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Louis C.K. did another surprise standup set, to decidedly mixed reactions

On Sunday, C.K. made his second appearance at the Comedy Cellar since admitting to sexual misconduct last fall.

The 76th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony - Inside
Louis C.K. at the 2017 Peabody Awards.
Brad Barket/Getty Images for Peabody
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Five weeks after Louis C.K.’s first controversial appearance at New York’s Comedy Cellar, he’s back. On Sunday night, C.K. gave another surprise set at the comedy club, the New York Times reports.

At the end of August, C.K. raised eyebrows when he appeared without warning at the Cellar’s microphone, in his first major public appearance since he admitted last November to masturbating in front of women without their meaningful consent. At the time, C.K. received a warm welcome and a standing ovation, with one audience member reportedly shouting, “It’s good to have you back!”

But some of the women in the room later told Vulture that they felt deeply uncomfortable that C.K. had appeared onstage without warning, leaving them unable to make a considered choice as to whether they wanted to watch him perform. “It felt like he was being thrust upon the audience without telling them,” one said.

In his most recent performance, C.K. reportedly joked that “it wasn’t ‘unanimous’ that people were excited to see him,” an audience member told the Huffington Post, but didn’t otherwise address the reasons he had stayed offstage for so long. He was greeted with what the New York Times describes as “wild applause,” but two audience members walked out.

The ability to walk out at the Comedy Cellar is actually new, which is part of why C.K.’s August performance was so controversial. In general, the club has a drink minimum, meaning that you have to have spent a certain amount of money before you can settle your tab and leave. That means audience members who were uncomfortable with C.K.’s August set couldn’t just get up and go.

The Cellar has since changed its rules to what it describes as a “swim at your own risk” policy. “We never know who is going to pop in,” the new policy advises audience members. “If an unannounced appearance is not your cup of tea, you are free to leave (unobtrusively please) no questions asked, your check on the house.”

Unannounced acts are a longstanding tradition at the Comedy Cellar, which has a reputation for being the place where comedy stars like to show up without warning to work out their new material. While the Cellar claims it never knows who will stop by, a spokesperson for the venue did tell one guest who inquired after C.K.’s August performance that C.K. wouldn’t be back in the Cellar for months and his next appearance would not be a surprise, the Times reports. (That apparently turned out not to be the case.)

Regarding C.K.’s Sunday night appearance, Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman told the Huffington Post that he stands by his statements in an August interview with the Hollywood Reporter, in which he said that while he didn’t want his customers to feel ambushed, he did believe there was a case to be made that C.K. had the right to perform.

C.K.’s Sunday-night set reportedly included a riff on the idea of “boyfriend shirts” for 9-year-old girls, with the punchline, “Oh, is my 9-year-old supposed to be fucking her boyfriend all night and taking his shirt?”

“I talked to a few women sitting near me afterwards,” one attendee told the Huffington Post, “and they described a similar sense of tenuous discomfort, like, ‘Is it OK to laugh at this?’ especially some of the edgier jokes.”

C.K.’s latest appearance comes just a week after comedian Ted Alexandro joked extensively about C.K. at his own Comedy Cellar performance, in a set that went viral.

“He’s lost everything,” Alexandro said of C.K. “It’s not fair that men should lose everything in a flash. And by ‘everything,’ I mean ‘hardly anything,’ and by ‘in a flash,’ I mean ‘a decade later.’”