Sorry/Not Sorry – Review

Louis CK Sorry Not Sorry“Are the jokes supposed to be the truth, or are the jokes just jokes?”

Cara Mone and Caroline Suh’s documentary, Sorry/Not Sorry opens with a clip of Louis C.K. performing a stand-up routine. In it, he says that the worst thing to ever happen to women in men. He received rapturous applause, whooping and hollering. Next, appears a clip of Jen Kirkman’s stand-up, in which she uses her experience of Louis C.K. flashing her as part of her act.

So, are the jokes just jokes?

The documentary is split into seven parts, with titles such as “Open Secret”, “Comeback”, “These Stories Are True” and “Cancelled”. It mixes talking heads, archival footage, TV shows, film clips and newspaper article headlines to attempt to unpick the allegations surrounding Louis C.K. and his subsequent efforts to revitalise his career.

TV writers, club promoters, comedy critics and comedians are quick to observe that – at the peak of his fame – Louis was seen as a “philosopher”; a “misanthrope who loved people”; good at “opening up your nasty, dark heart” and “brutally honest”. But for many of Louis’ victims, he was simply hiding in plain sight. He was telling us exactly who he was.

What is perhaps the most shocking element of Sorry/Not Sorry – besides the descriptions of Louis’ behaviour – is the amount of people willing to appear on camera and suggest that what he did wasn’t that bad. “Can you love someone who does bad things?” an archival clip of Sarah Silverman asks. “It’s nothing like Cosby, it’s just pathetic,” podcast host Joe Rogan suggests. Late night TV show hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart laugh and bluster their way into a no comment. Fans of his stand up routine are willing to overlook his behaviour because they like the way he delivers a punchline about it.

And this is where Mone and Suh really hit home. For so many people, these victims are just a punchline. Just another of Louis’ jokes wrapped up in more than a hint of truth. More than this, in some people’s eyes, there is a “sliding scale” of sexual assault and what Louis did is on the soft end of it. Writer and comedian Megan Koester sighs, “Most female comedians quit … because it’s just a series of indignities.”

Certainly, the public backlash against Louis’ victims was intense. Despite the fact that the comedian openly admitted that all of the allegations were true, many headlines and news channels and websites would not leave the women alone. There was a “tidal wave of hatred”. No wonder it was a struggle to get more women to go on the record – Louis had the power to be career ending. The documentary asks us, “Why are we blaming women (or worse, retraumatising them through jokes) for the actions of men?”

More provocatively, perhaps, Sorry/Not Sorry asks us if we ever have to accept an apology. Who decides who gets to “come back” when the victims’ pain never goes away?

Megan Koester sorry Not sorryAnd sadly, it doesn’t give us the answer to that, or many of the other questions raised throughout the film. But that’s okay – the #MeToo movement is an ongoing one. Discussions are still happening, even if they’re not on the scale they once were. There are a lot of questions still to be asked. Although, Louis C.K.’s recent award wins and new platforms would suggest that we have progressed at a rate of precisely zero (which is perhaps the biggest joke of all).

Cara Mone and Caroline Suh’s documentary feels designed to make you angry. How dare Louis C.K. make jokes about losing millions of dollars due to being out of work when he has snatched careers away. How dare club promoters continue to line their pockets with these acts. How dare audiences treat sexual assault like one big punchline. This isn’t about trying to get somebody cancelled or to encourage censorship in comedy. It’s about understanding how power and pressure and the “it’s not that bad” attitude continue to enable these behaviours.

“Making fun of the victims is still good for business,” one talking head observes. And that is not supposed to be a joke, that is just the truth.

Sorry/Not Sorry is currently screening at the Glasgow Film Festival. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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