The bad men of 2017 have somehow gotten worse

By Joe Berkowitz

What happens after you’ve been canceled?

In some cases, it must be a twisted relief. There has to be some kind of liberation in having the whole world know your dark secret. Once the thing you most dreaded coming to light has surfaced, the weight of all that dread instantly melts away, replaced by new, unfamiliar forms of dread. Although the reputation and career you painstakingly built has come crashing down around you, perhaps there will be a way, in time, to build it up again even better this time, unencumbered by having something to hide.

This is not how Kevin Spacey and Louis CK have handled their respective cancellations.

As the year comes to a close, both men have proven in different ways that they have not learned anything from having their terrible secrets exposed. They have taken the freedom that comes with having nothing left to lose, and instead of building something new, they’ve turned the wreckage of their careers into a shrine to their own supposed victimhood.

“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” Louis CK wrote in a semi-apologetic statement after the 2017 New York Times exposé. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.” As we’ve observed since around August, the disgraced comedian ended up taking less than a year to listen to people explain why masturbating in front of women coworkers without their consent counts as an abuse of power, before returning to the stage to say anything he wants. After a Sunday night leak of a recent, full Louis CK set, we now have our clearest picture yet of what it is the comic now wants to say.

In addition to the expected material about what it’s like to lose $35M in a single day–with nary a whisper of how he brought upon this financial apocalypse himself–Louis CK aired some brand-new grievances. Apparently, the comic once famous for his trenchant observations about society and the struggles of being a parent has resorted to status quo old-man tirades that could be easily mistaken for alt-right anguish.

The leak of his entire set has since been removed from YouTube, but the Twitter user who most prominently spread awareness of it on Sunday night, Mike Pearl, helpfully transcribed one of the more offending bits.

What could be less edgy in extremely late-2018 than railing against kids’ gender identity? What’s next–a Caitlin Jenner chunk? This material scans as a grievance he may have once thought better of airing, but feels free to blast out now that he’s no longer constrained by the strictures of What People Will Think.

Later on in the set, he chooses an even more misguided target: the Parkland shooting survivors.

“They testify in front of Congress, these kids? What are they doing? You’re young, you should be crazy, you should be unhinged, not in a suit,” Louis CK vents. “You’re not interesting. Because you went to a high school where kids got shot? Why does that mean I have to listen to you? . . . . You didn’t get shot, you pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I’ve gotta listen to you talking?”

Fellow embattled comedian Aziz Ansari recently returned to the stage with jokes about progressive activists, but he didn’t go nearly this far. One of the worst parts about Louis CK’s new material leaking, though, is that his takeaway from the corresponding outrage will be that people are now too sensitive to take a joke, not that these jokes simply suck.

Let’s leave CK aside for a moment (maybe more than a moment–what about forever?) and move on to Kevin Spacey. As you’ll recall, Spacey has been accused of more horrific sexual abuse than his masturbating counterpart. The former House of Cards star allegedly once came on to his Broadway co-star Anthony Rapp when Rapp was just 14. Later, 20 more men alleged that Spacey had sexually harassed them in one form or another, and the cast and crew of House of Cards reported that the star’s flirtations, and worse, made for a toxic work environment. Spacey responded by disappearing entirely for a year, and his recent return to public view suggests that he should have stayed away.

First, there was the cryptic Christmas Eve video. Conveniently arriving the day the star was hit with charges for his most serious allegation yet–the felony sexual assault of a teenager in July 2016–the video found the actor semi-in character as House of Cards’ Frank Underwood, addressing his own predicament.

Here’s a key section of the bizarre video:

You wouldn’t believe the worst without evidence, would you? You wouldn’t rush to judgment without facts, would you? Did you? All this presumption made for such an unsatisfying ending, and to think it could have been such a memorable send-off. I can promise you this: If I didn’t pay the price for the things we both know I did, I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the things I didn’t do.

Okay! As if this impossible-to-swallow deflection weren’t bad enough, over the weekend the actor emerged to hand-deliver pizza to paparazzi waiting to photograph him pre-arraignment. He did so while wearing a hat that read “Retired Since 2017.”

For real.

As a joke, the hat is as unfunny as any of the above Louis CK material. Spacey didn’t “retire” in 2017; he was outed as a sexual predator with pedophilic tendencies. With his freedom hanging in jeopardy, Spacey is now projecting the unbothered smirk of someone who has either done nothing wrong or thinks he can buy his way out of trouble. (We suspect it’s the latter.)

What is clear in both cases is that these men see their current predicaments as something that happened to them, rather than something they inflicted on other people, for which they are now being held to account. It’s amazing to see Louis CK, who has survived only a traumatic experience of his own making, paint the Parkland survivors as mere spotlight-seekers. The old Louis CK  probably would have something to say about hypocrisy on that scale.

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