Sorry/Not Sorry Is a Great Documentary That I Wish Didn’t Exist

Comedy Features Louis CK
Sorry/Not Sorry Is a Great Documentary That I Wish Didn’t Exist

I wish I didn’t have to write this article. I wish this documentary didn’t have to exist. But it’s 2024, and shitty men are still getting away with their shitty behavior, so Sorry/Not Sorry is unfortunately still necessary. 

Sorry/Not Sorry is directed by Caroline Suh and Cara Mones  and produced by The New York Times, the outlet that broke the official story about Louis C.K. masturbating in front of other comics and generally sexually harassing women (though for years his behavior was mentioned in blind items in Gawker and on other sites). In 90 minutes of talking heads and archived footage, Suh and Mones take us through C.K.’s years of being regarded as a prestige artist, his incidents of sexual misconduct, the way his behavior was treated as an open secret in the industry at the expense of the women he victimized, his eventual admission of wrongdoing (n.b.: NOT an apology), and his comeback, in which any of his contriteness fell by the wayside. Hell, he won a Grammy framing his misconduct as a kink. There is not much new information in the very tightly, well-constructed documentary, but the various subjects—none of them C.K. himself—are the most compelling part of Sorry/Not Sorry.

First let’s talk about Abby Schachner. She’s an artist and comedian who gives off lovably kooky vibes. The documentary crew follow her around her cluttered home, which is brimming with bright colors and cartoonish paintings. She’s clearly got an artistic eye. On her website, you can find the dolls she makes out of tampons—unicorns, a woman from The Handmaid’s Tale—or her large, plushy cigarettes. Schachner writes children’s books like The Spot, which helps kids find their own mental happy place. She’s also the woman who C.K. was on the phone with while he masturbated, a moment that left her feeling “vulnerable” and “duped.” 

One of Sorry/Not Sorry’s seven parts is devoted to Schachner, documenting her early comedy career (she always considered herself more of a writer and a creator than a performer). Following the phone call and her father’s death, she retreated from the world of stand-up, but in 2018, after Dave Chappelle said she had a “brittle ass spirit,” she started doing comedy again.

Comedian Jen Kirkman, like Schachner, has a part of the doc dedicated to her. She’s a talented stand-up, and her record OK, Gen-X topped our list of the best comedy albums of 2022. In 2015, Kirkman spoke on her podcast about C.K. asking if he could masturbate in front of her, though she didn’t reveal his name. Since then, people were hounding her to confirm if it was C.K. Her regret about how she handled the inundation of questions after the podcast (at one point she said it wasn’t C.K. just so people would leave her alone) is a gut-wrenching reminder that there is no rule book for someone in her position, and that trying to find justice in our fucked-up system often means sacrificing your own personal peace. 

When The New York Times approached Kirkman in 2017 about the article outing C.K.’s misconduct, she went on the record about him. Women know we’re less likely to be believed by the public, so having an institution like the NYT behind you legitimizing your words is important. C.K., on the other hand, didn’t respond to the NYT’s request for comment back in 2017, or when this documentary was being made. He knows that men are usually trusted, their word is not questioned. He can say what he likes, whether in a statement or on Joe Rogan’s podcast or in his reactionary new specials, and a good number of people will get on board. Enough people that he can sell out Madison Square Garden because, as we’ve said before, cancel culture is not real. It is a marketing tool for shitheads like him. Near the end of Sorry/Not Sorry, Kirkman says, “I’d literally be happy if I never thought about [Louis C.K. harassing me] again.”

Next let’s move on to Megan Koester, a journalist and comedian who relentlessly pursued the truth regarding C.K., to the extent that the Just For Laughs COO Bruce Hills forced her off the red carpet. She’s written for Vice, The Guardian, our sister website Jezebel, Thrillist, and more. Her sharp, dry wit is one of the high points in Sorry/Not Sorry, which makes her moments of vulnerability—especially when she recalls crying after the screening of C.K.’s film I Love You, Daddy—all the more striking. These days she mostly makes money selling stuff on eBay because, as her husband Anthony Oberbeck half-jokes, “Meg has so much integrity she hasn’t worked in a year.” Anyone who watches that scene and thinks of Koester as a purist misses the whole point. Isn’t it sickening that the entertainment is so full of horrible people and others willing to support them that Koester doesn’t feel she can work in it anymore? Comedy—and so many other industries—is a shiny red apple that, once you bite into it, is riddled with worms and rotten to the core.

Let’s talk about those willing supporters. Sorry/Not Sorry does an excellent job of highlighting how the gatekeepers of the industry enable men like C.K. Michael Schur, the co-creator of Parks and Recreation, recounts hearing the rumors about C.K. and hiring him on the show anyways as Leslie Knope’s cop boyfriend because he didn’t see it as his problem. Schur acknowledges now that he should have cared, and that’s what you hope Sorry/NotSorry impresses upon people, especially those in positions of power: the presence of sex pests is their problem, and they have a responsibility to keep the people around them safe. 

Noam Dworman, the owner of the Comedy Cellar, is a different story. The legendary New York venue was one of the first places where C.K. performed after his brief nine month hiatus (apparently that’s the precise amount of time it takes to “step back and take a long time to listen”). In a 2018 interview on The Daily, Dworman frames C.K.’s desire to come back to the Cellar’s stage in terms of the comedian’s ability to work—as if C.K. was hurting for money. Later on, in his Sorry/Not Sorry talking head, he again uses economic language, describing the Cellar as a “private business” employing a “free person” in a “free country.” He’s deferring any responsibility for the safety of the other people who work at his club, chalking it all up to his own rights as business operating in a free market. Because, you know, living by purely capitalistic ideals never caused any harm. 

Partway through the documentary, I wanted to look up Schachner’s artwork, but I was having trouble remembering her last name other than that it started with an “S”. Annoyed with myself, I looked up “abby louis ck” on my phone and got the answer right away. And that’s one of the toughest takeaways from the documentary: Schachner and the other women will always be linked to C.K. because of what he did to them. At one point she says wearily, “This is gonna be in my fucking obituary.” It’s an infuriating, heartbreaking reality. These women did not ask for this; anyone who thinks that a person who speaks out wants this shadow following them around their entire life clearly doesn’t understand the situation. And here I am, repeating the cycle, because nothing has changed. To anyone who thinks that victims of sexual misconduct/harassment and people in solidarity with them like to keep talking about this: get fucked! I would so much rather talk about anything else! But I also want to ensure this doesn’t happen again, so… here we go.

Sorry/Not Sorry is available now via Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, and more.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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