Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.
In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation. This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.
Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?
Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.
OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?
What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.
Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized, saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized?
No. Black’s a coward and a weenie, and if you won’t stand up for your opinions and will cave to any criticism, then don’t say anything at all. If C.K. literally served time for a crime, the statement would still be correct. All Black was saying is that C.K. may not have an audience any more, but he wishes him good luck finding out. What’s “not defensible? ”
It’s really, really simple. If enough people find the man’s humor entertaining and are willing to pay to laugh at him, then Louis C.K. is doing nothing wrong to permit them that choice. Personally, I wouldn’t cross the street to hear him riff, just as I wouldn’t pay a cup of spit to watch Bill Cosby, or a Woody Allen movie, but that’s my choice, my values, and my taste. I don’t blame C.K., or Woody, or even the Coz for giving people a choice. I have my dark opinions about anyone who can find Bill Cosby funny, knowing the jokes are coming from a rapist, but that how my cognitive dissonance works.
Harvey Weinstein abused women in the workplace, while he and they were supposedly working together. Kevin Spacey abused fellow artists in the workplace, and as talented as he is, he has no right to be permitted back in the workplace until he is deemed worthy of trust. I would question whether C.K. should be permitted on a stage if he had masturbated there (Ick); similarly, I don’t think Michael Richards has any right to be trusted on a comedy stage after the inexplicable outburst of racist epithets at audience members that crashed his career. Louis C.K’s disgusting conduct didn’t involve his art at all. Is he still funny? Can he still make people laugh? Will people who employ him profit? Those are the only questions that matter, and they aren’t ethics questions.
A chef may have been a serial killer and a Nazi, but if he cooks a wonderful meal, I might pay for it, and I might love the meal. There is nothing wrong with me eating it, and nothing wrong with the chef giving me the chance to do so.
This isn’t as hard as all the tortured commentary would have us believe.