Following Louis C.K.’s sudden return to the stand-up scene, Hollywood comedy writers are weighing in on whether the comedian deserves a second chance after admitting to sexual misconduct.
Travon Free, who is Emmy-nominated this year as a writer on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” opened up about his thoughts on C.K. performing a surprise stand-up set at the end of August after he was accused by five women of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior in November.
At the Variety-sponsored Sublime Primetime panel on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, which featured a conversation between eight Emmy-nominated comedy and drama writers, Free said, “Personally, I don’t think he’s done enough to atone for his sins and I think it’s really soon for him to attempt to come back to clubs where women still work and people still have not come to grips with what he’s done. I do think he has every right to try to have a career, and if people allow him that space, I think it’s on them to deal with the repercussions of that.”
The writer continued by saying the power of stand-up comedy is with the audience and with comedy club owners who book C.K. for gigs, adding, “If you feel he’s done enough and you want to pay money to see him perform, that’s between you and your pocketbook. But I do know a lot of people in the industry are not here for it.”
“Bob’s Burgers” writer Wendy Molyneux chimed in, noting that C.K. has had “like 45 chances right? You don’t get to where he was without like 70 chances. So this is like chance 72, maybe 73. I don’t know, that’s a lot of chances, isn’t it guys? I’m no mathematician. We can probably stop talking about him now, he’s had his moment in the sun.”
On the red carpet ahead of the panel, Free also gave his thoughts on CBS’ ouster of chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves after a second expose in the New Yorker featured more sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him, and the network’s decision not to release its findings on Moonves after its investigation.
“I’m very happy that we’re getting rid of these people. I’m glad that we’re cleaning up the business and trying to clean up the spaces where women and people of color work and have to deal with things that we’ve dealt with for decades and people are finally starting to take it seriously,” Free told Variety. “I feel like if CBS wants to atone for what’s happened, they should be entirely transparent and say ‘Hey, we f—ed up and this is how we fix it going forward’ because everything else feels like clean-up and just makes people distrust you even more.”
Inside the Sublime Primetime panel, “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy moderated a discussion among writers, including Bruce Miller of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Brett Morgen of “Jane,” Stefani Robinson of “Atlanta,” Liz Sarnoff of “Barry,” Tom Rob Smith of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux of “Bob’s Burgers,” and Free. Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein teased that the evening would “not have a shortage of hot topics to get into,” which included discussion of the Trump administration, the #MeToo movement, and finding a work/family balance.
Much of the panel, though, centered on the importance of having diverse writers’ rooms of women and people of color.
Before Joy was showrunning herself, she remembered how she was frequently the only woman in the writers’ room, and said, “What I always found I desperately needed when I was the sole voice of any type in a room was I needed a seconder. I just need any of you white dudes to raise your hand and repeat what I just said so that someone else hears it.”
Along the same lines, Sarnoff said she spent the first 10 years of her career as the only female writer, but after serving as showrunner on multiple shows has always strived for an equal gender breakdown that includes diversity.
“It’s utterly ridiculous that shows are being written by men that are the stories of women and people of color,” Sarnoff said. Referencing the Creative Arts Emmys, where black actors swept the four guest actor categories for the first time, she added, “That happened because people of color were the ones writing them, not because they’re better than people 20 years ago, but they’re finally getting roles that are real that they can play.”
Miller said that his strategy in hiring writers for “The Handmaid’s Tale” is “you don’t want to have anybody alone in a room… you don’t want anybody to feel like they’re ‘Blackapedia’ or whatever for the show that you have,” emphasizing the importance of diverse writers who will openly share their experiences and educate others in the room.
Free added that on his new show “Black Monday,” the staff of eight writers is comprised of four women and four black people, which is “so comfortable because it feels so safe because you don’t feel alone. If I say something specifically black, there’s three other people in the room who can go, ‘Yeah, that’s a real thing’ or they go, ‘That’s not my experience’ and you go, ‘Oh, maybe my experience was more isolated than yours might have been.’ You create a conversation that also lends itself to the characters.”
Sublime Primetime, held at the Writers Guild Theatre, was also sponsored by Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation.