What do you do when your comedy hero screws up?

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I’ve heard the rumors about Louis CK for a while and I’ve hoped that they weren’t true.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew they were. 

If you haven’t heard of Louis CK before, Louis is a comedian who is undoubtedly  talented and has produced some of the greatest comedy specials over the past few years, his autobiographical series he made for Fx, Louie and the “Abigail’s Party” inspired, Horace and Pete.

Just two weeks ago, I recreated the pose outside the same pizzeria that he stands eating a slice of pizza in New York in the opening credits of his show Louie. So huge is my love of his work.

But over the past few years, rumors that he would ask women if he could masturbate in front of them have slowly been rustling. In a current climate, where a man who has boasted about sexually abusing women can become the most powerful man in the world, where the Weinstein’s and the Spacey’s of the world have been exposed as sexually assaulting people; Louis is the latest to have these rumors come to the fore again.

Only where as before, these rumors were accompanied by unnamed victims, now we have names and locations and evidence to back them up. A few days ago, just several weeks after denying these rumors, Louie CK admitted they are all true.

Honestly, and I’m completely aware that this is rich coming from a middle class white male living in the USA, but I am in mourning today. I am a big fan of his work.

To me it is everything that comedy should be. Edgy, boundary pushing and of course hilarious. The other aspect of his comedy is that we aren’t meant to take it too seriously. We shouldn’t assume that every story a comedian tells in a show actually happened. Comedians are essentially funny story tellers. They know what bits of information to remove and what parts to embellish slightly.  They know when to bend the truth just ever so slightly so it makes for a better line or response from the audience.

That is, until now.

Now we need to ask, which parts of his show were actually based on real life examples. When Louis jokes about not being able to find somewhere in his home to masturbate and that he’s having to do it in the streets, I never once believed that he was actually masturbating in the street. Masturbating? Sure, I wouldn’t be surprised (most guys do). But in the streets? No. It was a funny idea, that is all.

Or when Louie tries to force himself on a female friend in his show “Louie”. Whereas before in our blissful ignorance of his actions, we could see this as a break down of mens’ arrogant lust for sex and perverseness of being turned on by a women who has turned him down repeatedly.

Now there is much more to this.

It’s always been semi autobiographical, but it’s not really Louis CK! At least that’s what we thought. This also causes a more philosophical question of our ability to separate an artist’s work from their personal life.

Do we need to watch, listen, hear, experience the work of any artist within the context of their life?

Undoubtedly, all art is created on some level from the experiences had by the artist, but what happens when previous art that we admired turns out to be from someone who has committed reprehensible acts?

When I watched Horace and Pete, in one sitting; as captivating, original, different and brilliantly acted as it was, many of the acts that Louis has been accused of had already happened and potentially happening. I didn’t know that, most of the viewers wouldn’t have, probably nor his colleagues on the show, so we were able to watch it as a brilliant piece of work in a body of increasingly brilliant work.

But what about now? If I was to watch this now, can I still admire this art or does knowing what I know now, change everything? Can I still engage with it as a brilliantly written, heart wrenching piece of story telling? Furthermore, does it take away from the brilliant acting from Louis himself, Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco and Alan Alda?

This news has left me wrestling with a lot of questions.

If I was a male comic in the same circles as Louis CK, how would I have reacted to these rumors? Would I believe them? Would I just think that they were from people who are attempting to make a name for themselves? Would I just hope that they would disappear? Well I did hear these rumors and while I am not a comedian or a close friend of Louis CK, my reaction is most likely similar to the other people who know him well.

We don’t want to believe it.

So we ignore it. I ignored it. I continued watching his shows. I continued watching his stand up. I continue to adore his work. I do not want my enjoyment of his work to be spoiled by these rumors. It’s an inconvenience. I like the guy. I want to laugh at his jokes and not think of where the inspiration for them truly came from. For the women who these jokes may be far too comfortably close to a real life experience.

What does it mean now to cross the line in comedy? Comedy can be so misunderstood because we’re often unable to see the point behind a joke. But is it more about the person telling the joke rather than the content of the joke itself that is what we need to focus on?

For example, Louis CK has a famous joke about rape where he says that you should never rape someone ever! Unless of course you want to have sex with them and they don’t want to and then of course you should rape them!

It’s a brilliantly crafted joke.

Before, we can see this joke as not about condoning rape but rather how men can have two seemingly opposing sides, while carrying a dangerous arrogance where they believe they can do whatever they like to women to get what they want, without any fear of consequence.

Now though, as we hear of the stories about Louis, this joke loses the very thing that makes it powerful. Louis CK can’t make this joke anymore because it would make him a hypocrite. He may not have raped anyone but he has personified the type of perverted form of power that he was trying to expose.

Do I now have a responsibility to look at where certain jokes come from and who may have suffered in order to create that joke for my enjoyment? Or is that not my job?

As men though, we may not assault women sexually or in any other manner but we also have a powerful voice to speak up against the actions of those who do. When we don’t we let it continue.

We are just as implicit unless we speak up when we know this happens and begin to treat everyone with respect for who they are, physically and emotionally. Even if we hear rumors, we have a duty to not just sweep it away but to ask more questions and listen.

Another way that I am wrestling with this news is how I am supposed to react now to Louis CK the person? Is it possible to be simultaneously disappointed, disgusted by, feel sad for and angry all at the same time? These are the emotions I have been feeling the past few days and as I continue to process my role as a man in this I have more work to do. All men do. We don’t get to look at Louis CK from afar and thank God that we are better than him. Our anger and disappointment needs to be channeled into something that makes things better.

How do I treat Brittany, my mom, sister, niece, female colleagues, female friends?

I’m also mourning this news about Louis CK because it could so easily be me. It would be naive of me to think that if I had found my self where Louis found himself, with respect, admiration and as a male, let alone one of the biggest male Comedians, holding a lot of power; I wouldn’t have found myself in the same position.

Am I better than Louis CK?

How have I treated women in my life? I’ve looked at porn thousands of times in my life but never sexually assaulted anyone, so does that make me better than Louis CK? On one hand I want to say yes, my gut however says that I just got lucky and maybe timing and circumstance shone kindly on me. The tension in all of this regardless of whether it is Louis CK or anyone else, is that this is a guy with friends and a family, who is good at his job, who people like but also importantly committed some horrible things.

I know many will read this and be angry that I’m giving even a first thought to redemption for Louis CK, but why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t healing be possible for everyone? Does that mean Louis should get to just come back and start working again as if none of this happened? Of course not. Does that mean it’s not big deal. Heck no! Is it too early to talk about this? Very likely.

Today, Marc Maron, a close of friend of Louis CK’s, took some time at the beginning of his podcast to process his own feelings and sum up this tension brilliantly. A clearly emotion Marc addressed his relationship with Louis CK now, someone who if you’ve listened to his podcast knows, has quite clearly not had a smooth relationship with.

Without letting Louis off the hook by any means, he knows that this is the time that his friend needs him the most.

He’s still his friend after all. Should he just abandon him?

Ultimately, the more these stories come out about celebrities sexually assaulting women the more we have to take a long look at how we treat the women in the circles we find ourselves. This is an opportunity for something to change and we need to use any power as men we have to make sure this never happens under our watch.

As men we need to dig deeper.

When systematic racism exists, the reason that many white people deny it exists is not because it doesn’t, but because we’re unconscious of it. White people benefit from it everyday but because we don’t necessarily feel it, we don’t think it really exists. The same is true for sexism and the way we treat women in society generally. We don’t think sexism exists because as men we’re not conscious of our experience of it. The experience is real, as men we are actively profiting from it, we’re just not always aware to it.

Perhaps, we don’t want to face it because on some level that would threaten the power that we have become so used to.

This is of course, no excuse.

There are undoubtedly no winners in this and there are certainly many victims. There are the women that Louis assaulted, there are his kids, his family, his friends.

Louis CK’s apology will be dissected for the next while, with many being understandably cautious  while forgiveness will seem like a far way off. There is more to be said and do not be surprised if more accusations follow.

For now though, I am mourning. For most of us this is fresh news. For the women that have bravely opened up about their experiences, this is not new. They have been living with this for years and none of us unless you have been through something similar, can have any idea what toll this has taken on their lives. Their bravery and those of all those who have come out with their own stories on our politicians, movie stars, colleagues, bosses and comedians who have assaulted them, will hopefully allow more women who are afraid to speak up also.

But…I believe in healing. I believe in redemption for everyone involved. Yes, everyone. I also believe in time and facing our collective pain, face on. Sitting in it. Not pretending it doesn’t exist.

One of the women that Louis sexually abused has reportedly forgiven him but the effects of her experience live on. So where do we go from here?

Forgiveness may come. Redemption has to be possible. Otherwise we’re all fucked. But for now we need to do a lot of work as men.

We don’t get to ignore this anymore.

Even if we want to.

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