There’s a new, tongue-in-cheek maxim pertaining to the world of celebrity: “the only truly good guys are Tom Hanks and Mr. Rogers.”
That statement might ring no truer in the light of recent allegations made against popular comedian Louis C.K.’s uncouth sexual misconduct; C.K. is the latest accused in a quickly growing line of celebrity sexual offenders — and it’s surprising how much it hurts.
Yes, I realize the paradox of being upset over a comedian whose routines often hinge on depraved sexual musings actually being outed as said deviant. Louis C.K. is no magnanimous neighbor offering sagacious wisdom in immaculate sweater-vests like Rogers; nor does he radiate the simple-minded charm of Forrest Gump or the inextinguishable virtuousness of Hanks in real life and pretty much any other movie role he’s had besides Pep Streebeck (Dragnet, 1987). But notwithstanding, C.K. has been one of my favorite comedians of the past decade.
This is 2017, after all: an age where even the most closeted individuals’ formative years are forged in cyberspace Abaddon; where even the most pasty-faced introvert can joke with thousands of others daily about “lemon parties” or “kids in the sandbox” or two nice girls sharing a cup. The ethos of how difficult it is to stay completely pure in today’s day and age is an integral component of Louis C.K.’s comedic success and why his work resonates with so many. He has the whole, “I’m just your average, semi-sarcastic schlub trying to get through life” act down pat. Besides, we all have gross thoughts from time to time — why not joke about them?
Gross thoughts like the World’s Saddest Handjob:
The stigma against masturbating; the zen-like contentment of shitting in solitude as a father of two; and being oblivious to rape fetish. Vulgar topics to be sure, but real ones too. Jokes your drunk uncle might make at a family cookout, only more self-deprecating. Jokes that — wait a minute, was that really a three minute long joke about masturbating? An action that Louis has gone on Fox News to defend?
A topic that he’s joked about on numerous occasions?
We get it. Masturbation is a topic that Louis C.K.’s pretty comfortable with. It’s funny when he jokes about it. And admittedly, it’s not the only thing he jokes about. The man has said some hilarious stuff that isn’t that vulgar and isn’t about masturbation. Like this quote about finding one’s place in life:
You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.
Or this quote about boredom:
‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’
Or this quote about the wonderment of flying in an airplane:
Flying is the worst because people come back from flights and they tell you…a horror story…They’re like: “It was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway…” Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going: “Oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!”
But the masturbation jokes become a lot less funny when you hear the allegations because they go from biting, self-deprecating satire to disheartening reality. From the NY Times expose:
As soon as they sat down in his room, still wrapped in their winter jackets and hats, Louis C.K. asked if he could take out his penis, the women said.
They thought it was a joke and laughed it off. “And then he really did it,” Ms. Goodman said in an interview with The New York Times. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”
Alright, comedian or not — that’s f-----g weird. Can you just not masturbate in front of people, Louis? Even if you’re drunk and attempting some Kaufman-esque living joke experiment? And preferably not with women who just agreed to go back to your hotel room with you and that presumably might’ve enjoyed your company in platonic or non-platonic form for the rest of the night had you not immediately whipped out your junk?
But does Louis C.K. deserve to be lumped in with the Weinsteins and the Spaceys? After all, he did ask permission to masturbate in front of them first(::rimshot::). And unlike the aforementioned, he never sexually assaulted them nor did he subsequently threaten to ruin their lives or harm their families if they told anyone.
Still, even Louis’ apologies don’t seem to alleviate that notion:
In 2015, a few months before the now-defunct website Defamer circulated rumors of Louis C.K.’s alleged sexual misconduct, Ms. Corry also received an email from Louis C.K., which was obtained by The Times, saying he owed her a ‘very very very late apology.’ When he phoned her, he said he was sorry for shoving her in a bathroom. Ms. Corry replied that he had never done that, but had instead asked to masturbate in front of her. Responding in a shaky voice, he acknowledged it and said, “I used to misread people back then,” she recalled.
The guy can’t even remember which woman he’s shoved into a bathroom against her will? Yeesh.
Where do we go from here? As a result of his actions, Louis’ new film I Love You Daddy, set to premiere last night in New York, has been cancelled. And so has his ensuing appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Is Louis C.K.’s career buried as a result of the accusations? Should they be?
Should we be disappointed in not only Louis but also ourselves, for allowing only recent sexual misconduct scandals to fully rebuke certain performers when the information has been there all along (Roseanne Barr, Tig Notaro, Vice)?
Or should the man be given another chance after a proverbial slap on the wrist? (Presumably not the one he masturbates with.) Maybe. Like I said, there’s a distinction between what Louis did 10 years ago and forced sexual assault. But just think of the position in which Louis’ actions place the other party (besides shielding one’s eyes and face): namely, in fear of losing their jobs if they speak out on their behalf. Imagine you have a job where your boss or someone higher up on the chain has the power not only to fire you, but make it very difficult for you to get a job ever again in the industry. Now imagine that boss sits you down and asks if he can masturbate in front of you.
But Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov said that when they told others about the incident in the Colorado hotel room, they heard that Louis C.K.’s manager was upset that they were talking about it openly. The women feared career repercussions.
Will the modern day stigmata of being the living embodiment of the “creepy ass dude in a trenchcoat flashing people in the park” gag serve as ample penance? Or, as with Victor Salva, director of Jeepers Creepers, whose one year prison sentence after molesting a 12-year-old boy seemingly did nothing to deter him from making “a horror movie about a monster obsessed with smelling and fondling teenage boys,” can some people never change?
Maybe Louis’ being a prisoner of his own mind, as the following quote explains, is punishment enough:
Women try to compete. They’re like, “Well I’m a pervert. You don’t know. I have really sick sexual thoughts.” I’m like, “No, you have no idea. You have no idea.” “Cause you see, you get to have those thoughts. I have to have those thoughts. You’re a tourist in sexual perversion. I’m a prisoner there. You’re Jane Fonda on a tank. I’m John McCain in the hut.”
Can we still find enjoyment in the man’s work? Should we? If only Mr. Rogers were still around to give us the answer.