Louis C.K.'s Club Return Divides Comedy World

Some of the most savage takedowns came from veterans like Elayne Boosler and Kathy Griffin, comedians who for decades have endured the sexism of a male-dominated industry and are in no great hurry to see perpetrators given an easy pass.

He has been spotted there as far back as May. But it wasn't until a Sunday night in late August — after apparently having a disappointing set earlier that night at a Long Island club — that Louis C.K. returned to the stage at Comedy Cellar, the Greenwich Village venue made famous on Louie, his autobiographical FX series.

That 15-minute set of new material — his first since confirming long-standing rumors of sexual misconduct in November — drew a warmer response from the audience, according to Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman, who was not there for the comedian's unscheduled drop-in performance.

But the reaction on Twitter, most notably from other comedians, has been far less forgiving of the 50-year-old comic, who before his #MeToo downfall was one of the top acts in the world.

Some of the most savage takedowns came from veterans like Elayne Boosler and Kathy Griffin, comedians who for decades have endured the sexism of a male-dominated industry and are in no great hurry to see perpetrators given an easy pass.

On Twitter, Boosler questioned why C.K. failed to address his admitted misconduct — which involved exposing himself and masturbating in front of female colleagues and aspiring comics — in his return to the stage.

"All bullies are cowards, aren't they?" said Boosler, 66. "You've done nothing that merits forgiveness, and this bs insults truth in comedy."

Griffin — touring the U.S. again after her own career was sidelined by a photo of a decapitated Donald Trump effigy — wondered how much male privilege will play a factor in any C.K. comeback.

"You know how many talented women and [persons of color] comics are knocking on doors trying to get some time in front of audiences or powerful people in this business?" tweeted Griffin, 57. "And Louis just gets to glide back in on his own terms? Gosh, does it pay off to be in the boys club...the white boys club."

The criticism has not only come from C.K.'s female peers. Paul F. Tompkins, 49, echoed Boosler in questioning the motives behind the performance.

"The fact that Louis, a comedian whose whole thing is plumbing the depths of his own psyche, apparently didn’t mention his most recent, famous news in his surprise set tells you all you need to know about his desire for 'redemption,' right?" Tompkins tweeted.

Among C.K.'s contemporaries, Michael Ian Black was the rare voice open to a path of redemption. "People have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives," the 47-year-old Wet Hot American Summer star tweeted. "I don't know if it's been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I'm happy to see him try."

Black spent much of Tuesday fielding angry rebuttals on Twitter. At one point, longtime Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter stepped in with a suggestion. "I'd be happy to see [C.K.] make a REAL apology," tweeted Richter, 51. "Publicly talk about the harm that he's done; do something tangible to help make his workplace a safer workplace."

By evening, it was Black who was apologizing: "I hear all of your voices and I'm really sorry to have upset so many of you," he said.

Michael Che, who will co-host the Emmy Awards on Sept. 17 with Colin Jost, was another contemporary to voice support. In a series of statements posted to Instagram, Che, 35, argued that C.K. has paid a price. "[He] can be shamed, humiliated, lose millions of dollars, lose all of his projects, lose the respect of a lot of his fans and peers, and whatever else that comes with what he did, but since he can still do a comedy set for free at a 200 seat club a year later, it means he got off easy," Che wrote, adding that "any free person has a right to speak and make a living.”

Also notable were those who did not enter the fray — fellow big-name comics and outspoken Twitter voices like Patton Oswalt, 49, and Kumail Nanjiani, 40, avoided the topic, as did Sarah Silverman, 47. (Silverman addressed the misconduct in November on her Hulu talk show, I Love You, America, calling C.K. "one of my best friends of the last 25 years," and asking, "Can you love someone who did bad things?")

Dave Chappelle, 45, has no social media presence, but he has offered one of the most controversial defenses of C.K. yet — saying in a Netflix special that the accusers are "brittle" for abandoning their show business aspirations.

And then there is Aziz Ansari, 35, himself embroiled in a #MeToo imbroglio, this one involving an anonymous woman who detailed an evening of what she deemed to be coerced sex with the Master of None star. Ansari, who said he misinterpreted her cues and thought they had a fun evening together, waited five months after that account went public before returning to the Comedy Cellar stage, performing on consecutive nights at the subterranean club.

Like C.K., those initial shows contained no references to sexual misconduct — though he did reference "outrage fatigue" in the context of racism.

Four months later, Ansari is now performing at larger venues, most recently having headlined an hourlong set at Milwaukee's Turner Hall on Saturday, where he was preceded onstage by Hannibal Buress and Che. The performance was enthusiastically received.