Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story broke last month, everyone in show business has been wondering: What about Louis C.K.?
C.K. is the most gifted standup comic of his generation, but for years rumors have circulated that he shocked women with whom he had minimal acquaintance by openly masturbating in front of them. C.K. pointedly avoided issuing much in the way of denials; just two months ago, at the Toronto Film Festival, when he was rolling out his new film, I Love You, Daddy, he said, “I’m not going to answer to that stuff, because they’re rumors.”
Now the New York Times has finally published a detailed account of five women’s allegations against C.K. They tell similar stories: He would, they say, arrange to meet one or more women in private settings such as an office or a hotel room and then suddenly start pleasuring himself. Observers of C.K.’s comedy act can hardly be surprised: He jokes about having a compulsion to masturbate all the time.
This account – for all I know, other stories may emerge – is sordid but let’s not lump all sexual misbehavior into the same category. This lewd and disgusting behavior is not to be likened to the much more serious allegations of rape that have been made against Harvey Weinstein and other celebrities in recent weeks. Sill, C.K.’s failure to respond to the allegations is unsatisfactory. “Louis is not going to answer any questions,” his publicist says. He should at the very least apologize (as, apparently, he has done, albeit privately, on at least two occasions) and offer to make restitution to the women harmed.
One detail in the Times piece, though, strikes me as unfair and off-base. I saw I Love You, Daddy, and it isn’t “an excuse” for sexual misbehavior. It’s more like a mea culpa and an indictment. While no one in the movie does the things C.K. is accused of (though a comedian is shown miming the act of masturbation, fully dressed, much as C.K. and other comics have done on stage), it’s about a Woody Allen-like 68-year-old movie director (John Malkovich) who preys on very young women. The C.K. character is outraged by this, but in a permissive culture there is nothing he can do about it, and it turns out that in the end he himself can’t claim any moral high ground either. The film isn’t exactly a confession, but that’s the subtext.