As Louis C.K. continues his return to the public eye, the conversation about what he did (masturbate in front of women without their meaningful consent) and whether it was really that bad (yes) continues apace.
On Monday, C.K.’s longtime friend and frequent collaborator Sarah Silverman told Howard Stern that C.K. had masturbated in front of her consensually, in an interview that seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
“I’ve known Louis forever,” Silverman said. “I’m not making excuses for him, so please don’t take this that way. We are peers. We are equals. When we were kids, and he asked if he could masturbate in front of me, sometimes I’d go, ‘Fuck yeah, I want to see that!’ It’s not analogous to the other women that are talking about what he did to them. He could offer me nothing. We were only just friends. So sometimes, yeah, I wanted to see it. It was amazing. Sometimes, I would say, ‘Fucking no, gross,’ and we got pizza.”
Silverman seems to have been trying to make her way toward an explanation for why C.K. might have thought it was acceptable to masturbate in front of female fellow comedians, while still acknowledging that his actions were unacceptable. She has been open in the past about her complicated feelings about C.K., who has been a friend of hers for years. “It’s a real mindfuck, because I love Louis. But Louis did these things,” Silverman said last year after C.K. admitted to having harassed women. “Both of those statements are true.”
But Silverman’s new interview with Stern also muddies the question of why C.K.’s actions were unacceptable. It’s not the specific act that matters (masturbating in front of someone); it’s whether or not C.K. had the other party’s consent when he did it.
Further, it’s not at all surprising that a sexual abuser might have also engaged in consensual sex acts in his life. Most sexual abusers have. So to some, Silverman seemed to be suggesting that because C.K. consensually engaged in a sex act with her, it’s not such a big deal that he didn’t have consent from other women.
BREAKING: Camille Cosby says she repeatedly consented to sex with Bill Cosby. https://t.co/orjDCMlukV— Beverly Crusher's Ghost Boyfriend (@LuxAlptraum) October 22, 2018
Among those taking exception to Silverman’s interview was the comedian Rebecca Corry, who was one of the first women to go on the record with accusations against C.K., and who has written extensively about the negative fallout she’s experienced since coming forward.
“To be real clear, CK had ‘nothing to offer me’ as I too was his equal on the set the day he decided to sexually harrass me,” Corry tweeted. “He took away a day I worked years for and still has no remorse. He’s a predator who victimized women for decades and lied about it.”
Silverman immediately apologized for her statements via Twitter, writing, “Rebecca I’m sorry. Ugh this is why I don’t like weighing in. I can’t seem to do press 4 my show w/out being asked about it. You’re right — you were equals and he fucked with you and it’s not ok. I’m sorry, friend. You are so talented and so kind.”
Corry accepted Silverman’s apology, but her reply nodded to the harassment she’s experienced since going public with her C.K. story.
“Thank you. I know exactly how you feel,” she wrote. “I can’t seem to live my life without getting rape & death threats, harassed & called a cunt regularly for simply telling the truth. I’m sorry your friend created this situation. We deserve to do our art without having to deal with this shit.”
While Silverman and Corry face harassment for their statements, C.K. soldiers on with his comeback
The exchange between Corry and Silverman comes just weeks after C.K. began his march back into the public eye with two surprise sets at New York’s legendary Comedy Cellar in August and September. While both Silverman and Corry have experienced extensive pushback for making their statements in public, it’s been widely reported that C.K. got through both his sets without facing any heckling and was largely met with warm, enthusiastic applause from his audience.
The backlash came later, after the sets were reported in the press. C.K.’s surprise appearances were especially notable for being a surprise: He used his clout in the comedy world to put himself in front of an audience that had no prior warning that he would be appearing and thus could not consent or decline to attend his performance. Essentially, he replicated the power dynamics that made his sexual harassment so harmful in the first place.
And while both Silverman and Corry have found themselves pushed to discuss C.K. at length in public, C.K. himself did not mention the reasons for his nine months of absence during his Comedy Cellar sets. When he did bring it up in public, during a later set at the West Side Comedy Club in October, the conversation was entirely on his terms — he had the mic, after all — and he didn’t mention his victims. Instead, he focused on how he had been hurt and what he had lost, reportedly joking that he’d been to hell and back over the past year. “I lost $35 million in an hour,” he said.
It’s a disparity that suggests yet again that while we give powerful men endless opportunities for second chances and redemption, we save our true outrage and vitriol for both the women who accused them and the women who are working to clean up their messes.