The two-drink minimum is a standard at old-school comedy clubs, a subtle reminder that making money is priority number one. A glance at the menu at the Rosemont Zanies makes the already unpleasant proposition even worse: a drink called the “Louis C.K.” is still prominently featured on a list of specialty cocktails. By the way, it’s a combination of coconut vodka, creme de cacao, and hazelnut liqueur that would surely give me a hangover that rivals the queasy feeling I get whenever I think about C.K. these days.
Louis C.K.’s comeback tour that no one asked for has ignited a conversation in the comedy community about how clubs should handle performers accused of sexual misconduct, what redemption for those performers could look like, and whether art can be separated from the artist. On Tuesday, January 8, Vulture published “17 Comedy Bookers on Whether They’d Put Louis C.K. Onstage.” Reporter Dan Reilly reached out to 70 club owners, managers, and talent bookers across the country; 40 never responded, 13 declined comment, and five said that, yes, they would book C.K. All of those last five were men, and all were enthusiastic in their responses. Among them was Zanies executive director Bert Haas.
“From a booker’s point of view, I would say absolutely you should book him,” Haas responded.
I would book him in a heartbeat for a couple of reasons. Number one, stand-ups are supposed to be controversial. They’re the people that poke the buttons of people. Number two, he was never charged with a crime, so where do you draw the line? Would we not have booked Richard Pryor after his accident or when he talked about taking shots at his ex-wife?
I’m going to draw a line, because I don’t want anyone to say, “Bert would book a rapist.” Absolutely not. You don’t invite a predator into your home. But as a business, absolutely I would book Louis C.K. He’s a brilliant comedian. Any comedy-club booker that worries about a comedian hurting their business is in the wrong business. Louis hasn’t been charged with any crime. I haven’t heard of any formal complaints or criminal charges. I separate the art from the artist. As far as people protesting, they have every right to do that. Like every stand-up comedian says, “If you don’t like my material and you’re offended, leave.”
I used to be a fan of C.K., so I understand how he got to be so popular in the first place. I even favorably reviewed his TV show, Louie, here at the Reader. (FX severed its relationship with C.K. in 2017 in the wake of the allegations.) But I don’t see anything he’s done as valuable enough to justify forgiving his behavior. I gave Zanies publicist Rick Geiser a call to see if Haas had anything else to say for himself, or if, after the article ran, he had reconsidered his comments (Haas himself is not granting interviews at this time). Geiser confirmed that Haas would indeed still book C.K. And before I even asked, Geiser volunteered that the club can neither confirm nor deny that C.K. is scheduled for a future show at one of the four Zanies venues, three of which are in the Chicago area. I had not considered that C.K. might be still be booked in Chicago or drop in at any moment here—as he did last August in New York, when he first returned to the scene at the Comedy Cellar. Maybe people have forgotten that two Chicago comics were among the women who told their C.K. stories in the New York Times report that brought him down.
Even if C.K. doesn’t repeat his past behavior of forcing others to watch him masturbate without consent (something he has since admitted to), he will at the very least be given a platform to continue to mock Parkland shooting survivors and nonbinary people the way he did in a set last month at the comedy club Governor’s on Long Island. Free speech is one thing: C.K. can say whatever he wants. And yes, his initial renown was due in part to his offensive behavior onstage. But when bookers use status as an excuse to give stage time to known predators whose punch lines come at the expense of traumatized and marginalized groups, it signifies to lesser-known comedians that such behavior is OK. That standard creates an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for women and queer people and other underrepresented voices in comedy—the people who should be given more opportunities to perform, not fewer. No one seems to think anything C.K. is doing right now is funny.
While there seems to be very little public pushback against Haas’s comments so far, I have seen plenty of praise on Twitter for the response LA comedy producer Mike Mulloy gave in the same Vulture piece: “Louis C.K. can toss my salad and peel my potatoes. He’s not sorry. He’s sorry he got caught. He’s sorry for himself. . . . He should have to sit out twice as long as the women whose careers he’s directly impacted. Any comic who disagrees can kiss my ass.”
It doesn’t seem like a difficult or controversial stance for venue owners to take. Plenty of diverse voices with undeniable talent deserve stage time over people like C.K. And it can’t be hard to find a better person to name a cocktail after.