That old Fox News segment of Louis CK being rude to a woman about masturbation isn’t what you think
I feel obliged to post this since the clip’s making the rounds, shorn of context, and has already fooled people on Twitter. It fooled me too yesterday when I saw captioned screencaps of it and didn’t recognize it immediately. It *looks* authentic. That’s the “Red Eye” set and that’s Greg Gutfeld moderating the discussion. Did CK really go on Fox News and get in the face of a Christian woman, telling her he was going to masturbate to her after the show? What a scumbag.
Well, yes, what a scumbag. But not for insulting this woman. This isn’t a real Fox clip, you see; it’s from CK’s show, “Louie,” on FX. (Note the FX, not Fox News, logo in the corner.) I remember Gutfeld tweeting about getting a call and being asked if he wanted to do a cameo as a combative Hannity-style Fox host. CK scripted this entire segment and they evidently shot it at Fox News’s studios.
The seeds of his eventual public rehabilitation can be found in this clip, though, and in the now-shelved film he was about to release, “I Love You, Daddy.” That movie was about a Woody-Allen-esque director preying on underaged girls and includes a scene in which a character … pretends to masturbate in front of a woman. But it’s not played for laughs; according to Kyle Smith, who’s seen the film, “it portrays its sexually entitled male characters as badly behaved and in desperate need of relocating their moral compasses.” You get the same vibe from the clip above, that CK is reproaching himself to some extent by having his character behave waaaaay too defensively towards a woman who disapproves of his masturbation habit.
CK’s fans will seize on stuff like this plus the endless self-deprecation about masturbation in his stand-up sets as evidence that he’s not as bad as the other predators out there. He’s not Harvey Weinstein. He didn’t assault anyone (or did he?). And he has a conscience. He’s been giving us glimpses of it in his comedy for years. Even the NYT story that blew him up yesterday reported that he reached out to some of the women he’d victimized over the years and apologized privately. On top of that — and this must be said — he’s a great talent, and that unfortunately matters in the calculus of which scumbag celebrities do and don’t get exiled to professional Siberia. No one will miss Weinstein. No one but the hardest of hardcore political hacks will miss Halperin. Lots of people will miss CK. Even comics who had heard all the stories about him wanking in front of unsuspecting women couldn’t hate him because he made them laugh so much. Comedian Kath Barbadoro wrote about it today for WaPo:
All of us performers were beside ourselves with excitement. If you’re a comedian, and especially if you’re a white millennial comedian, you love Louis C.K. His set was great. All of his jokes were about animals — moose, giraffes, goats — and many of them ended up in his “Saturday Night Live” monologue in April. The audience was dazzled; they laughed and hollered and so did we comedians, gathered in the back. In typical Louis C.K. fashion, the jokes ranged from philosophical to touching to absolutely disgusting. Mostly disgusting. I loved it. My boyfriend at the time had come to the open mic with me, and I felt like my proximity to such a universally respected celebrity legitimized my modest comedy career in his eyes. Then I felt sick: I knew — like everyone did — what he had done to women. But I was still laughing…
“Louis C.K. at our open mic! Can you believe it?” I said, as I took the mic from the stand. “I guess it just goes to show you that stand-up is a performance art — you have to try new jokes for an audience no matter what. If you don’t do it in front of people, it doesn’t count. Unfortunately, Louie also feels that way about masturbation.” The comics in the back roared, but the audience stared at me blankly. I was baffled. I hung out with comics, and since they had heard the rumors, I’d assumed everyone had. Clearly, that was wrong.
Comedians are more likely than other sleazebags to get second chances, I think, because their entire art is articulating sensibilities that the audience shares but can’t or won’t articulate themselves. It’s the art of connection. If the offense is grievous enough, like Bill Cosby allegedly drugging and raping women, even an adoring audience won’t forgive them. But CK punching the clown in front of women who were afraid to tell him to stop? Yeah, he’ll be back. Especially after his shrewdly cynical apology this afternoon, which wisely admitted the truth of the allegations and shifted to repentance mode. Louie’s so sensitive and honest. And he did apologize privately! He wants forgiveness. We should give it to him. It’s a matter of time before he gets it. Just remember one thing: As Barbadoro notes, the allegations of him masturbating in front of women have been around for *years*, and not just in whispered conversations among comics. They trickled out to the Gawker sites a few years ago and comedians like Jen Kirkman were dropping heavy hints in public about it as far back as 2015. Through it all, CK denied everything. As recently as September, he was asked about his alleged behavior and flatly denied it. “They’re rumors, that’s all that is,” he told the Times. In hindsight you wonder if the paper was trying to get his denial on record all the while knowing it was sitting on a bomb that would damage his career.
Either way, the fact remains: If not for the NYT story yesterday, there’s no reason to think CK ever would have come clean about what happened. The women he victimized and who’ve suffered professional marginalization while keeping his secret would have gone on suffering it. For some of his fans, bits like the clip above would have been apology enough.