“Can we stop cancelling guys who are such brilliant artists over, like, hearsay?” deadpans TikToker Talia Lichtstein filming herself outside New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. “Like, women have stories of them being creepy but, like, nobody knows the real story. And yeah, sure, a couple of people have the same story. But, like, just so we can tell that story, that guy never gets to work again?… Their career is fucked forever?” Behind her, with impeccable timing, a digital billboard changes to read ‘Tonight: Louis CK. SOLD OUT’.
It’s an impeccable bit of satire, which Lichstein says she’s been planning for months, and involved her delivering her speech to camera over and over until the billboard lit up at exactly the right moment. At the time of writing it has been viewed 1.3 million times, just 15 hours after being uploaded.
This viciously effective bit of skewering has a point. On Saturday, January 27 the comedian Louis CK sold out the most famous arena venue in the world, with a capacity just shy of 21,000 seats. It was the cap of a triumphant 13-date US tour, and fans who had missed out on tickets could also pay to see the show streamed live. It’s all a bit of a surprise, because Louis CK was supposed to have been “cancelled” in 2017 after it was revealed he had repeatedly exposed himself and masturbated in front of several female comics without their consent. His management had also threatened his victims with “professional consequences” should they speak out.
CK, at the time considered one of stand ups’ all-time-greats and enjoying a run of extremely high profile success stories on stage and screen, eventually admitted to the incidents and issued an apology, though only after an expose in the New York Times quoted five different women, all involved in the comedy industry and all with similar experiences. “The power I had over these women is that they admired me,” he admitted. “And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”
The outrage was swift and the professional consequences immediate. CK’s upcoming feature film, I Love You, Daddy, was pulled from distribution and co-stars Charlie Day and Chloe Grace Moretz refused to have anything to do with it, the financial impact of which was huge since CK had self-financed the film. The second of two Netflix specials was pulled, several TV series in the pipeline vanished, appearances were cancelled. Louis CK, you’d think, was all washed up. He claimed it cost him $35 million in lost income.
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That was at the end of 2017. It’s now the beginning of 2023. In the intervening four-and-a-bit years, a good chunk of which of course consisted of twiddling our thumbs in a pandemic, CK crawled back to comedy, at first appearing at small New York clubs, where he was filmed doing material at the expense of school shooting victims, then doing smaller theatre tours. By 2021 he was selling 10,000 tickets for a two-night stint in New York, releasing a new special and appearing internationally. Two small UK club dates were cancelled after protests in 2019, but by October 2022 he was playing back-to-back shows at Hammersmith Apollo and Wembley Arena, two of London’s biggest indoor venues. Admittedly to mixed reviews.