Louis CK’s Surprise Return to Stand-Up Splits Crisis PR Experts: ‘In Comedy Timing Is Everything’

Top crisis managers are torn on CK’s attempted comeback after admitting to sexual misconduct

Louis C.K.

How soon is too soon? That’s the question on a lot of people’s minds following Louis C.K.’s surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York City over the weekend for his first stand-up routine since last November, when he admitted to multiple instances of sexual misconduct.

While some crisis management experts called the Emmy winner’s return to the stage premature, others told TheWrap it was as smooth a re-entry as anyone could have predicted less than a year after a very public disgrace.

“Nine months is not long enough — he came back a little too soon,” Richard Levick, chairman of crisis management firm Levick, told TheWrap. “Even Betty Ford spent more time out of circulation.”

Susan Tellem, a partner with Tellem Grody PR, Inc. in Malibu, California, agreed, telling TheWrap: “While as a crisis manager, I would have said, ‘No, do not do that’ to Louis CK, I agree with [actor] John Levenstein’s tweet — he’s too rich and can do what he wants even if it’s not smart.”

Crisis manager Holly Baird told TheWrap she was “OK” with CK going back to work after nine months — noting that CK was never charged with any crimes for repeatedly masturbating in front of women.

“It’s not too soon,” she said. “A lot can happen in nine months. A baby can be born in that time. If Hollywood really wants to be a part of the healing process and move forward what it needs to do is protect its stars, actors, production staff, writers, everyone who’s been affected by this.”

Evan Nierman, founder of crisis PR firm Red Banyan, also noted that the nature of the accusations against CK are far less severe than some others who have been disgraced in the #MeToo movement — even if they still are disturbing.

“On the scale of #MeToo bad behavior, his paled in comparison to other men,” Nierman said. “It was obviously wrong and inappropriate but I also don’t think the accusations need to be a nail in the coffin of his career.”

He added, “Penance need not be permanent.”

Lou Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in crisis management, noted that figures like CK are facing uncharted territory in trying to re-establish their careers after a very public shaming.

“There is no manual on how to re-enter the scene after suffering a blow like he did,” Shapiro said. “I think what he did was the right way to go. The only thing I would have done differently is reiterate his apology. It would have quelled some of the anger.”

Still, there has been significant blowback, particularly online, since the New York Times reported about the comedian’s surprise 15-minute set Sunday night at the Comedy Cellar.

Club owner Noam Dworman told TheWrap that the veteran comic performed “typical Louis C.K. stuff.” CK, who did not address the accusations during or after his performance, also received a standing ovation for his set, according to the Times.

“The fact that he did it and it was well received seems to indicate that he initially got away with it,” Levick said. But he warned that CK may want to track reactions on social and traditional media over the coming weeks.

“In comedy, timing is everything and in Louis CK’s case timing was just too soon,” Levick said.

The stand-up gig was CK’s first public performance since last November, when four women accused him of exposing himself and masturbating in front of them. A fifth said she could hear the comedian pleasuring himself during a phone conversation.

In a statement, CK admitted “these stories are true” and expressed regret for his actions. Nonetheless, the fallout was swift: The Orchard canceled his new movie, “I Love You, Daddy,” FX pulled the plug on its production deal with the star, Universal dropped him from the sequel to the animated hit “The Secret Life of Pets” and HBO edited him out of “Night of Too Many Stars.”