I have many heroes in comedy who aren’t straight white men, from French and Saunders to Dave Chappelle, to newer idols like Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. These comedians inspire me with everything they do and, as a comedian, I dream to one day be as funny as them. But Louis CK felt like a role model. Until Friday, he was my favourite comedian. His jokes resonated with me because they seemed forward-thinking and empathetic. I thought he was one of the good guys. I thought he was on my side. His material about men being the most dangerous thing in the world to women really spoke to me, because it was coming from a point of view of privilege but seemed to be trying to use that privilege to help other people climb up. It was great to see someone highlighting such a basic, obvious thing in such a funny way. It was the kind of thing that I had always wanted to be able to say, and I aspired to write similar stuff. To now realise that all of those jokes were written not from empathy but from the guilty position of an aggressor, and to see those jokes I love being shared on Twitter to highlight his guilt, feels gutting. I feel like I’ve been duped. I feel stupid for putting my belief in someone who has turned out to be a big part of the problem. I want all those laughs back. They were tricked out of us.
The best way I can think of to combat this deceit is to hold on to the feelings that those jokes inspired in me when I first heard them. Even though the person speaking them was lying, the feelings that it aroused in me of wanting to use comedy to help people are real, so I will take that and continue to fight the good fight.
He has stated that all the accusations against him are true, which is something at least, but in his statement he didn’t once say he was sorry. Unfortunately, whatever he said can’t undo what he did to his victims. All we can do is try to change the innately chauvinist comedy industry that allowed this to happen in the first place.
Most comedians are fully aware of the rampant sexism in the comedy industry. We all hear stories about people acting inappropriately or saying inappropriate things. A tiny amount of those inappropriate things make it into the papers. We all know that certain promoters won’t book more than one woman on a bill. We all hear stories about TV commissioners not being interested in any scripts not written by men. You need only look at the line-ups for panel shows like Mock the Week to see that women are vastly underrepresented in comedy. Watching Jo Brand having to remind her male colleagues on Have I Got News For You last week that we should take accusations of sexual assault seriously was a particular low point.
In the past I’ve done my best to avoid working for people I’ve heard bad stories about, but it is harder when it’s someone very influential, or worse, someone you actually admired.
I spoke to Phoebe Bourke, a comedy producer, about the current situation women face in comedy. “We need the industry to truly want to hear from funny women and not use female comedians as a tokenistic tool to create diversity on TV shows or line-ups," she said. "There is still a huge imbalance across the board and women are treated as special or different and the white male perspective is the ‘norm’.”
One problem with the comedy industry is that we’re all self-employed. There’s no HR department for us to take complaints to, or a manager to make sure people lower down are looked after. All your colleagues are just people you come across every now and then. When people act inappropriately, the victim’s only recourse is to tell other people, in the hope that they will believe them and stop working with the perpetrator. Unfortunately this happens all too infrequently. People close down and turn on the whistleblowers, because if the aggressor is influential or important, others are fearful of how it will affect their own careers.
Who knows what kind of careers Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Abby Schachner and Rebecca Corry might have had if their opportunities hadn’t been taken away from them. These women have been accusing Louis for years and been shouted down, yet only one man accused Kevin Spacey of misconduct and people rushed to believe him and ostracise Spacey. Why has it taken so much longer for Louis? Was he too influential? Too likeable on stage? Too funny? Did we not believe his victims because they’re women? Was it because his fans are all just like me, and didn’t want to believe it? We’d all bought into his progressive, empathetic image and didn’t want our hero to be torn down. It’s probably a mix of all these things, but we can learn from it, and in the future make sure that all accusations are followed up with equal verve.
I’ve heard many more rumours about other comedians, which I will no longer dismiss but treat with the utmost suspicion. This is the tip of the iceberg. I hope we can use this momentum to create an environment where everyone feels like their complaints will be listened to and victims will feel supported enough to come forward.
Journalists, keep on digging – there are more out there. I, and many other comedians, are happy to help you get in contact with people.