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Comedy on State to host transphobic masturbating clown

The local club once again quickly packs ’em in for an unearned rehabilitation tour.

Illustration: Comedian Louis CK is drawn performing stand-up in a black T-shirt, holding a mic in his right hand and gesturing with his left as a bead of sweat runs down his forehead. To the left is a close-up of CK’s head, grimacing uneasily and also with a bead of sweat on his forehead. Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

On his 2016 tour, Louis C.K. opened a set at the Overture Center with the best abortion joke I’ve ever heard. Annoyingly, I can’t remember it (probably because I was high). But I’ll always remember that it came from him.

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C.K. has, of course, done a lot to sour such fond memories and immolate the goodwill that once accrued to him as a revered stand-up and TV show creator. He abused his relative power to coerce women into watching him masturbate. Five of them, risking professional suicide, mustered the courage to come forward in 2017. C.K. then backed into the bushes after a self-indulgent statement that was absent an apology. He should have stayed there. Just two years later, he hit the road on a world tour. What’s worse, is that his surprise post-wank debut at Comedy Cellar in Manhattan ended with a standing ovation, as did many of the sold-out shows on his 2019 world tour. His comeback sets included some truly odious jokes at the expense of trans people, a transparently desperate grab for that anti-cancel-culture dollar.

In a few weeks, the masturbating clown will be back at it at Madison’s Comedy on State, according to a surprise announcement Monday morning from the club. The five late-July shows sold out within hours. The Wisconsin State Journal reported on the brisk sales, and the club’s owners and operators, the Paras family, offered the paper a “no comment.” Does it even matter how performers and venues behave?

C.K. banked on his victims keeping silent under the threat of professional ostracization. Women and femmes and even men are often not taken seriously or blamed when they report abuse and discrimination. Does Comedy on State want to create that kind of climate? Touring comics have helped the club gain a national reputation and local comics depend on its weekly open mic to hone their acts, some of them eventually scoring the opportunity to warm the crowd up before the bigger weekend headliners. These performers and the club’s staff and patrons deserve to feel they’re spending their time in an environment that doesn’t brush off abuse.

The argument can be made that C.K.’s done innovative work in comedy. Hands down, yes. His signature dramedy blend reached near perfection in FX’s Louie (before it headed so unbearably and darkly downhill in the last season). His performances have been the source of many chortles and guffaws. The achingly familial drama Horace And Pete, in which he co-starred with Steve Buscemi, featured riveting performances by Laurie Metcalf and Aidy Bryant. Baskets, which he executive produced for FX, stars Zack Galifinakis as a depressed clown and his own twin, along with Louie Anderson as their doting mother, was fucking fantastic. 

Yet, these days, we have a holistic measure of artists’ value to society. Excellent entertainment absolves no one from anything. (Looking at you, R. Kelly.) 

C.K. has neither apologized nor mentioned his sexist transgressions since Hollywood slapped him on the wrist to satisfy appearances. This gave him license to make jokes that punch down on people with different sexual identities and genders. How passively, toxically masculine. How very typical. 

But backlash against Comedy on State from locals with consciences is beginning, even if the shows will be packed. 

Jessica Gilkinson tweeted the number for Comedy on State, and encouraged others to join her in calling and voicing disgust. 

Dana Pellebon asks:

Former stand-up comic (and Tone Madison contributor) Alan Talaga tweeted about his distaste, adding that he’s going on the record because he has no plans to perform at the club again: 

And someone else picked up their chalk and took it right to the club’s front door.

Without being held responsible by venues, booking agents and ticket sellers, people like Louis C.K. will continue to use their power to manipulate—and mock—others with less privilege. Many folks, often women and femmes, have been subject to unwanted dick viewing, touching, and worse. There are too many situations where it’s easier, safer, or more acceptable to let a man or masculine person do the thing they want than it is to stop them and say “no.” Most women and femmes are consciously or subconsciously acculturated to question their own autonomy and agency in favor of the wills and preferences of white men. Those who arrange entertainment have a responsibility to other performers, as well as their customers, and society in general, to weed out these malingers. How are women, femmes, and trans people, as well as any man worth his salt, supposed to feel performing on the same stage where an abusive, toxic comic has done an extended set? There didn’t used to be a choice, but now there is. 

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As a letterpress card I got at Print and Resist a few years ago (and haven’t had the courage to give anyone despite many candidates) says, “JUST FUCKING APOLOGIZE.” A great way to get the ball rolling would be for C.K. to punch at the mirror and make jokes about his reprehensible behavior. Genuine apologies are a huge step on the road to healing and repair for all involved. Society needs to see a nasty man like Louis C.K. set an example. No one can heal, no one can learn, when we double down on our wrongdoing. It doesn’t make you right. It makes you an asshole. So he’s bypassing that like only a rich white man can. 

And he’s getting away with it with help from promoters and clubs. Comedy on State executed the same marketing strategy with a similar surprise announcement of Aziz Ansari’s stint at the club following sexual misconduct allegations in 2018. Perhaps white liberal Madison was hesitant to chasten a BIPOC performer. Maybe that the allegations came from just one woman, and were first reported by an online news outlet with a messy reputation, put them beneath notice for some fans. All the same, Comedy on State is again putting profit over people. The club’s owners also own the historic Orpheum Theater, and their 2016 agreement to let Live Nation exclusively book that venue paved the way for the concert behemoth’s consolidation of several more local venues and promoters.

While Louis C.K. told the best abortion joke I’ve ever heard, that is the only good thing I have to say about him. Hopefully another great joke along those lines makes it my way soon so I can forget even the memory of his. That C.K. is allowed a second tour after sexual misconduct and a non-apology condones every person who’s committed sexual abuses of power. It’s unconscionable. Comedy on State has added its name to the list of those who disrespect women, femmes, and trans people while alienating their own performers and customers. Gross.

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