Louis CK's Return Shows He Has Learned Nothing — and Neither Have Lots of His Fans

[Content Note: Rape culture; sexual assault.]

I have been groomed by predators.

The first time, I was 15 years old, and he was only a year older, but he already knew what to do to convince me to trust him. He knew how to exploit my vulnerabilities, and how to appeal to both my needs and desires. He knew exactly how to flatter me, and how to get me alone. And he knew how to make what he did to me seem like maybe it was what I wanted, or supposed to want.

What stands out to me now about the days and months leading up to that moment is how he so carefully probed my boundaries. How he'd push me just a little too far and I'd back away, and he'd retreat — only to replace the sinister I'd felt with the sweetness I wanted. In the moments of sweetness, he was so sweet that it was easy to believe that I'd imagined the sinister altogether, and that there was something broken in me that I'd be suspicious of someone who was good.

This recollection will surely feel familiar to other people who have been groomed. The specific details of our experiences might be different, but what is always the same is the probing — the insidious search for the edge of boundaries and how they may be slowly eroded, or obliterated altogether in a single, brutal moment.

The memory of that toxic dynamic, which lives in my body and reappears as tiny hairs standing up on their ends, lifting away from my goosebumped skin, is all I could think of reading the account of two women who were in the audience at Louis CK's "surprise set," where he was warmly welcomed back to the stage by many audience members, following a brief break after being accused of, and confessing to, sexual assault.

CK's particular brand of assault (that we know of) was masturbating in front of women without their consent — and I am certainly not the first person to observe that showing up onstage unannounced at a comedy show, in the audience of which were people would be troubled by his sudden appearance, bears a striking and disturbing parallel to his acts of sexual abuse.
The women were at the Comedy Cellar that night to see another comedian on the lineup when C.K. appeared onstage after a brief introduction from the night's emcee. "It felt like he was being thrust upon the audience without telling them," one woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told Vulture.
And just like victims of predators like CK often feel as though it may not be safe to leave, audience members who were uncomfortable by CK's presence may have felt as though they couldn't get up and leave safely. Which would not be without precedent: Daniel Tosh once incited rape against a female audience member who challenged him during a show, for instance.

At CK's unannounced appearance, it was not just the possibility that he would single out anyone inclined to leave, but that members of the audience might turn on anyone who left, too.
"The audience was very loud when Louis C.K. walked in. They were clearly supportive and surprised when he showed up, but there were a number of women sitting in the front row," the woman said. From her seat to the left of the stage, she could see a pair of women sitting stone-faced. Her friend, who asked be identified with the initials S.B., noticed the same reaction: "There were at least four to five females that I could see, and three or four of them were not having it. They were just looking at him, deadpan, straight, not having it."

S.B. said the audience was mostly white, with lots of couples. Both women say the set was awkward, but the first woman was particularly upset by it. "It was an all-male set to begin with. Then, it's sort of exacerbated by [C.K.'s] presence," she said. "If someone had heckled him, I think they would've been heckled out. It felt like there were a lot of aggressive men in the audience and very quiet women. It's the kind of vibe that doesn't allow for a dissenting voice. You're just expected to be a good audience member. You're considered a bad sport if you speak out."
Had I been in the audience, I would have been afraid to leave — not because I couldn't withstand people shouting at me, or even CK shit-talking me from the stage (because I could have, not that anyone should be expected to), but because I would've been scared that someone would have filmed my leaving and posted it online, then called for the Reddit Detectives to assemble, identify, and doxx me.

So audience members who felt uncomfortable were obliged to stay and watch CK. (Again, which sounds a lot like the sexual assaults he committed.) And once he had them trapped, he told a joke about a rape whistle.
The women say C.K.'s set was similar to his usual material, and included a joke about the phrase "clean as a whistle," which built up to a joke about how rape whistles are not clean. "When he said 'rape whistle' people were laughing, and I was just sitting there like oh my fuck. This is so uncomfortable and so disgusting. Everyone around me was laughing. That was just depressing."
That is what a predator probing to see what he can get away with looks like. Will they tolerate my being here? Will they tolerate this rape joke? Will they...

Naturally, CK would deny that this was his intention. That's because he's a liar.

It's because all predators are liars: "Dishonesty comes with the territory. Vanishingly few accused rapists are inclined to be honest about their crimes, for what ought to be evident reasons, and, further, rapists know they can rely on a breathtaking scope of rape apologia to contextualize and excuse their behavior. It is accusers, survivors, who sound like the liars, the fantasists, as they stammer and fume in the face of an entire culture primed to disbelieve them. And even if they are credible, and taken seriously, adjudicators (official and amateur) shrug their shoulders and murmur phrases like 'he said, she said.' Impossible to know."

If you're getting the feeling that this entire event was the rape culture encapsulate, that's because it was.

Keep that in mind as you read the outpouring of minimizing apologia, the scornful harangues that CK deserves a second chance, the excoriating 'splaining that CK has rehabilitated himself.

If that were true, he would not have shown up unannounced at a comedy club to tell a rape joke.

We all know that.

We all know that Louis CK leveraged the rape culture — the disbelief of victims; the metric fucktons of ready-made rape apologia reflexively employed on behalf of any man alleged to have assaulted women; the mob rule used to keep survivors and critics in line — to facilitate his return to the stage.

We all know that none of this behavior reflects the thinking of a reformed predator. Even people who insist that CK "deserves" a comeback, a second chance; who insist that he should be able to pick up his career right where it left off before his astonishingly brief vacation, ignoring that his abuses were also workplace violations; who insist that he is sorry and unaccountably believe that everything will be fine now; even those people know, if they are being honest, that this was a fucked-up way to make that comeback he supposedly deserves.

There is no valid argument that it was okay. There is only ignoring the reasons why it wasn't, because your fave dude is more important than the safety of the women he harms.

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