Louis C.K. returned to stand-up comedy on Sunday night with a brief, late-night set at a comedy club in New York City, where he performed a surprise set of "typical Louis C.K. stuff" that did not include material about the sexual misconduct he admitted to last year.
As Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman told the New York Times, C.K. took the stage at the club around 11 p.m. on Sunday, and attempted to "work out new material" in front of a crowd of about 115 people. Topics in C.K.'s set, Dworman added, included "racism waitresses' tips, [and] parades," the Times wrote. C.K. was reportedly received "warmly," and got a standing ovation prior to the start of his set.
"It sounded just like he was trying to work out some new material, almost like any time of the last 10 years he would come in at the beginning of a new act," Dworman said.
C.K. is the latest Hollywood figure accused of sexual misconduct to mount a return to the spotlight. Earlier this month, Aziz Ansari, who was accused of sexual misconduct in January, this month returned to the stage here in Philadelphia at the Punch Line to work out new material. Ansari, like C.K., did not address the misconduct allegations from the stage. Jeremy Piven, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by eight women, meanwhile, played the Punch Line in July.
Several local comedians asked that the Punch Line cancel Piven's show last month. As comedian Erin Dohony told the Inquirer, allowing Piven to perform showed a level of "indifference" that was "shocking."
"If [Piven] is allowed to make a comeback and convince the public that he didn't do anything wrong, that opens the floodgates for other sexual predators to do the same," Dohony said. "There's no other comic you could think to bring up?"
C.K.'s performance comes 10 months after he was accused of and admitted to sexual misconduct with at least five women, including instances in which he masturbated in front of them without consent. After admitting to the alleged misconduct, C.K. faced backlash that included the cancelation of his production deal with FX, as well as the shelving of I Love You, Daddy, a film the comedian wrote, directed, and starred in that included scenes depicting acts similar to C.K.'s behavior.
Accusers, however, also faced backlash for discussing incidents involving the comedian. Many avoided discussing the incidents with C.K. for years, fearing personal and professional consequences for speaking out.
"I've experienced vicious and swift backlash from women and men, in and out of the comedy community," Rebecca Corry, who said C.K. asked to masturbate in front of her in 2005, wrote in an op-ed for Vulture earlier this year. "I've received death threats, been berated, judged, ridiculed, dismissed, shamed, and attacked."
Dworman has since received complaints about the set online, with one audience member calling him to complain on Monday, the Times reports. The club-goer, who was not named in the Times' coverage, reportedly said he wished he knew about C.K.'s surprise appearance so that could have "decided whether to have been there or not."
Comedy fans online have also chastised the Comedy Cellar for having C.K. perform. Alison Herman, writer of The Ringer, for example, wrote that while she knew the comedian's comeback was inevitable, his appearance in New York still "makes me angrier than I even thought possible."
Others, like comedian Michael Ian Black, expressed support for C.K., despite knowing they would "take heat" for it. As Black wrote, he is "happy to see" C.K. try to make his return, but is not sure "if it's been long enough, or if his career will recover" because "people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.
Dworman echoed that sentiment, telling the Times that "there can't be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong," and C..K. was bound to return to stand-up. However, he was surprised that C.K. returned to the stage less than a year after allegations against him surfaced, and acknowledged that "some people will be upset with me" for allowing C.K. to perform.