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Skankfest, a Brooklyn comedy festival put on by the Legion of Skanks, just committed the cardinal sin of featuring one of the greatest living comedians, Louis C.K. As his surprise appearance was introduced, the crowd at the Brooklyn Bazaar erupted in a standing ovation that could only be described as pure joy.
They didn’t seem angry at C.K., they didn’t cross their arms over their chests and demand that their offense be rectified, they didn’t ask him to apologize. They just cheered. It was beautiful.
According to Twitter, he performed a 20 minute set which included at least one reference to his unpersoning. “If you ever masturbate in front of someone, ask them first. If they say yes, don’t do it,” he quipped. It’s a great line, and even his critics should applaud it because it’s all about consent. He lost pretty much everything, but at least he’s got some new jokes.
It’s a classic move for a famous comic to show up at a comedy club and be given a set. Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and so many others, have all done this. It’s a way for comics to keep in touch with their fan base, try out new material without a lot of pressure, and a boon for the club who then gets to boast that Louis C.K. showed up randomly to do a set because their club is just that freakin cool.
But of course, joy and redemption are not fashionable these days. So, in keeping with the tenor of the day, the venue issued a grovelling apology, claiming that they were unaware that the comedian with cooties would be appearing as part of Skankfest:
We would like to state that this was a surprise appearance and that the venue had no prior knowledge that his performance would occur. By the time he was brought through the side entrance by promoters and put on stage, it was too late for our staff to stop it. … We would first like to apologize to our community and staff for what occurred, and we would also like to apologize to the Music Department because they have put a lot of effort into making Brooklyn Bazaar a safe space with diverse programming. We will make sure to be more clear when discussing our guidelines and policies with outside events and to vet these events more thoroughly in general in the future.
By the sounds of it, there was some horrible, violent tragedy that occurred at the Brooklyn Bazaar that night. Was there an act of terror? Were people rushed to the hospital? Were lives lost? No. A comedian told some jokes for twenty minutes. And the crowd loved it. That’s it. He may have slayed, but only in the way that great comedians do when they are on the top of their game.
This is apparently so catastrophic that Kath Barbadoro, who we’ve never heard of, was compelled to speak out in Vox. She thinks that the crowd was owed an apology, too, and that an even bigger apology was due to the staff, and the other comics on the bill. She feels that they were told jokes without their consent, and that this is just another example of C.K.’s rude, crude, toxic behaviour. For Barbadoro, comedy is a job: “I’m a comedian. Stand-up is my animating force and greatest love. But above all of that, it’s a job. Many people seem to forget that.” Barbadoro insists that the workplace protections that stop a Starbucks manager from grabbing a barista’s ass need to be in place at comedy clubs, too, except not for actual misconduct, but for comedians who once made mistakes or who told unauthorized jokes. After all, unauthorized jokes should never be told at a comedy show!
While for sure making comedy is hard work, gruelling, difficult, all that, it’s not exactly what you’d call a job. Barbadoro’s concerns about the lack of workplace protections from C.K.’s dastardly behaviour are noble and all that, but they are misplaced.
In fact, reducing an art form like comedy to the level of a workaday job is a huge part of the problem. Yes, there is dignity in work. But stripping others of the ability to make art is the most undignified thing you could do. This is the “work” that Barbadora is actually engaging in—the work of ruining artistic people’s lives because she feels mentally assaulted by their work.
Sadly, in 2019, providing entertainment that makes people happy is something to apologize for. Everyone seems determined to make life boring and unfunny. It genuinely feels like there is a concerted effort to stop people from feeling joy and connecting with one another. Thankfully, the organizer of Skankfest, Luis J. Gomez, has made it clear that he will not apologize.
Good for him. We need more people like him in the arts.
All of this brings us back to the video footage of the crowd’s reaction to C.K. We’re calling it a “miracle” because it provides us with a much needed glimpse into the vast difference between the social media scold machine and reality. In reality, we are happy to see him. We like Louis C.K. The crowd likes Louis C.K. Even Brooklyn—home of judgy, mouth agape in consternation hipsters—likes Louis C.K. When the man was taken down, fans didn’t really want to see him go. The fact that he appeared provided release for the crowd. They expressed relief and joy, as though the weight of a thousand shaming tweets was lifted from them.