The standup continued his contentious comeback in Paris – presenting a dilemma for the woman asked to gig with him. Being asked to open for a famous comic is every struggling standup comedian’s dream. A chance to be seen, to get a foot in the door. But what if that comic is no longer famous but notorious?
Louis CK, once the standup world’s darling, now its bete noire, took to the stage on Tuesday night in Paris for a hush-hush, last-minute performance in a plush theatre near Pigalle. CK recently returned to the New York comedy scene nine short months after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged, ultimately confirmed by CK himself. Some are disgusted by his hasty return; others keen to welcome him back. Does it matter that his apology left a lot to be desired or that he seems reluctant to address what has happened – that he masturbated in front of women?
It certainly mattered for my friend and comedy partner Sarah Donnelly, an American doing standup in France. When she was asked to open for Monsieur CK she was conflicted. She could hardly turn down a paid gig like this, but accepting it made her think twice. How would her being on the lineup be perceived? Could she talk about the allegations on stage? Would her silence on the issue during her performance be taken as complicity?
“As comedians it’s our job to address the elephant in the room,” says Donnelly. “And as a woman I felt an enormous responsibility to speak up. But of course it’s my job to be funny without committing career suicide. Ultimately I took the gig because if it wasn’t me it was going to be another man, and that didn’t seem fair either.”
Before the show the audience, mostly French, chatted while the back curtain was lit up with the emblem of the New York Comedy Night – a bi-weekly showcase organised by Sebastian Marx, another American comic in Paris. After Sebastian, Sarah and two other local French comedians, Adrien Arnoux and Noman Hosni, took to the stage, then it was Louis CK’s turn.
Any worries Louis might have had about his reception would have been dispelled the moment he walked out on stage and the crowd erupted into long, loud applause. After announcing, “I’ve been in Paris four days, it’s a nice place, a place where any shitty American is welcome”, CK started his set by saying: “What kind of year have you guys had?” The audience applauded supportively. His set was typical CK: scatological, observational and self-deprecating. He talked about his baldness, being overweight, feeling old, woke young couples on the subway. Sex was brought up through a variety of crude and absurd premises, but the topic of masturbation was avoided.
He kept a notebook on stage that he referred to throughout his set, admitting at times “that’s a new joke” or “that needs work”. He performed for over an hour, much to the crowd’s appreciation, and even came back for an encore. Did he mention the events of the past year? Not really.
After the show the audience stood outside smoking – they are French, after all. A woman in her 20s with a CK badge said: “I saw him in London and once in Paris, it was great seeing him tonight.” Another said: “It was really good. Sometimes I didn’t understand but it was a great show.” There were no signs of disgruntlement or displeasure, no angry protesters. Maybe because it had been so secretive, or maybe because there is a different feeling in France towards Louis CK and even the #MeToo movement in general.
Sarah did manage to refer to CK’s misconduct in her set, without saying a word. Just a handy pantomime and an acknowledgement of her being the only female on the lineup, and a quick reference to #MeToo that seemed to be enough to break the tension, to which the audience showed their appreciation with laughs. “Should we have a discussion about what has happened?” she mused later. “Yes, definitely, but there’s no guidebook. And I think we all are going to feel uncomfortable in the meantime.”