While comedy is an encounter shared by a comic and an audience, it is unlike a traditional conversation in that comedic performances are dramatically one-sided. Comedians have the unique opportunity to share their thoughts, themselves—uninterrupted.
Sure, not every venue welcomes unequivocal audience silence and absolute attention; bars are noisy, open mics can be unreliable, and spectators (especially after drinking) can get rowdy. But there exists an inherent power in holding a mic with the knowledge that there are people listening to you. Comedians have full jurisdiction over what content they wish to share with the world. Whether comics choose to write material derived from mundane experiences or seek to make social commentary, they have a platform from which to do so; they have a platform from which they can make their voices heard.
Conversely, this choice offers the option to omit. Sometimes, what is left out is more important than what’s shared. Such is the case with Louis C.K.’s recent performance at a widely-revered comedy club in New York City, the Comedy Cellar. Louis C.K., the comedian who admitted to sexual misconduct less than a year ago, performed for the first time since the news of the allegations against him broke.
And during the entirety of his set, he never acknowledged it once.
I judge a comic’s performance by this very metric—content, or in this case, lack thereof. I do not equally consider how many minutes they speak for, how few times they consult their notebook, or even their reputation. The content of a performance supersedes these other factors. C.K. chose to exclude the very behavior that led to his nine-month hiatus, and to both the Comedy Cellar’s management and the audience in attendance, this omission was permissible. C.K. received a standing ovation before he even picked up the mic.
C.K. abused his power, yet only nine months after admitting to doing so, he was able to reaffirm it after showing up to the Comedy Cellar unannounced. The mic was his.
His voice was easily heard and celebrated, despite his promising to “take a long time to listen” in a released apology last November. In an industry brimming with insightful voices, why circle back to one that has caused irrefutable damage?
Elevating C.K.’s voice to the same power it yielded before his misconduct broke confirms the pillar of power that privilege dies hard. In his attempt to re-enter his profession, C.K. did not have to atone for his behavior by performing with the rookies and rebuilding a following or reputation. However, the women C.K. wronged paid for his behavior; after speaking out following C.K.’s misconduct, many women were barred from opportunities as a result of their accusations against the famed comedian. Their voices were hushed while his was able to wield complete power for years after each incident.
Audiences deserve more. Comedians deserve more. I want to hear from the voices that have been stifled in a profession that continuously excludes the people that the public needs to hear from most.
While learning to navigate the stand-up comedy world, I have experienced the privilege of commanding a stage. I crush jokes, I bomb others, but after each show, I acknowledge and reflect on what I need to remove from or add to my set for the next time. C.K. might have nodded to his behavior in a superficial apology last November, but he has yet to truly acknowledge and reconcile with his actions. He won’t be getting my laughs.