C.K. struggles to find new audiences in the #MeToo climate.
Patrons of the Comedy Cellar this past Sunday were pulled into more Louis C.K. controversy when the defamed comedian performed an unannounced set for the second time since admitting to multiple instances of sexual misconduct.
C.K.'s attempts to return to comedy have been met with split responses, from "wild applause" to walk-outs. The question of a sexual abuser reappearing on the same public platform that earned him power feels like the unwritten coda of the #MeToo movement — and no one agrees about what to do.
As major moderators in the debate, comedy club officials are responsible for booking talent that draws while also answering to public opinion, a task which, in the present climate, presents a crisis of art and politics. Comedy Cellar owner Norm Dworman opened up to Rolling Stone about the impasse saying,"I don't know what to do."
After C.K.'s first surprise visit in August shocked and outraged audience members and the Internet — with one attendee describing the situation as "uncomfortable and disgusting" — Dworman implemented a change to the iconic venue's policies. The club formerly imposed a two-drink minimum and holds an unwritten tradition that big name acts are welcome to drop in at any time. Tickets are now stamped with, "Swim at your own risk" next to a whimsical image of a swimmer and the note, "We never know who is going to pop in. If an unannounced appearance is not your cup of tea, you are free to leave (unobtrusively please) no questions asked, your check on the house."
To many, the policy reads as cop out of accountability and a complacent stance that perpetuates a "culture that leaves it up to women to remove themselves from unsafe environments rather than working to make those environments safer," according to Rolling Stone. To others, the genre of comedy is a unique haven that has always fostered incendiary rhetoric from divisive personalities and performances that toe the line between obscenity and propriety.
"This is not the first time we've had someone who became controversial, but this is the most serious time," Dworman reflected. "This is the kind of place where these people might show up. Comedy is that kind of world." But in a world concerned with providing "safe spaces," what do we expect from comedy?
Other mainstream entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel and Michael Che have weighed in on comedy's relationship to politics. Kimmel had to laugh at the idea of outright political correctness: "Oh, I don't know that comedy clubs should be a safe space!" The late night host is currently partnering with Caesars Entertainment to open a new comedy club in Las Vegas, affirming to The Hollywood Reporter, "If we get into the business of sanitizing every comedian and doing a thorough background check before they walk through the door, it's going to be a very empty stage." On the subject of booking, Kimmel attests, "Comedy is very democratic. The people who are great rise to the top; the people who are good rise to the middle; and the people who aren't good don't make it. We want to get a lot of very funny people, and we want to give new comics an opportunity to work."
Consequences of Sound
The question is not whether Louis C.K. deserves a second chance or if C.K.'s return to comedy would compromise the probity of the art form. Rather, who do we see as the gatekeeper of art: the public or the purveyors of talent? Kimmel concludes, "Ultimately, the audience decides whether someone is welcomed back." Amidst the whirlwind of political scandals becoming public and the conflation of politics and entertainment in the quest to impose justice on all members of society, regardless of prestige, we must consider as audience members and media consumers whether we're allowed to separate the artist from his art.
In that light, purveyors of art are made gatekeepers of social justice, leaving those in Dworman's position to ponder to what degree society expects art to "filter the world for us." The comedy club owner implores, "Listen, we are really a free-expression outfit," he said. "People should not take me allowing them to perform as my approval of their character or the things they've done in their lives." Responding to the backlash from C.K.'s first unannounced appearance, he worried about his Comedy Cellar patrons but remarked, "There can't be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong." After this past Sunday's C.K. appearance, Dworman's still grappling: "I don't feel that there's a clear standard out there in the world of when someone is supposed to be fired or denied an audience."
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.