Anyone wondering how Louis C.K. would address his controversial return to stand-up in Minneapolis didn’t have to wait long.
“I used to play arenas,” he said at the very top of his late-night set Tuesday, the first of four straight nights at the intimate Acme Comedy Co, which holds fewer than 300 people. “Lucky for you, I had a bad year.”
C.K., looking trimmer and better groomed than before his forced hiatus, went on to tick off some of the lessons he learned since confirming in late 2017 that he committed sexual misconduct, specifically that he pressured female colleagues into watching him masturbate.
“I learned to eat alone in a restaurant while someone is giving you the finger across the room,” he said, seeming completely at ease in a club he has long called one of his favorites. “The only advice I can give you is ask first if you can jerk off in front of someone. If they say yes, say, ‘Are you sure?’ And if they still say yes, then still, just don’t do it.”
There were other acknowledgments to his Year of Living Disgracefully in the one-hour set. He mentioned that he spent time in France because he realized he needed to leave the country. He talked about how annoying it is when his doting mother still mails him newspaper clippings, even the New York Times article that triggered his downfall.
But those nods aside, it was as if C.K. had never been on a break.
He was confident, if not downright delighted, when practicing his signature brand of humor: defending the indefensible and ripping the revered.
There was nothing Tuesday as squeamish as material he tested earlier this year, in which he mocked survivors of the Parkland shooting. But he came close.
At one point, he wondered aloud if it would be so bad if we simply let victims of car accidents languish by the side of the road and suggested that dead monkeys would make great gifts to send to enemies. The World Trade Center tragedy ended up in a punchline. There was more than one incest joke.
These bits easily could have been lifted from his old acts, back when he was praised for his twisted, topsy-turvy train of thought. But in light of what’s taken place in the past 18 months, it’s understandable that some of his onetime admirers would now find the tone just plain icky.
An apology probably wouldn’t have satisfied his detractors on social media or the handful of protesters who set up in front of Acme for more than an hour Tuesday. They didn’t get one.
C.K. never fully embraced the role of victim — but he also never portrayed himself as a former harasser, reformed or otherwise.
Near the end of his set, C.K. wondered if anyone was nostalgic for the days when being homosexual was considered taboo.
“When sex is a little wrong, it’s more fun — for some of us,” he said with the gleam that comes to his eye whenever he’s taking listeners farther down the rabbit hole than they expected.
It’s the kind of joke that will only make the haters double down — and have his supporters wishing he was sticking around the Twin Cities for another week.