Culture News

Fiona Apple Says Her Ex Louis C.K. "Got Off" on His Victims' Discomfort

She claims that he still hasn't apologized and that the justification he offers in his new special skirts the truth.

On Friday Vulture published an interview with Fiona Apple that dug into some of the personal experiences that inspired her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

Among those inspirations are her struggle with mental health, trauma she experienced in her adolescence, and her relationship to some of her exes. She has been romantically involved with director Paul Thomas Anderson, author Jonathan Ames, and photographer Lionel Deluy, among others, and she maintains close friendships with several of her exes–even the ones with whom she has fraught history. But it seems that's not the case with disgraced stand-up comedian Louis C.K.

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I Believe What Louis C.K. Claims in His New Special—But It's Not Enough

There are a lot of people who want to forgive Louis C.K., but he's done little to earn it.

Over the weekend, Louis C.K. announced the surprise release of his new stand-up special, Sincerely Louis C.K. on his website.

*****TRIGGER WARNING: Depiction of sexual assault*****

He said it was for people "who need to laugh" amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic—though he's still charging money for it. Once upon a time, that news would have genuinely excited me. It would have been exactly what I needed to help me through a stressful, lonely stretch of time like this. Now, I doubt I'll ever see this new special—I'll just let my morbid curiosity drive me to keep reading about it.

He was my favorite comedian for years. Maybe my favorite artist, period. His comedy wasn't just hilarious—it was insightful and smart and managed to be somehow cheerful in a way that included all the sadness in the world. Most of all, it seemed to be informed by a strong capacity for self-criticism. He wasn't one of those toxic, egocentric comedians who targets other groups to mock. There were always some cringey exceptions when he showed his blind spots, but more often than not his jokes were at his own expense, or aimed at institutions of power that benefit straight white men. He seemed like someone who was operating from a strong moral foundation...

Louie upset

While a lot of other comics emulated his style, I didn't think any of them could match his skill. And there definitely wasn't another show like Louie at the time. It blended the surreal and the mundane in such a satisfying balance. It felt more like experimental cinema than just another sitcom. I thought that Louis C.K. was a genius. To be honest, I still do. But genius is not a free pass from accountability.

It was on a podcast with LA comedians that I first heard rumors about C.K. exposing himself to young female comics. I don't recall exactly what they said about it, just that they made it sound like common knowledge within the stand-up community that C.K. was kind of a creep. Still, it was all vague enough that I was able to watch Horace and Pete—his bizarre and compelling anti-Cheers play about the world's most depressing neighborhood bar—without getting too hung up on the thought that he might be a sexual predator. A few months later, in late 2017, the full story came out.

Here's what I learned: For years, Louis C.K. was seemingly in the habit of taking any occasion when he was alone with a young female admirer as an opportunity to masturbate. In the cases we know about, the women he targeted were comedians who wanted the chance to tell him how much they liked his work and to ask him for industry advice. Before they had a chance to do much of that, he would take advantage of the power dynamic between them to ask if he could masturbate in front of them.

Some of the women took that question—coming so out of the blue—as a joke, and laughingly agreed. C.K. was not joking. Once they consented (to the extent that term applies in this scenario), he would immediately get started. He would position himself between them and the door and stand there until he was finished. For years after these events took place—while they existed as rumors and unsubstantiated accusations—C.K. denied what he had done and discredited the women involved. That continued until a 2017 New York Times report compiled the stories of five women whose stories corroborated one another.

At that point, C.K. issued a public apology that acknowledged some of the hurt he had caused, but many people criticized it as downplaying the abusive nature of what he had done—"asking [women] to look at [his] dick"—and making the issue about himself and his regret rather than the women he had traumatized. In his new special, C.K. once again addresses the scandal while shirking much of the responsibility for his actions, saying, "Men are taught to make sure the woman is okay. The thing is, women know how to seem okay when they're not okay."

Louie ugh

The struggle I have with all this is that, back when the story broke, I felt I had gotten to know C.K. through his work. It was like finding out a good friend had done something awful years ago, and I was ready to hear my friend's side of the story—to take his account of events seriously. So when C.K. says that he didn't realize how he was taking advantage of his power, and that he really thought the women involved were okay with it, I can believe that he was that blind. When he claims in his new special not to have realized that, even after someone consents, "you need to check in often," because "it's not always clear how people feel," I believe him.

I can believe that an unattractive and awkward man who grew up absorbing the twisted cultural messages of the U.S. in the '70s and '80s could have misunderstood consent that thoroughly. I can believe that he failed to imagine the pressure those women must have felt to go along with his outlandish request. I can believe that the way he positioned himself to block the doorway was unconscious. I can believe that he downplayed their discomfort in his own head to erase the lasting damage he was doing—that he may have even felt betrayed when some of those women told others what he had done. His behavior was much the same in the rare instances when he actually did have real consent. I may be wrong to give him this much benefit of the doubt—at least one of the women he victimized has said that she believes the fear C.K. caused those women was the point for him. But even if he was able to convince himself that it was all okay—that he wasn't hurting anyone—so what?

Failing to see that you're hurting someone does not erase your fault in hurting them—it just means that you have to address that blindness, as well as the hurt you've caused. By ascribing his failure to empathize to women's ability to "seem okay when they're not okay," C.K. is essentially blaming them for his crimes. He treated young women who admired him professionally not as equals or colleagues or even mentees, but as objects of lust whose autonomy was a minor barrier to be overcome before satisfying his sexual impulses—just blurt out the request as soon as you get a chance, and if they say "yes," then you're good to go.

Along with his apparent insights into the nuance of consent, C.K. made some jokes about his skill as a masturbator that further reveal his failure to empathize. They try to make light of the situation in a way that quickly becomes grotesque when you imagine any of the women he hurt hearing C.K. say, "I like company. I like to share. I'm good at it, too. If you're good at juggling, you wouldn't do it alone in the dark. You'd gather folks and amaze them."

Louie No

Even worse, he still isn't acknowledging the way he covered up his crimes for years after he had supposedly learned his lesson and stopped traumatizing women like that. He lied to protect himself, and he undermined those women's careers in the process.

Maybe, if he finds a way to repay the women he hurt for the trauma he caused them and for the damage he did to their careers—if he takes enough real responsibility that they can forgive him—maybe it will be possible to enjoy Louis C.K.'s work again. Until then, his actions and his failure to take responsibility for them have undermined that sense of a moral core that once made his comedy so compelling, and those of us who want to forgive him have to come to terms with the fact that we were wrong—that despite his talent, he really is just another toxic, egocentric comedian.

Film Reviews

Yes, Pete Davidson Talks About Ariana Grande in His New Netflix Special

In Pete Davidson: Alive From New York, the SNL cast member handles controversial topics well...for the most part.


Since diving into the world of stand-up as a teenager, Pete Davidson's comedy has often hinged on touchy subject matter.

The Saturday Night Live cast member's debut Netflix special, Pete Davidson: Alive From New York, dropped this week, and there's no shortage of potentially controversial topics: fellow comedian Louis C.K., his hyper-public breakup with Ariana Grande, and divisive politician/veteran Dan Crenshaw being among them. "All right, we'll do some 9/11 jokes, and then we'll get the f--k out of here," Davidson shrugs near the set's end, as casually as if he were taking a sip of water.

Callousness might be Davidson's bread and butter, but in Alive From New York, he handles these polarizing issues with a surprising level of grace. The special opens with a particularly eyebrow-raising anecdote: "So Louis C.K. tried to get me fired from 'SNL' my first year, and this is that story," he explains. By the punchline—and not without a healthy dose of self-deprecation—Davidson paints the disgraced C.K. as, somehow, even more unlikeable.

Davidson hits his stride when he's able to justify those points of contention; his 9/11 jokes land because he frames them within the context of having lost his father in the attacks. His picking on Grande is among the special's highlights, because he knows he's punching up: "She won Billboard's Woman of the Year, and I got called 'butthole eyes' by" Naturally, Davidson also doesn't shy away from poking fun at himself, dismissing the rumors that circulated after Grande implied he was—ahem—well-endowed. "She's a very smart person, OK?" he says. "She did that so that every girl that sees my dick for the rest of my life is disappointed."

But Alive From New York's low point came when Davidson made a joke about doubting if certain gay men were actually gay. In the bit, which got flack after being featured in the special's official trailer, Davidson opens by assuring viewers that he has a lot of gay friends, which off the bat feels slightly too similar to the classic "I can't be racist because I have black friends" defense. "It's that gay dude that'll run up on your girlfriend and squeeze her boobs and grab her ass and be like, 'Damn, girl, you look great!'" Davidson says. "I don't find that f--king funny."

Writer Jill Gutowitz condemned this joke in a viral Twitter thread, emphasizing that, as a woman, she'd never been groped by a gay man: "Did straight men literally invent this stereotype of gay men with grab hands?" she asked, adding that depicting gay men in that light was "extremely dangerous." Gutowitz's tweets were met with mixed responses. Some women shared the same sentiments, although the majority pointed out numerous times in which gay men had groped them without their consent. "Don't dismiss that cis gay men are still men conditioned to see us as objects," one user argued.

Davidson's joke concurred that gay men shouldn't be able to freely grope women, although it was veiled with a "...because she's my girlfriend" qualifier. Nonetheless, it's generally in poor taste for masculine, straight men like Davidson to joke about gay men in a negative light. He surely meant no harm in the joke, but if he does in fact have a lot of gay friends, then he probably should've been advised to avoid such a joke altogether.

Davidson knows his comedy isn't for everyone—"I know that joke splits the room," he clarifies after a provocative punchline—but overall, Alive From New York evidences his growth as a comedian. Where other comedians show a lack of distinction between vulgarity and full-on offensiveness, Davidson proves he's pretty good at walking the thin line between the two—butthole eyes and all.

As long as there have been celebrities, there have been celebrity apologies.

Whether its sexual assault or racial slurs, famous people seem to struggle to avoid the occasional, unforgivable, character-exposing, mistake. In fact, so many celebrities have done horrible things in the public eye, that celebrity apologies have become an art form of their own. Most recently, Camila Cabello apologized for racist posts from 2012 found on her Tumblr account.

Camila responded on Twitter, claiming to be sorry from the bottom of her heart.

Whether its a screenshot of an iPhone note posted to Instagram or crocodile tears on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, public figures have a staggering ability to come up with new and cringe-worthy ways to apologize for their actions. In celebration of famous people's staggering inability to express genuine remorse, we've compiled a list of our favorite (worst) celebrity apologies of all time.

Louis C.K.

In 2017, Louis C.K. was exposed for, well, exposing himself. The comedian and actor reportedly exposed his genitals to and masturbated in front of multiple women, who came forward in a New York Times op-ed. He penned a response to the accusations, also published in the New York Times, in which he expressed regret for his actions, but also used the word "dick" an uncomfortable amount, saying, "These stories are true. 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. But 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." Most disturbing about this apology is that he at no time acknowledges the strange and perverted nature of wanting multiple female acquaintances and fans to look at his genitals. He also repeatedly brings up how "widely admired" he is. Just...what the hell.

Logan Paul

So Sorry.

Logan Paul, a popular Youtube personality with a middle school haircut, was known for his absurd pranks and constant vlogging. Now, he's known for filming a dead body in the "Suicide Forest" in Japan. The video, which he posted to his Youtube channel, showed a corpse hanging from a tree, and Paul laughing as he filmed. Obviously, this mind-boggling insensitivity earned the vlogger some pretty substantial backlash. He filmed a video to apologize, which earned over 53 million views, and while the apology itself seemed earnest enough, Paul had the audacity to monetize the video, literally profiting off the hurt he caused.

Gene Simmons

The rock-n-roll icon gifted the world such classics as "Love Gun" and "I Was Made For Lovin' You," forever cementing his place as one of the top rockers of all time. But he also cemented his place in this list by calling Prince's apparent suicide "pathetic." "I think Prince was heads, hands and feet about all the rest of them," Simmons continued. "I thought he left [Michael] Jackson in the dust. Prince was way beyond that. But how pathetic that he killed himself. Don't kid yourself, that's what he did. Slowly, I'll grant you … but that's what drugs and alcohol is: a slow death." The apology was almost worse than the offense, as he merely said he "didn't express himself well."

Winona Ryder

In 2001, Winona Ryder was infamously arrested for shoplifting more than $5500 worth of merchandise from a Beverly Hills store. The privilege and arrogance of this crime is one thing (she owned a 3 million dollar mansion at the time) a whole other thing was Winona's excuse for the crime: she was doing research for an upcoming role. While the actress did eventually apologize after being convicted of the crime, she never seemed to express real remorse.

Kevin Spacey

Let Me Be Frank

While there are some pretty reprehensible attempts at repentance on this list, Kevin Spacey blows them all out of the water. Rumors of the actors taste for young men and boys had swirled around Hollywood for years before he was finally accused by no less than 15 men and underaged boys of sexual misconduct. In response, he posted the above disturbing video, in which he embodied his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood, and seemed to speak both as the character and himself: "I told you my deepest, darkest secrets, I showed you exactly what people are capable of. I shocked you with my honesty, but mostly I challenged you and made you think. And you trusted me, even though you knew you shouldn't." The bizarre and chilling video has over 10 million views on Youtube, and makes Kevin Spacey our uncontested winner. What. The. F*ck.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

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Does America Love Sarah Silverman Back?

Sarah Silverman's 'I Love You America' confuses Liberals and challenges conservatives…in a good way. Silverman certainly fills a giant "female" hole (Sarah would appreciate the pun) in late night talk shows since the departure of Chelsea Handler. Now that Handler is gone Silverman is the last woman standing with respect to late night streaming talk shows and aside from Samantha Bee, is one of the few females left, occupying late night talk shows. Sarah makes sure she states the obvious in the sense that she knows she is Jewish liberal woman and she realizes both conservatives and liberals may find some of her humor hard to swallow (again, that one's for you Sarah). She calms her audience by having a sidekick she calls Mathers (AKA, the white man at the desk) and asks the camera to pan over to him every time she talks about something she knows might be uncomfortable for her audience.

So for instance, when she shows fully naked audience members, discusses pornography or wax poetic on her really detailed sexual fantasies, and sexually repressed individuals like myself start to get uncomfortable, she pans over to Mathers. Here, audience's blood pressure is restored to normal because we switch focus to Mathers, you know… just a harmless white guy at a desk. It's a cute little bit, like when Letterman would cut to Paul Shaffer except with a political punch because she is acknowledging just how hard it is still is for Americans to listen to a woman, a Jewish woman, talk about… well anything really but particularly anything political.

Several of the segments focused on what I might call, people who were 'saved,' changed, came to their senses, so to speak. Silverman had guests on her show that were former white supremacists like Megan Phelps-Roper and Christian Piccolini. While of course these guests made liberals like me feel warm, fuzzy, and hopeful, I couldn't help but assume that any conservatives watching the show were puking in their mouths. Not that I was hoping for another show geared towards conservatives, G-d knows I wouldn't watch. I suppose I just had some liberal guilt on these segments since in my head I was cheering, "See! Things can change! People can be more like me!" Which I suppose is not the final endpoint on the road towards finding a middle ground with conservatives …or is it? Hmmm

Silverman hits a home run as soon as her monologues dive deep into her own self-conflicting, morally questionable, personal, yet highly relatable ubiquitous dilemmas. She hits the #metoo movement nail on the head when she addresses her friend and esteemed colleague Louie C.K. in saying "I love Louie. But Louie did these things." She says much more about this incident but the reason this one line is so powerful is because women don't get to choose to only associate with "good guys" or guys who haven't failed women on the sexual front. In fact, myself included, I don't think I know a woman who doesn't love a man who has royally F'ed up sexually. I don't mean rapists per say, but I do mean everything else that falls short of that. Sexual misconduct, sexual coercion, making sexist comments, being friends with a "buddy" who is sexually inappropriate, buying sex from women at risk (not the cool feminist sex workers that have unions), ect…

What Sarah is helping the world understand is that this sexual misconduct is not just about individual perpetrators; it's about our culture that we love but also that "does these things." Just like people of color don't get to decide to only associate with "woke" white people, women don't get to associate with only woke men. Just as white women can mean well, can be trying so hard…we can still get it wrong. What seems obvious to most women, is still not obvious to white men because they have an entire dominant misogynist culture validating them over and over and over.

What's so great about Sarah is her willingness to live in conflict. In one of her monologues she jokes at the ridiculousness of being on the road with a fellow comedian and he tells her to "have a kid! It's easy!" and her response is something like "Really!? Is it? Who's with your kid while your on this tour you fucking d&*@?" That's not the part that's in conflict though. She goes on to say that she would love to have a kid if she found a partner who wanted to stay home and raise it...but then goes on to say something like "but I am not attracted to those p*&%*s." This part is brilliant because Sarah is naming the hypocrisies that so many progressives live with. So many of us are liberal, live in a non-conforming, non-gender binary world… and yet, at the end of the day, many of us still crave some pretty stereotypical gender roles. It's not necessarily good, but we don't have to pretend these hypocritical desires for conformity don't exist, Sarah doesn't.

The show is worth watching because it will make you cringe a bit. Her discussion of her own particular pornography preferences is enough to make a Bernie Sanders supporter or a Trump lover sweat and turn a little red. In her own weird way, it's her ability to make us all equally uncomfortable that brings us all together. We can all agree. Sarah Silverman is BEYOND…and our country needs her voice now more then ever.

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How to reconcile Louis C.K. the comic with Louis C.K. the creep

His name is on a lot of good comedy, and that's hard to admit.

Nigel Parry

We are all disappointed in Louis C.K.

A few months ago I pitched an article about Louis C.K. that I planned to title "What Exactly Does a Male Feminist Look Like?" After reviewing C.K.'s work—including his early standup, FX's Louie, and all of his Netflix specials—I had argued in favor of C.K.'s comedy and what I perceived to be his support of liberalism and feminism. My personal favorite, Louie, is an absurdist comedy about a single dad navigating NYC with his two girls; a father who makes a comedy of his insecurities, fears, and worst inclinations as a man. Most of C.K.'s comedy is loosely inspired by his personal stories of fatherhood, so the recent news of his sexual misconduct with five women (brave enough to come forward), is shocking—and certainly eerie—and a stark reminder that a father of two girls is capable of abusing his power with other women and going home to tuck his babies in.

'Louie'Courtesy of Netflix

C.K. has writing and producer credits on Pamela Adlon's Better Things, another show about parenting and the weird grey areas of managing a love life after divorce. Lucky Louie on HBO ran for one season and was an adult sitcom with a typical PG-13 setup: a father trying to have sex with his exhausted wife, and an exhausted wife catering to her cute, little girl. I used to watch Louie in college on days where I needed a real laugh and when I wanted to see NYC in a sentimental light—and as bleak as C.K.'s comedy is, his admiration for NYC was always present. Friends and I would make inside jokes about Louis' therapist sessions, dates, gross eating habits, and even identify with his self-loathing. As a comic's comic, by the time I graduated, C.K. was a household name.

When news broke of Bill Cosby's sexual misconduct and accusations made by more than 50 women, I wanted justice for these women and media representation for their stories and the pain they endured in silence. When news broke of Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulting leading ladies in Hollywood, I wanted justice for these women, but again, I found myself disgusted that these women had to keep silent for years before speaking up. When news broke of Louis C.K., I felt numb. It's starting to feel like everyone's daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends keep quiet about sexual harassment and misconduct, scared that our experiences will define us, dirty, and ruin our ability to claim our own bodies, careers, and lives outside of the hands of men.

I'm not interested in think pieces arguing if we should stop watching Louie or The Cosby Show; I'm only interested in discussing how women can come together to protect one another, to build spaces where this type of sexual misconduct can no longer be silenced. But again, no one can police what successful father's feel like doing to their employees, peers, and friends in professional spaces; accountability is essential.

The Internet is disappointed. Tig Notaro is disappointed. My mom is disappointed. We are all disappointed in Louis C.K.

But what's most disappointing is that the year 2017 is nearing an end and women still don't feel safe enough to speak publicly about sexual mistreatment. We are still publicly discussing how to protect women's rights and bodies against men who wrongfully feel entitled to them. We are still deciding how to punish these men, how to publicly speak about their misconduct, and how to provide women with the tools needed to openly speak about sexism and inequality in the workplace. We are still primitively discussing why and how abusing power and authority can lead to manipulation, and harassment (as if women ever stopped being placed in positions where their livelihood depended on forced silence and cooperation).

I've since scrapped my piece on C.K.'s brand of feminism, slightly nauseated that I could have published an essay praising him while women silently held on to their experiences with him. Silence is no longer an option. Women should have the freedom to feel safe and supported when they decide to speak sooner than later. 2017 has proven that power is a hell of a drug, but our voices, even stronger.

Louis C.K. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.

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