What was described in media reports as “protesters descending” on the Comedy Cellar was a bit of an exaggeration, but there was in fact, a small protest outside the Macdougal Street comedy club on Monday night after Louis C.K.’s name appeared on the lineup.
The protesters were two in number, identified by name and age by the New York Times– a 27 year old woman and a 37 year old woman who showed up with signs before the 11:30pm show. “Does this sign make you uncomfortable, Louie?” read one. The other said, “When you support Louis C.K., you tell women your laughter is more important than their sexual assaults and loss of their careers.” The women told media outlets that if Louis was going to be back on stage, he shouldn’t get to feel comfortable about it, because his presence in the club is making so many others uncomfortable.
It was the first night that the Cellar included Louis’ name on the announced lineup.
Typically, the most famous comedians do not show up on the announced list with the rest of lineup. They generally don’t have to submit their “avails” ahead of time, they typically just drop in at the last minute and get squeezed in to the already set lineup. Sometimes tv or movie famous comedian will plan ahead to be a part of the set, but use a pseudonym, not looking to draw a crowd of their fans or press to watch them work out their material. Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, Jim Norton, Jon Stewart, and Jim Gaffigan are a few examples of the comics who will drop in unannounced. It’s not unusual.
Until Monday, C.K. was a part of the drop in crowd. Then suddenly, he appeared on the lineup, which may be part of owner Noam Dworman’s efforts to balance competing interests. In various interviews Dworman has expressed his principles in running the club, and why he won’t ban Louis from the Cellar despite some considerable public pressure to keep him offstage. But he’s also taken note of the discomfort some patrons might have at the surprise element of seeing C.K. on stage, and attempted to offer solutions. Like posting the “Swim at Your Own Risk” policy, making it clear that comedians could show up on the lineup that might not fit every audience member’s tastes or moral code. The policy also generously offered that anyone offended by someone on the lineup could leave, without paying their bill, no questions asked. Considering the expense of attending a show, and the potential for abuse, it’s a pretty impressive policy. But the Cellar continued to receive social media backlash from people who considered the drop in to be an ambush “without consent” of the crowd which may be why Louis was added to the lineup Monday.
Inside the club, C.K. it seems has also been listening to the concerns expressed by some comedians, club owners and comedy fans. One of the chief complaints since his return is that he had not initially addressed the elephant in the room, instead choosing to just start doing material. Reports have been leaking out about some of the ways he addressed the controversy, at first alluding to how much money he lost this year, and according to the New York Times, Monday night he opened his set talking about another issue he’s dealt with, friendship.
“So what kind of year have you guys had?” he asked the crowd.HE said he needs to make jokes because he needs an income, particularly after losing $35 million in an hour last year. “Hard things, you survive them or you don’t,” he reportedly said. He also addressed the support, and lack of support he received from some of his friends. “They tell you that when you get in trouble, you find out who your real friends are. It’s black people, it turns out. They’ll stick by you.” Last week, Chris Rock showed some support for his friend by sitting in the room during one of C.K.’s sets, and laughing at the jokes. Rock it seems, has multiple loyalties, however. He also showed up and performed last week at a show put on by his friend Padma Lakshmi, a show directly aimed in opposition to C.K.’s return to the stage. The show promised a line up of comedians who were “funnier than Louis C.K.” She opened her show with a “fuck Louis C.K.” statement.
No sign of Louis C.K. on any upcoming lineups at the Cellar. Whether that means the club will continue to experiment with how to present him on stage, or simply that he’s out of town remains to be seen.