Entertainment

Unapologetic Louis C.K. hits the stage in Toronto for first of 5 sold-out nights

No cellphones, no recording devices, no apologies. Comedian Louis C.K. took the stage at Toronto's Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club on Wednesday for the first of five sold-out nights, with strict restrictions on audience recordings, but few limitations on his repertoire of jokes.

Comedian addressed 2017 sexual misconduct as he took the stage

Louis C.K. performs onstage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on Feb. 28, 2015, in New York City. He appeared on stage Wednesday night in Toronto, nearly two years after his sexual misconduct scandal emerged. (Mike Coppola/Getty)

No cellphones, no recording devices, no apologies. Comedian Louis C.K. took the stage at Toronto's Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club on Wednesday for the first of five sold-out nights, with strict restrictions on audience recordings, but few limitations on his repertoire of jokes.

The 52-year-old comedian walked onto the stage in his signature black T-shirt and jeans to uproarious applause from the audience of about 250, and immediately tackled the subject of how his life has changed since a sexual misconduct scandal rocked his career. 

In November 2017, five women accused the American comedian and actor of sexual misconduct. He quickly released a statement acknowledging the allegations were true. His actions resulted in cancelled TV and streaming deals as well as his new film, I Love You, Daddy, being shelved. 

Reflecting on the two years since the scandal broke, he told the mostly male audience Wednesday they were lucky the whole world did not know their secret "thing" the way everyone now knows his. "My thing is: I like to masturbate, and I don't like to be alone."

Self-deprecating humour was partially what made C.K. a star — and that was apparent in his Toronto performance. But did the comedian offer a show of contrition to his accusers? Not exactly.

That didn't appear to matter to audience members, who responded enthusiastically throughout the set.

"I was a little curious to see if he was going to address the allegations and all that stuff, and he did," fan Matthew Bunt said as he left the show. "I think he did in a very funny and entertaining way,"

Alicia Xavier agreed: "I loved it, he was relevant, dry and funny, everything I expected and everything I loved about him."

Too soon for a comeback?

Louis C.K. made his return to standup comedy in August 2018 with an unannounced appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York. The show was a hit, prompting a 15-minute standing ovation. Since then, he has performed a string of standup gigs at mid-sized venues around the U.S., shows announced without much lead time or publicity, in places like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cleveland.

He's also set to perform six, already sold-out shows at Winnipeg's Rumors Restaurant and Comedy Club next week. 

Cellphones and recording devices have been forbidden at the comedian's recent shows (a common practice now for comedians fearing their material would be plagiarized or illegally broadcast). Even note-taking was deemed grounds for ejection from the audience.

But word of the comedian's comeback — and the content of the shows — still got out, prompting some to express their displeasure.

Toronto comedian and actor Marilla Wex (who has appeared in shows like CBC's Working Moms) summarized her initial reactions to announcements of C.K.'s shows as "outrage and disgust."

Toronto comedian and actor Marilla Wex says her initial reactions to announcements of C.K.'s shows were 'outrage and disgust.' (Marilla Wex)

"The worst part about this is that it's incredibly retraumatizing for anybody who's suffered sexual abuse, especially the women in entertainment," Wex said ahead of Wednesday night's show. "Because we're seeing somebody who has admitted what he did, has not really apologized, and is now touring comedy clubs. Great. So what message does it send? It doesn't matter, doesn't matter what he did."

Other people took umbrage to the content of C.K.'s comeback shows. Specifically, leaked audio from C.K.'s performance in Levittown, N.Y., in Dec. 2018, seemed to suggest he was making fun of the teen survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Some of the parents of the students who died in that shooting were outraged.

Canadian-specific content

The comedian appears to have heeded at least some of that criticism, as the Parkland shooting jokes were notably absent from his first Toronto show, a move that got thumbs-up from Marc Winegust, who attended the performance.

"Specifically people were hard on the Parkland shooting [bit], he's taken that one out and I think that actually does help settle it a little bit."

Fans wait in front of Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club in Toronto ahead of C.K.'s show on Wednesday. (John Grierson/CBC)

But there was plenty of other material that could raise a few eyebrows. Early on in the show, he expounded on his status as a public pariah, joking the audience had not seen the worst of him yet as his extensive number of "blackface photos" had not yet been published (a joke clearly intended for his Canadian audiences only, given the recent controversy with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau).

Still, to those who came to see Louis C.K. for his shocking breed of humour, the show didn't disappoint. Departing the stage, he got a standing ovation.