Louis C.K.'s Path to a Comeback Likely Runs Through Comedy Clubs

Courtesy of Cara Howe/Netflix

Fellow New York stand-ups and club owners debate how the disgraced comic could return to the stage … and the spotlight.

For years, Louis C.K. performed insightful stand-up that drew laughs from dissecting how repellent men truly are, how they are driven by sexual desires to endless masturbation and mistreatment of women. Then last year America learned that when C.K. said “constant perverted sexual thoughts … make me into a moron,” he wasn’t actually joking.

A New York Times story forced C.K., 50, to confess to longstanding rumors that he had brought female comics back to his hotel room and masturbated in front of them. And while he was spotted at the Olive Tree Cafe (the restaurant above the Comedy Cellar) in February, the king of stand-up has been banished since the scandal broke. “Everybody dropped him,” says Louis Faranda, executive talent producer for Carolines, “which was the right thing to do.”

But no quote has ever been proven false more often than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s declaration that there are no second acts American lives, so the question is not really whether C.K. will eventually come back but when, where and how.

The consensus is that while his behavior was clearly wrong it was not at the level of a Harvey Weinstein, James Toback or Bill Cosby. Comics and club owners alike agree with Gilbert Gottfried's opinion that “there are different levels of misbehavior” and the public understands the difference. (“The thing that to me was shocking and hurtful when I heard about Louis C.K.,” Gottfried adds, “was that he never once invited me to his hotel room to watch him masturbate.”)

“I don’t think people want this to be a life sentence,” says Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman. Faranda predicts that while “some might keep away,” C.K. will return within a year, “making fun of his mistakes.”

Eileen Koch, founder of the branding and public relations firm Eileen Koch & Company, who represents Floyd Mayweather Jr., Jamie Foxx and Carmen Electra, says C.K. doesn't even need to wait that long if he gives a sincere apology. But she adds that if he is just saying sorry to get his career back, people will see through that, and she believes he should go on a serious program like 60 Minutes as opposed to addressing it in a comedic environment.

C.K.'s fellow comics disagree. Christopher Titus thinks C.K. should avoid the mea culpa interviews. “He needs to work on his best comedy about how he was a douche and how he is trying to make amends to women.”

Comic Sean Patton echoes that notion, saying, “The only way he comes back is if he heals — he should do an hour special that breaks down why it was wrong and how he’s made amends.”

Both Faranda and Dworman say they’d hand C.K. their microphones tomorrow. They expect he’ll address the issue. “He’s not going to come out and talk about climate change,” says comic Judy Gold, who appeared on Louie.

But Titus warns that C.K.’s redemption can’t seem too easy. “If that had been a homeless guy in a raincoat doing it to your wife, you’d want him in jail,” he says. “Just because he had fame and made people laugh, I don’t think he should get a hall pass. He has to earn it.”

Aida Rodriguez, whose comedy is fierce on female empowerment, recently ran into C.K. at a restaurant. “I could tell he was shocked I said hello,” she says. “But if we stay on a war footing with this, we’ll never find solutions.”

Rodriguez says C.K.'s audience was not only huge but was filled with young men. “He has the chance to atone and to educate,” she says. “If he uses the opportunity to address his shortcomings, maybe he can change a few minds among his fans and maybe he can save a couple of girls from unnecessary and unwanted incidents.”

A version of this story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.