Louis CK’s sold out Philly show and the challenge for sexual violence survivors

The comedian has turned his admitted harassment into a standup joke.

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Louis C.K. is performing at the Met Philly on Friday, returning to the city for the first time since he admitted to allegations of sexual harassment in 2017. The past misconduct apparently hasn’t hindered the comedian’s local fanbase: his first show sold out, so the Met added a second set.

That popularity notwithstanding, sexual violence experts say events like this can be challenging to witness for survivors — even at a distance.

“It will have an effect,” said Monique Howard, executive director of Philly crisis response center WOAR. “For individuals that have had a sexually violent experience in their lifetime, that media attention can trigger someone’s anxiety and PTSD symptoms.”

Philly native Sara Sheridan doesn’t expect Louis CK’s impending performance to be too disruptive for her as a sexual violence survivor — mostly because it dovetails with the already existing culture.

“The fact of the matter is, there’s an accused rapist in the White House,” Sheridan said. “It’s a long process to feel safe and recognized and believed in a culture that has historically not believed survivors.”

In general, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are higher among survivors of sexual violence. And following current events can be a major source of pain. It can be difficult to avoid stories about sexual assault — or about people who’ve been linked to it. The issue even became part of the conversation following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

In the particular case of this comedian, Sheridan thinks there’s room for redemption. Louis C.K. is one of the few accused celebrities who actually admitted to his wrongdoing.

If he carries that energy into his performance, owning up to his sexual misconduct on stage, Sheridan said she’ll have more respect for him. “Just acknowledging it would help,” she said. “It’s the opposite of gaslighting. Just tell the truth, and don’t cut the awkwardness by trying to make it a joke.”

At his show in Phoenix last week, that’s…not quite how it went down. We can’t know for sure which jokes Louis C.K. made there — since he has threatened to sue anyone who quotes him and the venue reportedly confiscated the phones of attendees.

It seems the standup comedian did indeed joke about his harassment history at the Arizona tour stop, and also “the Holocaust, pedophilia, necrophilia and terrorist acts,” per USA Today.

Will Philly attendees have their phones confiscated? Unclear, since the Met Philly did not respond to Billy Penn’s repeated requests for comment.

If Louis C.K. wants to do right by survivors, Howard recommends he reach out to WOAR and work with them to become a vocal advocate against sexual violence — supporting survivors and the agencies that help them, like the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center or Lutheran Settlement House.

“It feels like society wants more than an apology,” Howard said. “For me, it’s advocacy and activism around reducing the rape culture, thus playing a role in reducing or eliminating sexual violence.”

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