November 21, 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.

Sorry. Not Sorry.

I recently said sorry for something I wasn’t really sorry for. I knew I wasn’t sorry when I said it, but in an attempt to avoid confrontation, I apologized. I shouldn’t have because I didn’t mean it and regretted saying it the moment it came out of my mouth. Now I’m stuck because I really want to take it back and for the person who received the apology to understand that not only am I not sorry, but the situation was their fault not mine.

No good can come out of my taking back the apology, and the truth is it will cause more problems than the fake apology, so I am trying hard to set aside my ego and not let it guide me, but it is really hard. When I make a mistake I will apologize with ease.  I have no problem saying sorry, but this feels quite different because  I am simply not at all sorry.

I wish I had paused to regroup and assess the situation before throwing the sorry out there, but instead I responded immediately without thinking it through. Elton John says that sorry seems to be the hardest word, but in this instance sorry was the easiest word to say and I wish it had been harder! I am going to pass on Elton with this one and go with Demi Lovato. Sorry. Not sorry. Not at all.

Important to note I am Canadian, so saying sorry is like breathing air. Canadians say sorry all the time and I would argue it is the most used word in Canada, beating out eh by a landslide.  We like to say sorry in Canada, and after almost 30 years in America, sorry is actually one of the few words I still say with a Canadian accent. I embrace saying sorry, except for this one time. I am not sorry.

Sorry is a very powerful word. It can mean everything, even when it really means nothing, as was the case with this particular sorry. The person who heard it took it as an admission of guilt, because that is what they needed to hear, so I am happy for them. By happy for them of course I mean I was not sorry! Can I keep quiet and let the sorry stick? I want to try so I am keeping the faith.

The ‘Boomer Rebellion’

My grandparents never lived to reach the age of 64, as I recently did. They were dead in their 50s, murdered by chopped liver, corned beef, kishke and schmaltz — a pale yellow goo of chicken fat that was used like butter at almost every meal. 

A few decrepit relatives did straggle on into their 60s, but the daily sedentary boredom of playing the card game Kaluki seriously diminished their physical and mental capacities. Aside from being wheeled into the occasional bar mitzvah or wedding, they were pretty much done with life.

None of them could ever have imagined that their gene pool would produce progeny like me. I’m the gray-haired guy sweating profusely through a hot yoga class four days a week. Among the swami photos in this crowded room in Studio City, I am surrounded by young would-be actors and their lithe, sexy, muscular bodies. 

During the first down dog, my knees crack, upsetting everybody’s meditative silence. At the ending shavasana, my labored breaths override the soothing silence. But aside from these disruptive noises, I am utterly unnoticeable — absolutely invisible — to my younger classmates. On the rare occasion that a wrinkle-free millennial happens to cast an irritated glance in my direction, I beam back my most blissful yogi smile, silently thinking, “Let’s see if you’re still doing this at my age.”

Participating in a hot yoga class isn’t all that my grandparents’ generation would have thought impossible. They wouldn’t have dared believe that a person their age could someday rise up, refuse to be victimized by a destroyed economy and make the transition to a new professional path. Or that members of their age group would be updating their brains, becoming facile with new and constantly evolving methodologies as they learn to engage with and navigate a changed world. 

They certainly couldn’t have pictured pouring their anger and energy into inspiring an uprising among their generation to take back their rightful place in society, where they would demand respect for their wisdom, skills and innovative creativity. And they couldn’t have conceived of anyone older than 60 having the power to shake up a new generation’s belief systems.

The Great Recession of these last several years, even if it is officially “over,” has changed so much for so many. This economic disaster forced legions of the boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — to abandon their plans for retirement. In our 60s, some of us are now valiantly struggling to re-create our savings and ourselves. It is the biggest challenge of our lives and careers.

I am one of those people.

I didn’t see it coming. I had a 40-year career in marketing, communications and advertising, where at times I was a superstar. When I started out, I was one of the hippest young guys in town, working in the world’s top ad agencies, creating award-winning campaigns for Fortune 500 clients such as Apple and Coca-Cola. 

When I finally felt secure enough in my early 40s to de-hip myself, I transitioned out of the ad world and into the nonprofit sector, where I learned a whole new field. Now, with a nonprofit marketplace for my skills, I built another agency and traveled extensively, working closely with some of the most influential and passionate people on the planet. 

In my mid-50s, I transitioned again, this time from agency owner to consultant. I took great risks to convince self-made business people, the kind who donate millions of dollars to causes, that I understood the path to their philanthropic success. Through all these transitional ups and downs in my career, I was always in demand and never lacked for work.

Then I turned 60.

That’s when everything changed. Soon after, the Great Recession hit my income. I had never faced the kind of professional challenge these two simultaneous events presented.

The nonprofit spigot turned off. It no longer paid the kinds of fees I had been commanding, and turned to the hordes of young people who were coming into the job marketplace and who knew how to work and navigate social marketing sites. Nonprofits believed that these young people with their social marketing skills possessed all the knowledge necessary for a new world — plus, they could be hired for peanuts.

Although reality kept staring me in the face, I kept on fighting … until the first of a series of wake-up calls knocked me over. Eventually, I understood the gravity of what was being communicated, both directly and through nuance:

I was considered old.

I was perceived as irrelevant.

The economy had crashed and I had been replaced by 22-year-olds. 

There I was, in my early 60s. I was not wealthy. I could not yet afford to retire, nor did I want to. I had planned on and looked forward to working for many more years. I had never anticipated that at this stage in my life, I would need to head into yet another professional transition. And I knew that if this was happening to me, it was happening to others like me. There had to be other boomers, particularly in creative professions, staring down the barrel of the same fate.

What followed over the next four years involved fear, panic, jealousy, exhaustion, depression, emergence, challenge, learning, discovery, transition and triumph. These years of transition have been the hardest and most challenging of my life. Yet, they have produced the greatest personal growth, propelling me to learn and excel in ways I never thought possible. 

This has all taken me places I never thought I would go. I have emerged as a university adjunct professor whose reputation is soaring and whose classes have waiting lists. I am also the COO of a global initiative on a university campus, reaching out to Fortune 500 companies. A blogger with a huge following. An author. A seminar facilitator. None of it would have been possible without this struggle and a refusal to be victimized by my age and by the misguided perceptions of a younger generation.

Yet, millions of my fellow baby boomers who have plenty to offer society are still stuck and disregarded. Although the economy is bouncing back, boomers have been labeled as too old and irrelevant to be an integral part of this recovery. 

We have lost several years during this recession as young people moved in. Millennial leaders increasingly regard us as fossils. They believe we are too technologically befuddled to participate dynamically in this new era of creativity. Tweets, posts, downloads, Instagrams and links trump experience and wisdom. 

Investment for startups goes to young people. Philanthropic funding goes to them, too. It’s as if we don’t have value, stamina, ambition or sense of purpose. We are treated as if we are already decrepit, slowly being murdered by a pernicious new form of schmaltz and chopped liver.

This is all a gross injustice that is being perpetrated upon millions of active people and expansive minds of my generation. We are being thrown out, way before the expiration date! Our politicians say that the economic comeback means that Americans are once again poised to lead the world in so many arenas, but shouldn’t we also be leading the world to understand the big ideas and the possibility that older people can contribute to society on so many levels? 

The lasting legacy of the boomers does not have to be only the ’60s. It can also be how we returned to our rebellious and soulful roots in our later years and created a Boomer Rebellion that changed the world forever.

Here’s the question: Does my generation have what it takes to pull off a rebellion at this stage in life?

We do.

Look around. We are radically altering the aging landscape. We flock to cross-training and meditation retreats, attend Wisdom 2.0 conferences in Silicon Valley. We return to psychotherapy and drink wheatgrass juice and four cups of green tea a day. Chicken fat spread has been replaced with a testosterone spread for men’s armpits. Kishke casing injected with a puffy filling has been replaced by collagen injections for women’s lips. 

Those of us now in our 60s come from the generation of the ’60s. We saw possibility then, and we see possibility now. We changed the world once. Boldly. Powerfully. Pervasively. Globally. And just think — we did it all without technology! We did it based on our value system. OK, so we also did it with a lot of sex and drugs, but I’ll bet you those were more energizing and stimulating forces than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We need to return to our ’60s roots and find a current way to apply our generation’s culture, the one that changed the world then, to change the world again. We need to do it for ourselves and for all future generations as they age, too.

We are different from my grandparents’ generation because we are a generation in constant pursuit of what it takes to remain vibrant:

Our minds are absorbing the ways of a new world. Our knowledge is growing. Our wisdom is increasing. Our creativity is flourishing.

We adapt. We are filled with possibility. We have vision. We have goals. We have dreams. We have power.

According to National Public Radio reporter Ina Jaffe, we represent approximately 20 percent of the population. We account for about 50 percent of all consumer spending and control about 60 percent of the country’s disposable income. Yet, a quarter of us are struggling.

No matter our age, we have much life ahead of us. We are not giving up. This rebellion is ours to seize.

Gary Wexler is executive manager of The Third Space Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the author of the recently released “Sorry, Millennials, We’re Not Dead Yet: The Boomer Rebellion.” This edited excerpt is reprinted with permission.