What do you do when a person you love does bad things?
Sarah Silverman loves America, but she doesn’t understand what led to the outcome of the 2016 election. She made the TV show “I Love You, America” to try to get to the bottom of it, and laugh along the way.
And Sarah Silverman loves comedian Louis CK, but she doesn’t understand why he performed non-consensual sexual acts in front of women. This week on “I Love, America”, she tries to get to the bottom of it. But there aren’t many laughs along the way.
In the opening monologue for an episode of Silverman’s show released Thursday, the comedian spoke honestly and tearfully about her decades-long relationship with CK and the weight of his actions. Dressed like a part-time “Harry Potter” cosplayer, Silverman frankly acknowledged the painful reality. “I wish I could sit this one out,” she said. “I’m going to address the elephant masturbating in the room”.
One of my best friends for over 25 years, Louis CK, masturbated in front of women. He wielded his power with women in f—ked up ways, sometimes to the point where they left comedy entirely. I could couch this with heartwarming stories of our friendship and what a great dad he is, but… that’s totally irrelevant, isn’t it? Yes, it is. It’s a real mindf**k. I love Louis. But Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself—can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?
Silverman’s question feels honest, anguished, and Jewish. Can Louis CK do teshuva?
I hope very much that Louis CK can do teshuva — to his victims, his daughters, and his fans. But not to comedy. But it will be no true repentance if he uses false self-awareness through comedy to return to greatness. Louis CK is done with comedy. To answer Silverman’s question, I turn to the Talmudic commentator of the New York Times, columnist Lindy West (West is not Jewish, but she has Rashi-like reasoning) for an answer. West wrote on Tuesday that part of CK’s crime lies in the way he used women in the name of comedy throughout his career, while acting like he was just stating truths. “One of comedy’s defining pathologies,” West writes, “alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form”.
Like Sarah Silverman, each of us is going through a private reckoning with daily revelations about our beloved heroes. But we can take heart in Louis CK’s wisdom — breakups aren’t always a bad thing.
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny