Dear Louis CK
Admittedly, I have no idea how to start a letter to you. However, it’s not because I’m one of those angry with you about your recent spat of scandals during a bad year. Rather, I don’t know how to start writing you mostly because I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know you. I acknowledge someone like me wouldn’t even register in your world, although I have attended several comedy clubs over the years.
I don’t make the money you made, nor do I run in any comedy circles, except as a fan of stand up in general. While I haven’t been to any stand up shows in several years, I do watch various comedy specials and listen to podcasts whose hosts are comedians, notably your friend Marc Maron and former employer Conan O’Brien. As a fan of stand up comedy, since my introduction to it around 13 thanks to catching a George Carlin special on HBO at my grandparents house, naturally at some point I found myself gravitating towards you and your particularly honest and inventive bits. I did and continue to appreciate your insights. I think that’s what I, along with many others miss the most right now in these times of outrage and divisiveness. Your humor, while at times surreal, was always incredibly relatable.
The trouble is, at least what little I’ve read about your slow comeback crawl back to the public realm, it’s not going well. I totally acknowledge that I, like everyone else, have no idea how you have and continue to privately deal with the fallout of all this with yourself and your family. It was smart to take time off. I understand not wanting to comment directly about what you’ve already confessed to doing. I get how you walk an uneasy tightrope. But, you’re a public person due to your fame, not to mention the nature of your job, which requires a certain amount of personal interaction and (sometimes) confession (which I always appreciated; the honesty you shared).
It’s just, I guess to some people, it feels disingenuous when you sorta kinda bring up your “bad year” in a bit, but don’t address it further. It’s good to see that you are starting to maybe sorta talk about it. I guess some people want to see that you’ve grown or potentially learned something from all this. I think that’s why I appreciated your bit about how it’s not up to the individual being an asshole if they are being an asshole, because it acknowledges that sometimes part of learning is actually listening to other people. Part of me keeps hoping that when you do return to a platform of some sort and get paid, you will donate most of the proceeds to some kind of charity, be it something for women or… I don’t know, school shootings.
Maybe you haven’t learned anything. While not an ideal outcome in a situation like this, I can understand why. I mean, to some extent, we’re all human and can only stuff so much learning into our brains. I think that’s why a lot of people reacted the way they did about the things you said about the Parkland School Shooting survivors. Again, I understand that part of your job is to comment on stuff. I also understand that leaked excerpts of comedy shows are probably taken out of the context of you doing stand up, not to mention the fact that this is all stuff you’re still working on and editing. It’s just weird to see you struggling like this, partially because you’re such a smart dude. You fucking changed the comedy game. But the stuff you said about the Parkland School survivors and trans people feels like punching down instead of up. In an interview with Gothamist, Pete Holmes much more eloquently explained this sentiment that myself and others are feeling,
“Louis is the type of comedian that I would look to to do material about [his indiscretions] that would help us laugh and heal and process. And the fact that he’s not is baffling… And the fact that he’s back and not only not addressing it, but instead doubling down on some of his darker and uglier impulses is also disappointing. Because he’s a hilarious comedian, there’s evidence to that fact, and now we’re all feeling the betrayal of like, “What?””
I mean, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe you’re doing some of this on purpose as a way to take the heat off the fact that you admitted to jerking off in front of women. Hell, you kind of alluded to doing that in another recently performance. I don’t know. It’s just, in my opinion, poor timing and optics to turn some of that comedy lens on the Parkland School Shooting victims, considering the stuff you’ve admitted to doing. I get that, as you’ve purportedly said on stage that “The whole point of comedy is to say things that you shouldn’t say. That’s the entire point.” I appreciate comics who break down those boundaries. But, as you (and your comic peers) are coming to realize, things in society shift over time. Now, part of the dilemma for yourself and other comedians is that, like it or not, and at least for the time being, many areas of conversation have now become heightened and politically charged.
An article in Vulture describes how Sasheer Zamata, another one of your stand-up peers feels like your audience is smarter than perhaps you give them credit for. The article goes on to explain how
“Zamata argued that true C.K. fans should be able to differentiate between some of his earlier, more thought-provoking comedy and the December stand-up set. “It’s like you go to your favorite restaurant, and instead of getting chicken that you ordered, they serve you pigeon,” she said. “It may taste the same at first, but the more you chew on it, the more you realize the quality has decreased.”
Please don’t misconstrue, I’m not in any way trying to tell you how to do your job, especially someone as driven and innovative as yourself. I’m sure some of this probably feels frustrating and confusing, especially considering several years ago you were praised for your potentially spontaneous act of free speech after the whole Charlie Hebdo thing. Now, to suddenly have thousands of voices shouting at you in attempts to essentially crowd source your act and how you are staging your comeback is probably not the most ideal way you saw this going.
I know I’m just another one of those voices. But, I also recognize, and I hope you eventually recognize as well, that you and your voice have a certain platform, and like it or not, that platform carries a certain amount of weight and can potentially create real change. I know that’s not ideal, and I can imagine other comedians, including yourself might be inclined to rather just stick to your wheelhouse of comedy. You could do that. But the cards you’ve been dealt make that choice much more uneasy, at least in the short term.
I don’t know what the answers are. According to various news outlets and some of your peers, stand up comedy is either going through an existential crisis that is potentially dooming the comedy profession by upending how many tackle telling jokes, or everything is getting too PC, depending on what you read.
All I know is that I don’t want Judd Apatow to be right about you.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you’re better than some of these jokes, regardless if you’re using them as a means to take heat off yourself for your past. I say this because I’ve heard and was struck by the vulnerability you shared on your friend Marc Maron’s podcast, the two part episode. Some have even dubbed this episode one of the best episodes of any podcast. Many of us have heard you be vulnerable, we’ve heard you look inward. I think this episode also helped many empathize with you. Perhaps this whole public outcry, and the arduous crawl back to the public spotlight is offering another time for you to drop some of the defensiveness and again, open up a little.
Your comedy is missed in these times. You have a chance to really show the world how someone can come back from something like this in a healthy, non-bitter way. As I said before, I just don’t want Judd Apatow to be right about you.