Me Too: Louis C.K. Joins Hollywood’s List of Outed Sexual Predators

Yesterday afternoon, hours after the cancellation of his film, I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K. publicly admitted that yep, he’s been a creepy wanker. I’d tell you what the shelved movie is about, but I can’t bring myself to type the words. So I invite you to read New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwartz’s account of needing a “barf bag” to endure the disgust. And oh by the way, C.K. – which is apparently an acronym for “cock” – also uses the “N” word in the movie. We really missed out, America. There’s just not enough self-involved, middle aged, white male stories of privilege being told (see: Election 2016).

C.K.’s fans have always found him edgy and – in a cruel irony – honest. The man traded on this reputation to create sometimes artistic, often funny content that also, from any angle, included plenty to make one wince. It was part of the brand. But hey, he was all in on Hillary Clinton, even if he felt the need to use the word “bitch” to describe her toughness. He has two young daughters. American audiences validated him. Unconventional feminist for sure, but we’ll take allies anywhere we can find them. Cool, I guess.

Except no. Louis C.K. and the guerilla-style perversions with which he attacked up and coming female comics were no secret to the industry. The power players – who are overwhelmingly male – enabled and uplifted a sick man who made them rich and famous by association. Let the shame hang on you now, Hollywood industrial media complex. You’ve also given us Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Brett Ratner, Charlie Sheen, Woody Allen, Billy Cosby, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly and Casey Affleck. None of these men committed their wide range of predatory acts in the shadows. Some of them, like Charlie Sheen, made TV millions after allegedly assaulting a young Corey Haim, and knowingly exposing female partners to HIV. That’s #Winning in the anything goes patriarchy.

And of course, Louis C.K., a writer on The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, has been running around with his dick in hand for over 20 years. His own work made no attempt to camouflage it, and still he kept rising (pun acknowledged, if not intended). In March 2012, now-defunct website Gawker, published a blind item entitled, Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?

I’ll give you three guesses, but you only need one.

Five and a half years ago, the author wrote, “this shameless funnyman whips it out at the most inopportune moments, often at times when his female companions have expressed no interest in watching him go at it.” Yes, this checks out with what we now know. But appallingly, no one but the victims – two of whom who were intimidated by C.K.’s manager Dave Becky after one particular Aspen incident – would publicly say the emperor of American comedy was wearing no pants.

Well there were a few folks who decried the star’s penchant for pud pulling, but they’re women, lesbians or both. Why listen to them? Funny lady Tig Nataro, the deadpanned creator and star of Amazon’s One Mississippi, publicly distanced herself from her former collaborator long before the story broke this week. Jen Kirkman, Roseanne Barr and others have talked about Louie C.K.’s reputation as a glorified subway creep in an expensive trench coat. Nataro wisely advised the comedian to “handle that.”

As we know, after the quick flight of C.K.’s many entertainment partners this week, his weird, traumatizing business has been handled for him. No longer will the wildly successful comedian have access to talented, ambitious women he degrades by pleasuring himself. Louis C.K. belongs in intensive therapy, not on our screens. The victims deserve to be heard, if they wish. They must be believed regardless. And if the timing were not so totally cynical, while still lacking in honesty, the comedian’s Friday afternoon admission of guilt might have offered a chance to begin healing. The too little, too late, empathy is almost touching, nearly enlightened:

“I want to address the stories told to The New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not…. what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

We know there are more than five brave women who’ve endured the full Louis. C.K. experience. And we know that there are more predators hiding in Hollywood’s sunshine-filled plain sight. And that should make us all angry, mad enough to finally start calling these pigs back to the trough (I’m looking especially hard at you, male allies). There’s no excuse for Louis C.K.’s behavior. But the celebration and inner-circle secrecy that allows powerful men to illiberally victimize women and young boys is what’s truly inexcusable.

Handle that.

Byhalia, Mississippi

Evan Linder and Liz Sharpe

The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company’s three-time 2016 Jeff Award-winner “Byhalia, Mississippi” returns to the Chicago stage at just the right time. This is an election year, and in fact, as the work made its press debut Monday night at the Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre, DNC 2016 was just getting underway.

Last week’s RNC, a literally whitewashed affair that did much to trumpet (pun definitely intended) fear of thy neighbor (especially when he or she is brown-skinned) and this week’s Democratic vision of evolving inclusiveness: they feel like appropriate bookends to an important artistic exercise in taking a hard, extended look at the tensions of now. Poverty versus privilege, evolving racial attitudes in the Deep South, gendered politics — these are just a few of the issues the work tackles.

And “Byhalia, Mississippi” does so without the sort of preachy, heavy self-seriousness that often derails entertainment into the realm of propaganda. The script is laugh-out-loud funny, achingly human and brilliantly acted by the returning original cast. At times the scenes are tough to watch. It is a persistent challenge to audiences, with underlying questions that any thinking person will take home to consider. Are we obligated to live honestly (a much different query than interrogations of “truth”)? And how far have we come along the path of universal acceptance?

The story is ultimately one of love, the bond between Jim and Laurel Parker (Evan Linder, Liz Sharpe). As the press materials distil it, “[The couple] is about to become new parents. They are broke. They are loud… When Laurel gives birth to their long overdue child, she and Jim are faced with the biggest challenge of their lives.”

What’s narratively fascinating is that Jim and Laurel are two people who betray and hurt each other. They are exposed to scandal and in fact, Linder and Sharpe spend a lot of the show’s two-hour and 15 minutes running time acting in different scenes. Though the characters are frequently separated and estranged by some corrosive internal and external influences, they ultimately remain each other’s “plan.” Their relationship reveals that there are elements of choice involved in matters of the heart. This is existentially comforting somehow, even if the road to reconciliation is a humiliating, rough ride.

These are not “good” people, and the dialogue goes to painstaking effort to suggest that there’s no such thing. But even as their lives come completely apart and others are waylaid as so much collateral damage, the bond between Jim and Laurel is perversely inspiring. And dammit, incongruity is a cold, naked human reality. This critic had grateful tears running down her cheeks during the production’s touching, soft ultimate scene.

Linder and Sharpe are terrific, as is every other performer on the stage. Cecilia Wingate, who plays Laurel’s stuck in the Jim Crow era but still somehow overbearingly lovable mother Celeste, — she’s a revelation. One of the three Jeff Awards doled out to “Byhalia, Mississippi” in 2016 include a Best Actress in a Supporting Role nod for Wingate. So well deserved. Talented is the actress who can engender genuine, complicated sympathy in a character who might be unlikeable under another’s care.

The writing from the playwright, lead actor, and New Colony Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder is fast, organic and complicated. Tyrone Phillips directs his experienced cast and crew with the fluidity and familiarity of an artist who understands the power of dialogue. “Byhalia, Mississippi” needs no special effects to have an explosive impact. And the intimacy of the Steppenwolf’s new 1700 Theatre is a perfect fit for such deeply personal material.

Highly recommended Summer 2016 viewing at a critical juncture for the determination of 21st Century American values.

“Byhalia, Mississippi” runs through August 21 at the Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre, 1700 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit the Steppenwolf Theatre website.