I am not dropping any knowledge on anyone when I note that Louis CK, who, until the middle of last week was pretty much everyone I know’s favorite comedian, (welcome to the top slot, Aziz Ansari) admitted to sexual misconduct.
He apologized privately to one of the women he treated wretchedly, and she forgave him. Some of the other women, however, are not calling that piece of writing an apology.
That really ought to be enough reason to end any debate about the nature and purpose of what he wrote. Not so much, however. Quite a few people regard it as an eloquent apology. I disagree. I think I’ve heard it before, coming from another man.
I used to be a copy editor at a daily newspaper. I am not easily riled by things I read. There are no trigger warnings when you have a story on child abuse zoned seven ways with seven cut orders and seven heds. Louis CK’s statement sent my blood pressure up, though. I had a few conversations with a few women who have, like me, emerged from a relationship with an abusive narcissist. We all had the same reaction.
Louis CK’s statement looks like part of the cycle of abuse. He said what he knew he was supposed to say. I’m sure he was frightened and hurting, too. I feel for him and I sympathize with him — it’s a visceral and honest statement. But I don’t want to empathize with him. As fascinating as it is to watch him come to understand what he did, that’s not the point here, is it?
Initially, I was stuck on the form: He never uses the words “I’m sorry.” And that’s the first signal that this is a statement about Louis CK more than an apology to the women he hurt, and his fans. What’s so important about form? It’s the rules we’ve agreed on. It’s the way your mom taught you to apologize when you were in kindergarten. If Louis CK had said, “I’m sorry. I did this list of things to this list of people, and it was wrong,” he would have made an adequate apology, without simultaneously presenting a defense. Of course, he would not have generated a wave of sympathy from his say-it-ain’t-so fans, and it seems as if, consciously or not, that’s really what he wanted. He should have kept it simple. Follow the rules: Take your hat off indoors, say please and thank you, keep your hands to yourself.
I suspect he wanted to air his side of the story a little before he disappears. (For a while — what’s the money on an apology tour within two years?) That’s a human impulse, but I wish he’d resisted it. It’s honest. It’s not terrible writing. But I would have kicked it back for a rewrite, and a very, very heavy cut.