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05 Oct, Wednesday
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The Margin: Does Louis C.K. deserve a second chance? The controversial comedian is on the comeback trail with a newly released special

Louis C.K. is testing the limits of cancel culture. But the question remains as to whether his career will ever truly get back on track.

The veteran comedian, who acknowledged his sexual misconduct after a 2017 New York Times story chronicled situations involving numerous women, is continuing to mount a comeback. Most notably, he’s released a new comedy special, with the taunting title “Sorry,” that’s available to stream for $10 through his website. He announced the special with an advertisement this past weekend on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” a show he has hosted on multiple occasions.

Louis C.K. has also toured regularly since 2018, following a self-imposed career hiatus (or “step back,” as he called it in 2017). He also just earned a Grammy nomination for best comedy album for “Sincerely Louis C.K.,” a recording based on another special.

The comedian’s recent efforts come at a time when other “canceled” artists, from fellow comedian Dave Chappelle to country singer Morgan Wallen, continue to remain active. In the case of Chappelle, who’s faced backlash because of his commentary about the transgender community, he’s made his canceled status almost something of a cause célèbre, devoting a portion of his recent Netflix NFLX, +1.19% special, “The Closer,” to discussing his views.

Some Louis C.K. fans say they welcome the comedian’s latest special. And a few also draw analogies between Louis C.K. and Chappelle, going say far as to say “cancel culture is a myth.”

Consider these comments on Twitter:

But Louis C.K.’s case is an entirely separate matter from the Chappelle one, argues Rob Rosen, who co-hosts a podcast, “Cancelled with Rob Rosen and Desma Simon,” about cancel culture. And the comedian’s pathway to reclaiming his former glory — at his height, Louis C.K. had an Emmy Award-winning series, “Louie,” on the FX channel — remains uncertain, Rosen adds.

The podcast host notes that Chappelle follows in the line of comedians who have courted controversy for their material and how it challenges certain views. That is, Chappelle didn’t face any personal accusations of sexual harassment, as did Louis C.K.

“There’s a big difference,” said Rosen.

Moreover, Rosen says the fact that Louis C.K. has returned to touring and making specials doesn’t mean he’s returned to the mainstream. Rosen points to the fact that the comedian is releasing his latest special on his own online channel rather than through a major network or streaming platform.

“He’s still canceled from mainstream culture,” he said.

And many would prefer to see him remain canceled. “I NEVER want to hear from this creep again,” said one observer on Twitter.

Still, some pop-culture and media experts say Louis C.K. could mount a full comeback.

“You can rebound,” said Gabrielle Gambrell, a veteran communications and branding strategist.

Gambrell points to a few factors in the comedian’s favor. For starters, she said the fact he “took accountability” for his actions can make a difference in the public’s eyes. In his 2017 statement, Louis C.K. said of the women accusing him of misconduct: “The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them.” (Louis C.K. didn’t respond to a request for immediate comment from MarketWatch.)

But Gambrell says another reason Louis C.K. may regain his celebrity footing is that his comedic reputation has always been rooted in a certain shock value, particular when it comes to anything sexual. (Louis C.K. has even done comedic bits on child molestation.) In other words, his misconduct, regardless of how one feels about it, almost fits within his “brand,” Gambrell said, so some of his fans may be more likely to forgive him and embrace him anew.

Ultimately, Gambrell said the entertainment industry is often willing to look past an artist’s personal issues if the artist can demonstrate their continued popularity. In short, a lot is riding on how many people will watch Louis C.K.’s latest special, she said: “If this (show) becomes the talk of the town, that will help him make it to the other side.”

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