so he can go away until I see some remorse or restitution.
Bert Haas, owner
Zanies (Chicago, Illinois)
From a booker’s point of view, I would say absolutely you should book him. I would book him in a heartbeat for a couple of reasons. Number one, stand-ups are supposed to be controversial. They’re the people that poke the buttons of people. Number two, he was never charged with a crime, so where do you draw the line? Would we not have booked Richard Pryor after his accident or when he talked about taking shots at his ex-wife?
I’m going to draw a line, because I don’t want anyone to say, “Bert would book a rapist.” Absolutely not. You don’t invite a predator into your home. But as a business, absolutely I would book Louis C.K. He’s a brilliant comedian. Any comedy-club booker that worries about a comedian hurting their business is in the wrong business. Louis hasn’t been charged with any crime. I haven’t heard of any formal complaints or criminal charges. I separate the art from the artist. As far as people protesting, they have every right to do that. Like every stand-up comedian says, “If you don’t like my material and you’re offended, leave.”