Almost a year ago, comedian Louis C.K. saw his comedy career crater after he admitted to masturbating in front of multiple women against their will. In his apology statement, he wrote, "At the time, I said to myself that what I did was O.K. because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true." It turns out that fellow comedian Sarah Silverman is another one of those women he asked to masturbate in front of—except she gave him her consent to do so.
Appearing on The Stern Show today, Silverman opened up about her conflicted feelings about C.K., who has been a close friend of hers since they were coming up in the comedy world. "I know I’m going to regret saying this," Silverman said, according to IndieWire. "I’ve known Louis forever, I’m not making excuses for him, so please don’t take this that way. We are peers. We are equals. When we were kids, and he asked if he could masturbate in front of me, sometimes I’d go, 'Fuck yeah I want to see that!'… It’s not analogous to the other women that are talking about what he did to them. He could offer me nothing. We were only just friends. Sometimes, yeah, I wanted to see it, it was amazing. Sometimes I would say, 'Fucking no, gross,' and we got pizza."
Silverman clarified that these encounters happened when they were "letting our freak flags fly." She offered another anecdote about the time the two (consensually) stripped naked in C.K.’s apartment building and threw their clothes out the window onto the street and went down the elevator naked to retrieve them.
(Also, just to be clear, when Silverman says they "were kids," she is referring to them in their 20s coming up in the comedy scene, and not when they were actual children. This clarification is aimed at US Weekly:)
Sarah Silverman claimed her friend Louis C.K. masturbated in front of her when they were children. https://t.co/ZeYlwOIaEv
— Us Weekly (@usweekly) October 22, 2018
But Silverman agrees there was a huge difference between her experiences with C.K. and what happened to the multiple women who accused him last year. "Once he became powerful, even within just his [comedy] community, he felt like he was the same person, but the dynamic was different and it was not OK,” Silverman said. This is something that echoes what C.K. wrote in his apology statement as well: "What I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."
Like many other comedians who have commented on C.K., Silverman sounded most upset that C.K. has tried to return to the stage without really addressing what happened: "I’m not saying everyone should embrace Louis again," she said. "I believe he has remorse. I just want him to talk about it on stage. He’s going to have to find his way or not find his way."
Comedian Chris Gethard had a similar take: "Do I believe in second chances? Sure," he told Vulture. "And someone of Louis’s skill level — I think if he was to direct his energy in positive proactive ways [he] could actually speak to everything that’s happened and everything that he’s responsible for in a way that actually could further dialogue in a positive direction. The fact that he’s chosen not to is not only disappointing, but because he will not take responsibility for it, the the rest of us have to."
More importantly: "the rest" of those who perform at the Cellar *should* take responsibility. Louis got away for years because institutions protected him. The Cellar is one of those institutions. It only has as much influence as it is given by the comedians who perform there. pic.twitter.com/zD85zTkrp4
— Seth Simons (@sasimons) October 22, 2018
The other aspect of this that seems to be swept under the rug is C.K.'s alleged complicity with blacklisting these comedians—it wasn't just that some of these people were scarred by the sexual misconduct, they were actually kept from their livelihood. And in denying the accusations again and again for years (usually implicitly, but sometimes explicitly), he gaslighted them as well. "The day Louis C.K. asked to masturbate in front of me on the set of the TV show we were shooting, I was put on an unspoken 'list' I never asked or wanted to be on," wrote comedian Rebecca Corry earlier this year. "And being on that list has not made my work as a writer, actress, and comedian any easier."
But for now, most of the comedy institutions in the city, like the Comedy Cellar, are more comfortable keeping their door open to C.K. than not. Cellar owner Noam Dworman, who has not been shy in discussing the topic at length in public, has made it clear that C.K. is "not banned by any means" and that he instituted his "swim at your own risk" (with refund) policy specifically to placate potentially upset audience members.
Other clubs around the country are paying attention to how NYC clubs are acting (Dworman noted that C.K. has done at least six sets in the last two months at Comedy Cellar alone). C.K. performed his first Boston-area set this past weekend at the Giggles Comedy Club. Owner Mike Clarke told the Boston Globe he felt "a little cautious" when C.K. called him up to ask about performing a set; Clarke asked the other comedians on the bill if they felt comfortable with it. (As with the Comedy Cellar, it does not sound like anyone asked the waitstaff or other female workers whether they felt comfortable.)
C.K. reportedly got a warm reception from the audience from his set, which mostly avoided discussing anything substantive about his past year, unlike a recent NYC performance in which he joked about the fact he had "lost $35 million in an hour." "He’s a good friend, he’s a good guy, and I believe people deserve second chances," Clarke added. "He did a great job last night."
But in a Globe interview with one of those female performers on the bill, the tensions and pressures of capitalism butting up against moral stances in cases like this becomes clear: comedian Christine Hurley, who performed after C.K., said that while she supported C.K.'s victims and didn't agree with what he did, she didn't have much a real choice despite Clarke asking her if she were comfortable: "I mean, that’s my job," she said.