It has been 9 months since Louis C.K promised to ‘step back and take a long time to listen’, after his admission of sexually assaulting several women – and apparently 9 months is all it takes to listen, as the comedian has made his return to comedy.
C.K’s surprise set at the Comedy Cellar in New York was met with a standing ovation. His set reportedly included a joke about a rape whistle, which one audience member described as ‘so uncomfortable and so disgusting’. However, this audience member was not in the majority with this thought, as she went on to detail how the rest of the audience laughed at this joke.
C.K. is not the only comedian to begin returning to comedy – Aziz Ansari has quietly made his return to stand-up as well, with a few of his own surprise sets at the Comedy Cellar as well as other venues. It has also been reported that he is ’embarking on a new stand-up tour’, while his TV series also seems set to return, with Netflix vice president of original series, Cindy Holland commenting that the streaming platform is “happy to make another season of Master of None whenever Aziz is ready”.
So, what does this mean for the #MeToo movement? Can a man who allegedly sexually assaulted as many as five women over the course of several years, really be a changed person in 9 months? Does it really mean anything that Netflix cut ties with Kevin Spacey after he was accused of sexual assault, if they are now ready to jump back onto the bandwagon with Ansari? Who gets to decide when it is time to move on? Is it the alleged perpetrator? The victims? The general public?
In this instance, both Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. have not attempted to make any kind of statement regarding their returns to comedy. C.K merely walked back into the comedy world to a standing ovation, with no comment on the past 9 months, no explanation as to what he has learnt, or how he will do better. Ansari follows a similar pattern – he simply re-enters the world of comedy with the hope that what happened in the past can be put to rest as he forges forward with his career.
However, there is no way for either of these comedians’ victims to quietly gain back their own control. Where C.K’s return was met with applause, one of his alleged victims, Rebecca Corry, had a vastly different experience. As Corry penned in an article for Vulture earlier this year, ‘Since speaking out, I’ve experienced vicious and swift backlash from women and men, in and out of the comedy community. I’ve received death threats, been berated, judged, ridiculed, dismissed, shamed, and attacked.’ What does it say about our society, when we will welcome back a man who has admitted to the sexual assault of several women, while shunning his victim for speaking out?
The privilege these men hold is immeasurable – the fact that we have simply put these men’s pasts behind them, without so much as an apology – is a testament to that. How much longer will it be before we welcome back the likes of Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein or so many of the other men who have been accused of sexual harassment? If the outcome of the #MeToo movement is that victims are shamed, while the alleged perpetrators are welcomed back with open arms and standing ovations, then it is time to put this movement to rest. We cannot continue to encourage victims to speak out, telling them that their voices matter, if a mere 9 months later, their perpetrators are free to take the stage once again.