opinion

Kate Emery: Awarding a Grammy to Louis CK sends the wrong message

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Kate EmeryThe West Australian
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 Illustration of Louis CK.
Camera Icon Illustration of Louis CK. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

There are people who think this page should be blank.

Because you can’t say anything these days that someone, somewhere won’t find offensive.

The risk of cancellation is just one poorly chosen sentence or bad joke away.

The world is full of people waiting to deploy the outrage klaxon at the slightest provocation, at which point you’ll be handed a hairshirt, a whip and encouraged to self-flagellate until the end of time. Apparently.

Honestly, it’s almost getting to the point where the only thing that society deems acceptable is to sexually harass a bunch of women, have them intimidated into keeping their mouths shut at the expense of their careers, admit it in public, then win a giant award for a bunch of jokes partly about how you sexually harassed a bunch of women.

LOUIE: Louis C.K. stars in LOUIE, a new comedy airing on ABC2
Camera IconLouis C.K. Credit: Supplied/FX. CR: Eric Leibowitz

Yes, in news that might shock the ‘You Can’t Make Jokes Anymore’ crowd but perhaps not anyone else, serial sex pest and comedy darling Louis CK this week won a Grammy for best comedy album.

Now, Louis CK has won a lot of awards, as one of the 21st century’s most acclaimed stand-up comedians and former star of his own TV show.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked the US comic fourth in its list of 50 best stand-up comics of all time, beating the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers and the recent recipient of one hell of an Oscar’s slap, Chris Rock.

What made this Grammy noteworthy is that it came five years after multiple women revealed Louis CK had masturbated either in their presence or while on the phone to them.

There’s no “allegedly” in that last sentence, by the way, because Louis CK has since admitted the stories were true.

No victim’s trauma and no victim’s tarnished career really matters, apparently, if the jokes about it are good enough.

Some of the women — who were also comedians — claimed that they were warned off speaking about what had happened, including by Louis CK’s highly influential manager, and feared their careers would suffer if they did so.

Some of them believe their careers did suffer as a result.

Louis CK is a gifted comedian, with an absolute truckload of industry credibility and the awards to prove it. He knows how to write and deliver a gag, to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and, for fans of the woe-is-me middle-aged man schtick, nobody does it better.

That Grammy-award winning album had some pretty good jokes.

But an awards body that chooses to recognise the man who gets off masturbating in front of reluctant women, over a bunch of other people who also made really funny comedy albums, is sending a message.

No victim’s trauma and no victim’s tarnished career really matters, apparently, if the jokes about it are good enough: a man can derail your career, use the horrible thing he did to you to advance his own and be praised for it.

It’s like Will Smith picking up Oscar #2 for a biopic in which he portrays how traumatising his Oscar’s assault on Rock was . . . for Smith. Actually, that could still happen.

There will be people reading this who think that what Louis CK did wasn’t so bad. He didn’t touch the women. He didn’t rape anybody. In many cases he asked if he could do the bad thing, even if the women said later they either thought he was joking, feared his response if they said no or simply didn’t know how to politely refuse the king of the industry in which they were trying to make a name for themselves.

But like any sexual assault, what Louis CK did was less about sex than about power.

He knew he could get away with forcing reluctant women who admired him to watch him engage in a sex act and so he did it. Their discomfit was a feature, not a bug.

At least one of the women abandoned her comedy career because she feared she wouldn’t be taken seriously as a comic. That’s her decision, obviously.

But she’s never going to have the second chance that Louis CK has been afforded or get a slice of his royalties or a Grammy of her own while he rebuilds his career on the bodies of the women who spent years too intimidated to speak up and his ability to make other people think there’s something funny about any of it.

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