One night, over dinner with friends in 2014, conversation turned to the latest season of “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s popular FX show. C.K. wrote, directed, and produced the show, in addition to playing the titular character, a fictionalized version of himself. As fans, we lamented the possibility that the auteur comedian might have lost his touch. In particular, we agreed that a mid-season arc, in which he pursued a relationship with a Hungarian woman who didn’t speak English, felt messy. Ruminating on why it didn’t sit well, my friend delivered this baffled kicker: “How did no one notice that Louie raped someone last season?”
Allegations of sexual misconduct against C.K. are no longer allegations. In an article by The New York Times published Thursday, five women claimed C.K. had non-consensually masturbated in front of or while on the phone with them. At the time, all of the women were pursuing careers in comedy. Rumors followed C.K. for years, but no victims spoke on the record.
C.K. responded today with a statement confirming the allegations. “These stories are true,” he wrote. “The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else.”
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In Hollywood’s recent torrent of sexual misconduct allegations, C.K. is the first man to accept accountability, however tepidly. But if he thinks this will absolve him of his sins, he is in for a rude awakening. Parts of C.K.’s statement feel almost flippant, putting far too much weight on his status in the comedy world and far too little on his victims’ grief:
At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But 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.
Unfortunately for C.K.’s fans, this half-hearted apology comes as no surprise from someone who, on multiple episodes of “Louie,” explored what he clearly considered “grey areas” surrounding sexual consent.
Much has already been made of a scene between Louie and Pamela (Pamela Adlon) in Season 4, titled “Pamela: Part 1.” While decidedly uncomfortable at the time it aired, in retrospect the image of Louie forcing Pamela to kiss him while she repeatedly says “No” plays out like an excruciating mea culpa. “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid,” she says. “You can’t even rape well.” Louie then blocks the door and forces her to kiss him.
Two episodes prior, in “Elevator: Part 5,” Louie coerces his neighbor Amia (Eszter Balint) into a sexual encounter she clearly regrets the next day. Louie had been pursuing his downstairs neighbor for weeks, despite the fact that Amia spoke only Hungarian. (How convenient for Louie to fall in love with a woman without ever having to converse with her).
Standing at the door of his apartment, she attempts to say goodnight, offering a simple, “Bye.” “No, no bye. Come on in, come on,” says Louie, before taking her arm and pulling her into the apartment. “Better bye,” she says again. He hugs her, kisses her on the cheek, and they both continue saying, “Bye.” His hug becomes tighter as Amia struggles to push away, leaning backward to no avail. Eventually, they clatter down the hallway and into his bedroom.
When he awakes the next morning, she is staring at him intensely. She looks sad, hurt, and disappointed. “What’s wrong?” asks Louie. Amia replies in Hungarian, adding: “No good.” Louie appears genuinely perplexed at what could have possibly gone wrong. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Is okay,” says Amia, walking out.
In the next episode, Louie is still bewildered at what could have upset Amia, whom he claims to be in love with. Following her into a church during a rainstorm, he apologizes again. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m sorry. I guess maybe you feel ashamed of —” Amia stares coldly at him over a thunderclap. “Maybe we were in two different rooms or something, but I thought that something…” He again grabs her by the arm, offering a pushy, “Come on,” and rushes to her aunt Evanka (Ellen Burstyn) for help translating.
“I don’t know, I guess she’s upset because we slept together,” Louie tells Evanka. Amia’s outburst is immediate and fierce; she yells in Hungarian, and begins breaking plates on the floor. “I’m in love with you!” he yells back. Just then, they are suddenly interrupted by a news announcement that all of lower Manhattan is engulfed in a terrible storm, and Louie must dash away to save his wife and children from certain peril. Convenient again.
What no one talked about then is now blindingly clear: Consent has aways confounded C.K., who wrote and directed all three of these episodes. Any woman objecting to his sexual advances may as well be speaking Hungarian. The character Louie cannot understand what could possibly be upsetting about pulling a woman by the arm into your apartment and coercing her into sex. Just as C.K., the man, learned “too late” in life that “when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question.”
Following the logic of “Louie,” when the deluge comes, C.K. hopes fatherhood will absolve him. As for apologizing, he’ll say sorry, but don’t be fooled — he doesn’t know why he’s saying it.