Recovering from Crisis — Yada, Yada, Yada

Jerry Seinfeld Ponders the Path to Louis C.K.’s Forgiveness

11/1/18 – – Jerry Seinfeld, like all great comedians, is a very insightful person. Understanding human nature and having empathy for people dealing with life’s trials and tribulations are prerequisites for success in the comedy business. So, it’s not surprising that Mr. Seinfeld has some interesting things to say about crises.

A recent Daily Mail article featured comments by Seinfeld regarding the daunting reputational challenges faced by fellow comedian Louis C.K. The wildly popular comic/actor saw his career evaporate in 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum, when multiple instances of his sexual misconduct came to light. Addressing the question of whether the public was ready for a comeback by the disgraced comedian, Seinfeld observed:

We know the routine: The person does something wrong. The person’s humiliated. They’re exiled. They suffer, we want them to suffer. We love the tumble, we love the crash and bang of the fall. 

And then we love the crawl-back. The grovel. Are you going to grovel? How long are you going to grovel? Are you going to cry? 

And people, I think, figured they had that coming with Louie – he owes us that. We, the court of public opinion, decided if he’s going to come back, he’d better show a lot of pain. Because he denied them that.

Seinfeld has it right. Before an individual, company or organization can fully recover from a crisis involving shame, some level of suffering is expected. That’s human nature. Just how much pain is required before the public and media will grant forgiveness depends on the nature of the offense, the pre-crisis reputation of the offender, and the adequacy of the offender’s response.

It’s understandable that Louis C.K. is anxious to get back on stage to resuscitate his stand-up career, just like fallen celebrities Billy Bush, Matt Lauer, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly and Roseanne Barr are probably longing for new TV gigs. They want the opportunity to show the world they can still perform.  In Chapter 21 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Performance is the Best Path to Recovery”), we discuss the power of performance to heal most reputational wounds.   

When shame enters the picture, the element of time becomes an important issue. How long should the sinner suffer public humiliation in the stocks? Again, the duration of exile depends on the specifics of the crisis. Michael Richards, who played the character Cosmo Kramer in the sitcom Seinfeld, has still not performed in a comedy club since he targeted a heckler using the “n-word” at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood in 2006.

To use Seinfeld’s words, what does Louis C.K. “owe us” before we can move on? Has he done enough to earn our forgiveness? It will be fascinating and instructive to find out.

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