TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of, and discussion about, sexual abuse and abusers.
In the last month or so hundreds of women (and some men) have stepped forward to publicly name powerful men who have sexually harassed or abused them. Most notable, of course, is Harvey Weinstein, but accounts of abuse have also hit people such as actor Kevin Spacey, director James Toback, author Elie Wiesel, president George H.W. Bush, and Screen Junkies founder Andy Signore, among many others. While we’re at it, we need to talk about Louis CK.
Louis CK is a stand-up comedian, writer, producer, actor, and director who has been critically acclaimed for years. He is also an alleged sexual abuser, and guys, I promise you this hurts me more than you can know, because I used to be a huge fan.
Louis CK is one of the few people about whom I can confidently brag that I was a fan before he blew up, since 2007’s Shameless special. I was fifteen, and I remember choking with laughter during that special. I became obsessed, immediately watching every bit of standup from the man that I could find. I was an instant fan of his HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, and remember being very sad when it was cancelled.
Then he got a new show, FX’s Louie. It was great. Artsy, hilarious, and sometime-surreal, it was everything I’d wanted to see from my favorite comedian. And the best part was, Louis CK was becoming a household name.
And then I heard the “rumors.” It started in 2012, when Gawker posted a “blind item” about “our nation’s most hilarious stand-up comic and critically cherished sitcom auteur.” Apparently, this comic liked to force his female colleagues to watch him “jerk off.”
Louis CK wasn’t named, of course, and this story flew under the radar until 2015, when Jen Kirkman mentioned the rumors on her podcast. Her point, which she later clarified, was that such rumors are pervasive in the entertainment world, and Kirman herself thinks that there may be nothing to them in this case.
We’ve heard that before. Why did it take so long for Harvey Weinstein’s fall, when his abuse was an open secret in Hollywood for decades? Why do so many victims (mostly women) feel unsafe coming forward? Because of exactly that attitude.
To be clear, even though the allegations against Louis CK are not limited to an anonymous blind item and a skeptical mention on a podcast, they are far from as numerous, or as damning, as those against Harvey Weinstein (to use one example). As CK himself told the New York Times before brushing the question off, they are “rumors.”
But despite what CK says, rumors aren’t nothing. These rumors are so troubling that they have made me, once one of his greatest fans, unable to enjoy his work anymore. CK’s collaborator and colleague Tig Notaro, without judging him guilty, said that CK needs to “handle” this, and she is right. He absolutely does.
Louis, if this somehow reaches you, know that I am coming from a place of love and heartbreak, not anger and schadenfreude. I want to continue to be your fan. I want you to go down in history as the greatest comedian of all time, and for years I thought for sure you would.
But not if there is any truth to any of this. Nope. Sorry.
Here’s the thing: the truth will come out. Maybe next week, maybe next year, or maybe not until you’re old and frail and no longer working. Maybe not even until after you’re dead.
But if one of the most powerful men in Hollywood (Weinstein) can be brought down after seemingly getting away with it for so many years, Louie, my buddy, you don’t stand a fucking chance.
Think about your daughters. Think what it will do to them if they find this out about their father when you’re an old man, or after you’re gone. Think about all the budding comedians you’ve inspired and set an example for.
Don’t be another sleazebag that we all relish seeing toppled from his throne. If these allegations are true – if they are – then you have a problem. You need help. But you can set an example as the first powerful man to come out in front of the story, to own up to your issues, and to get help without being forced to by the court of public opinion.
It’s gonna be hard, and it’s gonna ruin your career for a while. Many people will damn you no matter what you do.
But if you set an example to men everywhere (myself included) that it is our responsibility to own up to this shit? That abuse victims shouldn’t have to drag themselves out in public the way so many have done? That abusers have a responsibility to get help, come forward, and pay reparations to the people they’ve hurt? Brother, when the dust settles, you’d be remembered as a good man who did some terrible things and then tried your best to make up for it.
Prove you actually deserve the love I once had for you. Prove you’re not like Woody Allen, or Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein. Prove that abusers are worthy of redemption.
Until you do that, I won’t be watching.
Correction: For about forty-five minutes after publishing, I accidentally referred to James Toback as “James Gunn” because I was reading an article about James Gunn around the same time. Mea Culpa. There are no such allegations that I know of against James Gunn, and I deeply regret the mistake.