What should we do with people who have admitted to sexual misconduct? Especially if that person has legions of fans who can fill Madison Square Garden? Should we object? Or simply pretend it isn’t happening?
The comedian Louis C.K. became an outcast in 2017, the year of #MeToo, after the New York Times — led by three intrepid female reporters — revealed that he masturbated in front of at least five women. And probably a whole lot more.
C.K. quickly admitted it. Yes, he said that was me. And then he wrote a long mea culpa and essentially said he needed to go away for a while and listen.
But then what? “Sorry/Not Sorry,” a documentary by Caroline Suh and Cara Mones playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, explores the difficult and nuanced question that has become an unspoken part of the #MeToo fallout. How should we treat someone like C.K.?
He is widely liked, unquestionably powerful and — if we’re being honest — a lower-grade offender given the rapists we now know hid in our midst. (Before you start screaming at me: His behavior was totally gross and predatory.)
He wants to come back, and by the way he isn’t asking for permission.
The film poses this difficult question to prominent people in the comedy community, C.K.’s friends and collaborators like Jon Stewart, “Parks and Rec” showrunner Mike Schur, Sarah Silverman and others.
Stewart, for one, admits he doesn’t have an answer.
Schur is more self-reflective, and acknowledged that while he’d heard the rumors, it was inconvenient for him to check them out.
“I pretended like I didn’t know,” he said. “Like — not my problem.” He added: “The fact that I don’t think it’s my problem is the problem.”
As comedian Michael Ian Black puts it in the film: “When it comes to telling the truth about one of our own — we don’t do it.”
And all of this seemed to be hiding in plain sight, since C.K.’s success as a comedian flows directly from his willingness to expose his own flaws, admit to obsessive sexual proclivities and connect to audiences through a vulgar kind of honesty. (TheWrap went back and sorted through his many discussions of masturbation in his act, at the time.)
But the “problem” is full of contradictions. The film points out that C.K. helped boost the career of female colleagues like Pamela Adlon, whose show “Better Things” he produced for FX. (FX promptly cut all ties to C.K. after the article came out.) Or Tig Notaro, who didn’t stand by him.
On the other hand, women who were subject to his public masturbation (which C.K. seemed to feel wasn’t that bad because he asked permission in advance) felt abused. And C.K. was powerful enough that in rebuffing him, they risked consequences to their career.
So did those who spoke out against his behavior, including a stand-up comedienne-journalist in the documentary who has changed careers in the wake of blowback after she asked about the masturbation at a flagship comedy festival in Aspen in 2003.
All that said — C.K. is back. He’s been touring with a great big neon “SORRY” sign on the stage, as if to mock those who judge him. He filled Madison Square Garden in 2023. The film asks some concertgoers whether they felt any shame in attending, and this sums up the film as well as anything else. “Everyone lives with some hypocrisy — this is mine,” said one fan.
There’s plenty of judging to be done. The documentary provokes and angers and asks the right questions. It isn’t just C.K. we have to consider. It’s Woody Allen. It’s Roman Polanski. It’s Kevin Spacey. It’s Matt Lauer.
We are far from resolving the question of what to do about the men who were #MeTooed, those who live in the glare of fame and also the shadows in a life of half shame, half no-f–ks-given.
This is a good place to pursue that dialogue.
The documentary was acquired by Greenwich Entertainment.