There are many kinds of terrible apologies, but Louis C.K. might have offered the worst kind: A self-excusing non-apology in which you casually reveal all the other horrible crap you’ve been doing.
On Thursday afternoon, The New York Times finally dropped a story confirming long-circulating rumors that comedian Louis C.K. has been accused by multiple female colleagues of masturbating in front of them without their consent.
Through a publicist, he declined to comment for the article, but it does contain an apology. In 2009, several years after he shocked comedian Rebecca Corry by asking her to let him masturbate in front of her while they were working together on a show, he called her to say he was sorry ― for, well, something else.
“When he phoned her,” according to the Times, “he said was sorry for shoving her in a bathroom. Ms. Corry replied that he had never done that, but had instead asked to masturbate in front of her.”
Wait, what? Let’s rewind for a second: “He said was sorry for shoving her in a bathroom.”
The conclusion here is pretty obvious: Louis C.K. shoved someone into a bathroom, even if he couldn’t remember exactly whom he shoved. Corry told the Times that the weirdly incorrect apology “made her think there were other moments of misconduct” (um, yeah), but the question of whom Louis C.K. did shove in a bathroom is not pursued.
Nonetheless, if Corry’s recollection is accurate, somewhere out there is at least one woman who was shoved in a bathroom by Louis C.K.
Few sexual misconduct exposés involve men who tell on themselves so clumsily as Louis C.K. The comedian’s schtick, to begin with, is built largely on his self-identified “perverted, sexual thoughts” and fondness for masturbation.
“It’s really a male problem, not being able to control your constant sexual impulse,” he joked at one performance.
His latest project, a film called “I Love You, Daddy” originally slated for release later this month, has already been criticized for foregrounding sexually predatory behavior. The movie features Louis C.K. as a TV writer who becomes concerned when his 17-year-old daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) is pursued by a much older filmmaker with an unsettling reputation (John Malkovich), who Louis C.K.’s character reveres. A character in the movie also reportedly simulates masturbation in front of other people.
Louis C.K.’s compulsive need to turn his own alleged misbehavior into fodder for his wildly successful career is one, very disturbing thing. But even in his private apologies, he can’t help but admit to things he wasn’t asked to admit to. This is the behavior of a man who is practically begging to be called out for his misdeeds ― and yet, as the Times makes clear, he’s been protected for years. His manager, Dave Becky, reportedly warned women not to talk openly about their nasty experiences with his client. Corry, who’d been working on a pilot with Louis C.K., was asked to make the terrible choice of dropping the incident, or risk being cast as the cause of a production shutdown. When Defamer published an account of the Louis C.K. rumors in 2015, it barely caused a blip in the comedy landscape ― his career continued to bloom.
Like many non-apologies, Louis C.K.’s performatively woke stand-up, public grappling with his sexual impulses and watered-down expressions of remorse to his victims would all function to ease his own conscience rather than the pain of the women he hurt. After the incident on set, he told Corry, according to the Times, that he “misread her signals.” (Corry said that Louis C.K. did confirm her account of the time he propositioned her, once she reminded him.) He told another woman in a Facebook message that he had been in “a bad time in my life” when he masturbated on the phone with her, without her consent. And of course, all of his comedy says, “Sorry, but I can’t help that I’m a man. I can’t help that I want to do things that hurt you.”
If anything, Louis C.K. seems to have wanted to inoculate himself against future repercussions by privately apologizing and publicly copping to his own “perverted” impulses, not to mention supporting female comics like Tig Notaro and Pamela Adlon. Instead, he keeps giving us more evidence of his alleged transgressions.
Like shoving someone in a bathroom. The allegations in the Times story ― masturbating in front of younger or less powerful women in his industry ― are deeply disturbing, but only Louis C.K.’s reported slip-up hints at a forcible assault. If his own words are any evidence, the Times report is likely just the beginning.