Aziz Anari

Louis CK controversially returned to stand-up after admitting to allegations of sexual misconduct. His most high-profile appearance so far was a surprise 15-minute set at NYC's Comedy Cellar (where the beginning sequence of his show Louie takes place) on Sunday (8/26), and in the wake of the controversy spurred by the Comedy Cellar set, Hollywood Reporter spoke to Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman. On how Louis' set was received, Noam said:

Warmly. There was one man who was there who complained in an email the next day and then he and I spoke about it at length. But we had four or five positive emails from customers and if you hear the audio, you hear a real ovation for him.

Having said that, what he didn't do is that he didn't go on and address the issue — he just went on and did a regular set. And I think that was a missed opportunity for him.

[...] Everyone seemed kind of buzzed about it. I think that people recognized it was a kind of historic event. And I think that whatever their feelings were about Louis or what he did, there was still a feeling like, "Well, we were here when he came back." Except, as I said, this one customer who felt really upset by it and said he felt ambushed. And the ambush is a real issue, I think he makes a strong case about that ambush, and I need to think about how to handle that in the future. But everyone else — and I got positive emails, I've been talking to staffers all day about this.

I hate to say this, but there is a difference in what people will say, the nuance of a situation in private and what they feel they're allowed to say in a black-and-white way in public. We're living in the dark ages of people having things they believe that they know they can't say out loud and feeling that you have to come to a conversation with already the correct point of view. You're not allowed to discuss it, be wrong, be informed by someone else's opinion. Conversation is meaningless: Conversation in this day and age is just for two people to agree to talk about what they agree about.

On if he's heard from female comics about giving Louis a platform:

I've spoken to many, many, many female comics, many of whom take this issue very seriously. I don't remember anybody feeling that he shouldn't be able to perform anymore. Although some have said that they don't want to sit at the table with him, things like that. But there seems to be a general feeling that "I don't want to deal with him, I don't want to deal with him, but I understand the man has the right to do his art." There is that general feeling, even from females. Having said that, that doesn't extend to the female comics that were involved in these things with him, and I know that they feel quite differently about them, I'm just responding to what I'm seeing, I have not spoken to them.

On how he feels about giving Louis a platform to establish a comeback:

Listen, we are really a free-expression outfit, so let me digress and say that I've heard and seen comedians who work for me engage in real vile anti-Semitism, and I've never thought I would book them less or even said "boo" to them. I always felt this is their business. I don't have to like them, and people should not take me allowing them to perform as my approval of their character or the things they've done in their lives.

Just to clarify, you're Jewish?

I'm Jewish, yeah. And I have other comedians work here who I've heard accusations of worse things than Louis, worse than sexual harassment. If everybody we know that has done something they're really ashamed of, like that last scene in [Avengers:] Infinity War, we'd see people disappearing all around us. At Thanksgiving dinner you'd see people being vaporized. There's this "he who has not sinned" cliché, which I think there is a lot of wisdom to. Having said that, it would be a hell of a lot easier if he had come up and said something a little contrite.

Noam was also asked about allowing Aziz Ansari to perform earlier this year, after Aziz was also accused of sexual misconduct:

You also welcomed Aziz Ansari back earlier this year after his own story came out. Are you open to being the first stop for embroiled comedians in their road to redemption?

No, I don't prefer to be the first stop; I wish I would be the last stop. This is nothing but a downside for me. I'm not proud of it, but I do respect principle. As I said before, if I could come up with answers to the questions I said before about Mike Tyson and Bill Clinton, if I could have a unified theory of how I'm supposed to fire people who I don't like, then I would absolutely stand up to all this. But the Aziz thing is a great example, because who the hell knows what went on there? So this is the risk: If I ban Louis, now the next thing is Aziz comes up, and I'm supposed to ban Aziz, even though I'm not sure. And before you know it, it becomes the automatic responsibility that all of a sudden it's not the court system, it's not the criminal justice system, it's not even a procedural HR system, it's that the guy who owns the comedy club is supposed to decide what happened, who's guilty, what the punishment is and make sure the world never sees this guy again. It sounds so good — it's like when Charles Bronson gets the murderer in Death Wish, it feels good to see the murderer get it — but there are consequences to that kind of thing. In the end, a lot of people are going to be treated unfairly when the boss starts taking such poorly investigated decisions. Give me the right to compel testimony and perjury and cross-examination, give me all those rights, and I will be pretty fair in making all those decisions. But without those rights, I don't want to be judge or jury — I don't really know anything.

Regarding Aziz, Noam also added:

To be honest, nobody cares. I didn't get one complaint about it. Again, this is my reading on what the general consensus is: People felt that he didn't do anything that warranted banishment. He wasn't even accused of an assault. For whatever reason, people didn't take it that badly.

Aziz has continued to perform in other cities since making his surprise appearances at the Comedy Cellar, and he has at least one upcoming, non-surprise show.

Noam also spoke about not being entirely sure what is the correct way to go about booking or not booking disgraced comedians:

In the end, is it in some way a call for me to be the censor? We know the government can't censor, so let's get the comedy club owner to censor? I'm worried about that. And I'm not 100 percent sure of anything I've done or anything I'm saying. I think this is very, very hard. Everyday, a new nuance and a new way to look at the argument occurs to me. But I do question anyone who takes 10 seconds and thinks they know the answer as if it's very clear. It's not very clear.

[...] We can all have thoughts that we have privately, and some may be very insightful and some may be very dumb and wrong. But you don't know unless you can talk to somebody about them. As a man or woman who has not had the life experience, you may not understand everything about sexual harassment. So you may come out with an opinion on it that's ignorant in a way. But you can't have a conversation about it, you can't even have someone explain it to you. They'll immediately brand you as the enemy. This is a dark period for discourse in this country, and this is a symptom of it.

Noam also denied the rumor that Louis paid to perform at the Comedy Cellar on Sunday night, and he pointed out that Louis had performed at Long Island comedy club Governor's before coming to Comedy Cellar. "It was a very, very light crowd and he apparently wasn't happy with it and he decided on a spur of the moment to come to the Comedy Cellar." (The article also points out that Louis made an appearance at the Olive Tree Cafe restaurant above the Comedy Cellar in February.) You can read much more here.

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