Has the Shamed Comedian Allowed Enough Time to Pass to Earn Our Forgiveness?
8/5/21 – – Yesterday, comedian Louis C.K. announced that he will be touring 24 U.S. cities over the next few months, starting in New York on August 13. The disgraced entertainer, who at the height of the #MeToo movement saw his career implode after admitting to years of gross sexual misconduct, is hoping fans will welcome him back after almost four years in exile.
Has Louis C.K allowed enough time to pass before launching an ambitious comeback tour?
Crisis counselors grapple with similar conundrums whenever shame enters the picture – the element of time becomes an important issue. Before an individual, company or organization can fully recover, some level of suffering is expected. That’s human nature. But, how long does the sinner (client) have to suffer public humiliation in the stocks?
The duration of exile depends on the specifics of the crisis. 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.
Let’s take those three determining factors one at a time.
The nature of Louis C.K.’s offense is damning. Forcing colleagues (young female comedians) to watch you masturbate is no minor offense. It would take a long time for most people to forgive such disgusting harassment.
Louis C.K.’s pre-crisis reputation is actually a plus for him. His brand of comedy has always been raw, misogynistic and irreverent (he recently made fun of survivors of school shootings). Audiences paying to see his standup act expect to be shocked. Offensive, debasing acts are not entirely out of character. He entered this personal crisis without the expectation of piety or good behavior – unlike priests, governors and other “highly respected” people who betray their standing.
As for the adequacy of his post-crisis response, he has apologized, been honest about his transgressions (he never blamed the victims or questioned their honesty) and suffered significant financial loss. Lucrative deals evaporated with Netflix, FX and HBO, a movie project was scrapped, and he has been unable to secure bookings in any major comedy venues. COVID-19 delayed a less ambitious comeback campaign in 2020, lengthening his time in purgatory to almost four years.
So, my guess is that Louis C.K. has a good chance to rebound. If you were a fan before his fall, you’ll probably consider buying a ticket when he comes to your town. You might encounter picketers when you arrive for the show, but you’ll give him a second chance to shock and entertain you.
Perhaps fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld (not a crisis counselor, but an excellent student of human nature none the less) captured Louis C.K.’s and other shamed individuals’ predicament best in a 2018 Daily Mail article when he 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.
Has Louis C.K. paid enough of what he “owes us” to make his comeback tour successful? Apparently, ticket sales are off to a good start. We’ll be watching to see how things go.
UPDATE: 4/4/22 – – Last evening Louis C.K. won a Gammy for Best Comedy Album (“Sincerely Louis CK”). His comeback continues.