Louis C.K. took the stage at the Cellar Sunday night and had a heckler. The heckler, by her own report, was asked to leave the club. It would not be not surprising that if someone heckled C.K. or any comic, they might be asked to leave the club. In this case, she was not. The Cellar says they story is fabricated. “The woman was absolutely not kicked out. She left on her own accord,” Noam Dworman, the club’s owner told me. A strong anti-heckling policy that is efficiently enforced is a cornerstone to having a good comedy club or any performance space, so even if she were asked to leave, that wouldn’t be unreasonable but the club insists it never happened. But that woman’s Twitter report claiming she was ejected sparked a moral question about whether it would be okay to welcome a performer who has admitted to sexually inappropriate behavior to the club, while escorting out someone who expresses their unhappiness with the club’s choice.
C.K. popped in to the Sunday night late show to do a set. He wasn’t the only unannounced act. The audience was treated to another surprise performer- Bill Burr dropped in on the lineup which already included Godfrey, Dean Delray, Liza Treyger, Alingon Mitra, Dan St. Germaine, Adrienne Iapalucci, and host Cipha Sounds.
Comedy fan Klaire Randall was in the audience, and wrote on Twitter that she was asked to leave the Cellar late Sunday night for “telling Louis C.K. to get his dick out on stage.” C.K. The post went viral garnering over 4,000 retweets and over fifty thousand likes with plenty of comments calling Randall a hero with hundreds of hero memes, offers of venmo contributions and thank yous. Comments also responded that it seems that the Cellar (or Louis) can’t take a joke, obviously taking Randall at her word that she was ejected.
Other commenters responding to the tweet pointing to a #metoo benefit the Cellar is hosting tonight, expressing a feeling of hypocrisy in the two potentially conflicting choices. The benefit for Raliance No More will bring together a slate of women to perform for a great cause. Michelle Wolf, Emmy Blotnick, Judy Gold, Rachel Feinstein, and Jess Kirson are planning to perform with other special guests.
When Louis C.K. first started performing at the Cellar again, many women and supportive men were calling for the Cellar to prove that it cared about women by giving more stage time to female comedians and support women in comedy. But now the move is generating cries of hypocrisy, adding yet another dimension to the C.K. debate, raising more questions than answers.
It’s a precarious position the Cellar finds itself in, seeking to stand by a complicated set of principals that not everyone understands or agrees with, while also wanting to give support to an important movement. Putting aside the question of whether its possible to do both, would our world be better if the Cellar didn’t host the benefit? Website Pajib.com sees more harm than good, saying that there’s nothing wrong with raising money to prevent sexual assault if the reason for the donation is “purely” altruistic, but says they have a problem if the donation is “a shield for continuing to allow a known sexual abuser to freely perform at your club while discrediting his accusers on your podcast.” The Mary Sue calls the benefit “lip service to tokenism” and a PR attempt asking its female comedians to do damage control for the club. But neither website seems to have done any investigation to support the claim; it appears they just saw a tweet for the event and made assumptions. Did the Cellar pressure or even ask the female comedians to appear at the event supposedly concocted to heal their public relations wounds? Or was it genuine interest in giving a space to an important voice. Or maybe one of the comedians came up with the idea to host the event and asked the Cellar to provide the room and stage time. Maybe it was organization itself that approached the Cellar with the idea. If either is the case, should the club have said no? When I wrote this article, I didn’t have that information either but I know that its not uncommon for events to initiate outside of the club itself.
I’ve since spoken to the club’s owner Noam Dworman who was emphatic that the event was not an attempt to gain favorable PR. He confirmed that the organizations approached him, asking him if they could do an event at the club. In fact, after C.K. started coming back to the club, various people and organizations have asked him to do something to help victims of assault. In the case of tonight’s benefit, Noam said he was introduced to the “Raliance” and “No More” groups after Louis C.K.’s first appearance at the club. He was interested in helping, but also concerned that such an event could be considered disingenuous. He did not want to appear to be a panderer or someone trying to buy an indulgence from the church. “I’m very aware that the same people writing stories blasting us for doing this event would just as eagerly write a story about us refusing to do the event,” Noam said. “I was also urged by two prominent people very involved in this cause to do the event regardless of the fact that it might be used against us. In the end we opted for what we think is the right thing. ” The event is produced by Raliance and No More- and held at the Cellar. Noam said he is also making a donation on top of the proceeds from the night.
The question remains: is it possible that the questions raised by the Louis C.K. revelations are not black and white, good vs evil, absolute right vs absolute wrong? The answer depends on who you ask but there’s no doubt that there is disagreement. And given that reasonable men and reasonable women disagree even amongst themselves about what’s right, do we want to force judgement and punishment choices into the hands of someone who runs a comedy club?
Even if the Cellar’s attempt to give a voice to the #metoo movement falls short of someone’s ideals, what do we gain for attacking those attempts? Can’t we applaud the effort while simultaneously asking for more?
These questions go deeper than social media comments are willing to acknowledge, and there are dangers inherent with expecting club owners, bookers, and those in hiring positions to become judges and juries all at once. As always its better to be having the conversation raised on all sides, but 2018 has made many fearful of the reprisals that come from even having the conversation. Let’s hope people keep talking.
Tickets to benefit for Raliance are available on the club’s website at ComedyCellar.com. They’re $45 and it should be a great show.
To be continued…