The phrase "cancel culture" has been so misused and purposely exaggerated that it has lost all meaning in most situations.
I think a reasonable definition of "cancel culture" is applied to those situations in which some slight misstep or old tweet leads to an overreaction and perhaps the loss of a job. Reactions far more severe than the behavior are not the type of thing we should encourage or tolerate.
But actions do have consequences, and if you commit a serious offense - especially if you repeat the behavior until you're caught - you should expect bad things to happen to you, Particularly if you are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for your actions.
I live in the Twin Cities, and on Thursday, local stand-up club Acme Comedy Company announced comedian Louie C.K. would be appearing at the club in late July for five shows. From a business standpoint, the decision to book Louie C.K. makes sense - the five shows quickly sold out.
But regardless of the financial motivations, it is disappointing to see a club that is one of the best venues in America booking a comedian who has demonstrated a repeated inability to keep it zipped (so to speak).
After years of rumors inside the industry, a 2017 New York Times article detailed the accounts of five women who claimed the comedian had asked them to watch him masturbate or forced them to do so. After the article was published, other women came forward with variations of the same story, many of them confirmed by other people.
Louie C.K. had been asked about his behavior for years in interviews and generally managed to shrug off the stories. But after the NY Times expose was published, the comic released a statement admitting to the allegations, although he essentially argued he didn't realize asking women who are less powerful than him if he could masturbate in front of them might cause some problems:
"At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true," C.K. wrote. "But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."
But it wasn't just that Louie C.K. was influential in his own right. He was represented by manager Dave Becky, who at the time also represented well-known comedians such as Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler. Complaining about Louie C.K.'s behavior could mean burning a lot of important career bridges in an industry that has long been seen as unfriendly to women.
In the days after this statement was released, Louie C.K. did suffer some severe career setbacks. The FX Network cut its ties with the comedian and his production company. Netflix canceled plans for an upcoming comedy special, and HBO removed his older comedy specials from its service.
And while he stayed away from comedy clubs for a year or two, Louie C.K. began making "unannounced" sets at clubs to work out material. That led to a 2020 comedy special, "Sincerely Louie C.K.," which he sold on his website.
This leads me to my problems with Louie C.K.'s upcoming sets at the Acme Comedy Club. Most rational people who had admitted to yanking off repeatedly around co-workers might approach the subject with a bit of insight into their behavior. Perhaps figure out a way to use their admittedly impressive comedic skills to make fun of themselves in a way that didn't come off as if they were petulant dick-obsessed brats.
But in the special, Louie C.K. attempted to come across as the Richard Pryor of pulling one off, explaining why he enjoyed having an audience for his self-pleasuring:
"I like jerking off, I don't like being alone, that's all I can tell you. I get lonely, it's just sad. I like company. I like to share. I'm good at it, too. If you're good at juggling, you wouldn't do it alone in the dark. You'd gather folks and amaze them," he says.
Now I won't get into the likelihood that any man who claims to be good at masturbation is actually any good - and how does that criteria work anyway? But he continues to be oblivious to the consequences of his behavior as he complained that it's hard for men to know when women are "faking" pleasure or honestly giving consent.
In one bit, he compared slaves singing in the cotton fields to women pretending to be sexually aroused:
"It's kind of like a Negro spiritual. It's sort of similar. So to assume that she likes it is like if they heard slaves singing in the field and you're like, 'Hey, they're having a good time out there."
If recent reviews of his shows are accurate, Louie C.K. doesn't appear to have developed any personal growth or insight following all of these events. Other than something along the lines of "Man, it's so hard to know when a woman is okay with you rubbing one off while they watch."
Louie C.K. is a talented guy. It sucks that he is the man he is and that it's impossible to separate his creepy offstage persona with the only slightly less unsettling onstage behavior.
I'm not arguing anyone should boycott Louie C.K.'s shows. I'm just saying that I have no interest in rewarding someone who has admitted to behaving so badly while still refusing to acknowledge that he was guilty of anything more than some unfortunate misunderstandings.
Some of his fans are going to say, "Well, how long should he suffer? Why should he lose his career forever?"
My answer is pretty simple. If you're fired from McDonald's for repeatedly masturbating in the drive-through window, you're not going to be able to wait a couple of years and hope to get invited to McDonald's University. Especially if you're explanation of your behavior is, "hey, if they didn't want to see it, they wouldn't have driven up to the window."
There are other talented comedians the Acme Comedy Company (and other clubs around the country) could book instead of Louie C.K. Comics who know how to keep it zipped and whose very presence on stage isn't an insult to many of the female comics who also appear in that club. If you are truly committed to running a club that is a safe and encouraging environment for your talent, how can you book a guy who has admitted that he can't be trusted?