December 13, 2018

Louis C.K.’s ‘Comeback’ Isn’t the Teshuvah We Were Hoping For

Louis C.K.

“A Louie Louie, oh no [maybe he’s] gotta go… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” 

On Aug. 26, comedian Louis C.K. was found testing jokes at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. On Sept. 30, he was found there again testing more material and was met with a mix of emotions.

This is not new. Comedians often refine material at smaller comedy bars before going on the road and performing in front of bigger audiences. The problem is that it hasn’t even been a year since allegations and confirmation of sexual misconduct came out against him (In November it will be a year.)

According to the New York Times, C.K. “did not address his inappropriate behavior, including instances in which he masturbated in front of multiple women.” Instead, he took the stage for 20 minutes and hoped the audience would let bygones be bygones.

The Huffington Post reported that some of Sunday night’s comedy-goers were uncomfortable and unsure why he was up there. Though he was met with thunderous applause, two people allegedly left the Cellar and one person said they felt, “some discomfort because of his past and how some of his jokes kind of [came close to] the line.”  

Yes, unlike many other sexual predators, C.K. owned up to his allegations, confirming that what five women said he did was true. However, in his “apology” statement he made almost a year ago he missed a few things.

National etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, Diane Gottsman, told the Journal these are the necessary steps to take when making an apology:

  1. Articulate remorse
  2. Take responsibility
  3. State steps on how to make amends
  4. Follow through with your commitments

With Louis C.K.’s approach, he followed steps two and four. He skipped perhaps the most important part: Saying the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

How can you give an apology statement without saying you’re sorry? You may regret what you did but regret isn’t the only word these women need to hear.

He hasn’t made any amends. C.K. isn’t religious or observantly Jewish, but according to his comedy specials, he is “chosen” on his father’s side. If he had followed this apology chart, and maybe went to shul on Yom Kippur, he would have realized that making an apology statement and actually fulfilling a meaningful apology are two different things.

“With an apology, there needs to be an action after the apology. You have to show remorse,” Gottsman said. “Then you have to say and articulate how you will rectify the situation. You really need to do it and follow through [with] everything. If you continue the same behavior, you lose credibility, you lose trust and it also sends a message you didn’t mean what you said.”

The comedian did use these words in his concluding statement back in November 2017:

“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

If this is true, why would he be spending his time testing out new jokes at a world-famous comedy club?

His behavior is showing the men and women who once loved his raunchy comedy, his family and friends and the people he violated that he’s learned nothing from his experience.

Over the High Holy Days, Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman shared weekly thoughts about forgiveness and the necessary process of Teshuvah (repentance). Zimmerman, like Gottsman, formed it in a To-Do list.  

“…We reflect on where things got broken, and assess our own responsibility,” Rabbi Zimmerman said. “When we’ve made our list (and this takes time), we make a plan. We ask ourselves, how do we get back to wholeness? What phone calls, conversations, apologies and new commitments need to be made?”

Maybe we would be more forgiving of C.K.’s actions if he actually followed through on his statement or gave an actual apology. Over the past year  where was Louis C.K’s Teshuvah?

If Louis C.K. donated money or time to RAINN, NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center) or other non-profits that help victims of sexual assault, that would be a way for him to show he is trying to do better.

But he hasn’t done that. Instead, he flew under the radar for 10 plus months and he decided it had been enough time to heal all wounds. Instead of activism, he chose comedy. In place of an open wallet, he picked up a microphone.

“We want to know when someone does something and causes us harm small or large we want to feel that there is remorse,” Gottsman said. “It takes real character to take responsibility and take concrete steps to right the wrong.”

As a woman and a former fan of Louis C.K., I’m disappointed in his choices. Everyone deserves a second chance but you don’t get to make a comeback unless you’ve done something to prove you can come back.

Erin Ben-Moche is a Los Angeles journalist and the digital content manager at The Jewish Journal.