Louis C.K. prided himself on throwing out his latest standup act after the inevitable taped special and building new material from scratch – refusing to be a "greatest hits" kind of comic.
He took similar approaches in his other television work, with stark episode-to-episode tone shifts in FX’ Emmy-winning "Louie," and the searing, out-of-nowhere barroom drama, "Horace and Pete," a Peabody Award honoree.
His dual constants proved surprise and purported honesty – sharing unflattering glimpses into the darker recesses of his mind as he joked about everything from pedophilia to race to child rearing.
A day after a New York Times report that details allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against C.K. by five women, he tossed out the script – reaching new levels of surprise and honesty in an extraordinary statement Friday declaring: “These stories are true.”
In his confessional/mea culpa, devoid of the usual celebrity lawyer legalese, he took full responsibility for his actions, saying in blunt terms that he wielded “power irresponsibly.”
It’s unclear where he goes from here. But there’s no looking at Louis C.K. the same again.
The armchair shrinks among us are left to piece together hints from his prodigious and varied output: Stand-up routines centering on unprintable riffs about masturbation and sexual self-loathing. Then there’s the disturbing episode of “Louie” in which he clumsily tries to force himself upon his on-again-off-again love interest, Pamela ("This would be rape if you weren't so stupid," she said. "You can't even rape well!").
Perhaps most troubling is the plot of his latest movie, “I Love You Daddy,” centered a relationship between teenage girl and a man played by 63-year-old John Malkovich. The flick also reportedly features a scene in which a character mimes masturbation.
The much-older-man premise and black-and-white aesthetic echoes “Manhattan” – the 1979 film by Woody Allen, who married his girlfriend’s daughter (35 years his junior) and was accused of (but never charged with) far more reprehensible acts.
The C.K. fallout quickly became an avalanche: The distributor of “I Love You Daddy” scrapped the film’s planned release Friday. Meanwhile, HBO nixed C.K. from its Nov. 18 “Night of Too Many Stars” broadcast. Netflix canceled his next standup special. The future of “Louie” and other shows he produces for FX remain in limbo.
The scandal arrives three years after Bill Cosby’s disgrace and amid a current spate of sexual allegations against major entertainment and media figures.
The accusations against C.K. differ from those facing movie producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, in the detail and legal severity. But that doesn’t make the reported accounts of C.K.'s behavior less sickening. And while fans might feel betrayed, that pales compared to the experience of women who contend he vilely abused his status as a top comedian.
C.K. said as much Friday, writing: “There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them [his accusers] with.”
The comedian bypassed Hollywood before by selling some standup specials and “Horace and Pete” directly to fans online. He gave no hints of his plans Friday other than to "step back and take a long time to listen."
Should he mount a return, C.K. knows he wouldn't be starting his next act from scratch as much as trying to climb back from under a pile of ruins of his own making.