"As soon as I found out he was coming, my stomach completely twisted on itself," says comedian Ruth Banks, who regularly performs at The Comedy Arena in McKinney. "A few years ago I would have lost my mind with excitement, but just looking at his face on the poster (and) all the gross things men have done to me over the years ran through my mind and I honestly had to look away."
The Addison comedy club posted on its online calendar that the former TV star — who admitted to allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017 — will perform four shows this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.
C.K. was one of the most famous stand-up comedians on the stage and the small screen with his critically acclaimed FX series Louie and other FX shows as a producer, including Better Things and Baskets. All of it came to a noticeable halt in 2017 when The New York Times published interviews with four female comedians and a fifth woman who kept her identity hidden saying that he performed a series of lewd sexual acts in front of them and while on the phone with him such as exposing himself and masturbating, incidents that went as far back as 2002.
The women also said the comedian used his influence and status in the comedy community as a performer and TV star and producer in order to lure them into enclosed spaces and phone calls. They also told the paper that they tried to report C.K.'s actions and inform others about his lewd behavior but were met with denials and threats of retaliation by several of his supporters and management, including his former manager Dave Becky.
C.K. confessed that the women's stories were true in a written statement he sent to the newspaper the following day. He was met with even more criticism for apologizing to his fellow cast and crew members, Becky, FX and the production company The Orchard, but not to the five women. Other parts of the statement also received heavy criticism, such as the excuse that he "never showed a woman my dick without asking first."
"He didn't mess up once or mess up and apologize," says one local comedian who wishes to remain anonymous. "He did it multiple times, to multiple women. He didn't learn and get better. He worked with his manager to keep them quiet for a decade. His shot for a second chance was 10 years ago, and he's messed up every step of the way since. If someone gets fired for inappropriate sexual behavior at work, they would and should be fired and not be let back. It does not promote a safe work environment where women feel welcomed."
All of the cable networks that were working with C.K. on projects, including FX and TBS, announced that they would sever ties with him. His team of representatives, including his booking agency APA, his publicist Kovert Creative and Becky, also dropped him as a client. Becky issued an apology less than a week after The Times' initial story on the comedian's behavior.
C.K. stayed out of the spotlight and off comedy club stages for less than a year until he performed a surprise show at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. A bootleg recording of a show at Governor's of Levittown surfaced on YouTube last December, and he recently performed another surprise set during the annual Skankfest comedy festival in Brooklyn. Footage of the set obtained by TMZ shows the crowd giving C.K. a standing ovation.
The local reaction to C.K.'s shows from the DFW comedy community consists mostly of criticism against the comedian and the venue that booked him.
"Just looking at his face on the poster [and] all the gross things men have done to me over the years ran through my mind and I honestly had to look away." — Ruth Banks
Dallas comedian Dan Danzy, who has performed at both the Addison and Arlington Improv and several of the Hyena's Comedy nightclubs in the DFW area, says he feels the club shouldn't have booked C.K. given the nature of his response to his behavior, adding, "If I was on this show, I'd take myself off."
"To me, this is mostly on the club doing this," Danzy says. "It sends a terrible message to the community, because it's the hardest club to get into and do weekends at and I say that as a runner-up to the Funniest Comic in Texas (competition). It also sends a bad message to the female members of our community. They’re striving to get into the weekends too, and I can’t imagine what they’re feeling.”
Stand-up comedian Pete Jung says the retaliation that C.K. and his representatives took to silence his victims made his reprehensible actions even worse.
"That's the most damning part of the whole thing because it shows that they knew he was in the wrong," Jung says. "I respected Louis for his honesty and insightfulness, but the way he's been talking lately, it feels like his two years of semi-seclusion was more about letting the heat die down than any kind of real introspection."
Some comedians defended the club's decision to give him the stage. Jordan Black, a local comedian who's played for audiences at Hyena's and other area venues, says the comedian hasn't earned his forgiveness but should still be allowed to perform.
"He was put on this earth to make people laugh and to say he is supposed to deny his purpose in life because he made a mistake is just something I can't stand behind," Black says. "The Improv believes his debt is paid and decided to give him a space to fulfill his purpose. Good for them."
David Eller, another local comedian who's performed at Hyena's in Fort Worth and several Denton venues, believes C.K. should be allowed to perform given the response he received at the Brooklyn comedy festival.
"If you use these standing ovations he's been receiving as a control audience, that suggests probably only one out of one hundred people are unwilling to forgive Louis," Eller says. "The audience is the de facto jury, but somehow, the angry minority on the internet are still loud enough to dish out judgment in the form of shaming two years later as if it happened yesterday."
However, the decision to book C.K. speaks to something bigger than just comedy and a comedian's ability and opportunity to perform, says local comedian Brandon Davidson.
"He’s showed zero remorse or contrition at all," Davidson says. "To me, it’s a workplace safety issue as well. Is he a continued threat to his co-workers? Does his second chance preclude others from a first chance?"
Banks says she understands the financial side of comedy is influencing the situation but she also feels that C.K.'s actions and words don't express contrition for the harm he did to others.
"I completely understand it from a business perspective," Banks says. "He puts butts in seats. It’s hard to turn down the opportunity, but I’m definitely paying attention to the reactions. So yes and no. Is there a world in which he could gracefully re-enter the comedy world? Yes. Did he take the appropriate steps to make that happen? No."
Sean Traynor, the general manager of the Addison Improv, says they were approached by C.K.'s current management about doing the Tuesday and Wednesday shows but has not commented further on the matter. He also says he and the club are working on releasing a public statement regarding the show.