Last week Tig Notaro made an auspicious prediction. Asked what she makes of talk about how or if disgraced men like Louis C.K. might come out of exile, she told the New York Times, “You know what? If any of these people come back, I would say, ‘I can’t wait to see who is actually going to support them.’ That is going to be the glaring horror. Who is going to be, like, ‘This is a pressing issue, and we need to get them back?’” This week we received a small taste of that horror, or rather several small tastes. They did not bode well.
First: On Monday, Vulture published a lengthy interview with Bill Burr. Among other bizarre comments, Burr predicted that Louis C.K., who he said was “punished pretty extremely,” will come back sooner or later, because now that he has been punished he should be “allowed to move on.” Burr did not clarify how exactly C.K. has been punished for masturbating in front of a number of female comics, though presumably he is referring to the aborted release of I Love You, Daddy and the severing of various network relationships: “They took everything he had,” Burr said. “Do people want him to become homeless?”
Second: Also on Monday, Paste published my colleague Brock Wilbur’s interview with David Cross, who reiterated his support for alleged sexual harasser Jeffrey Tambor. “I support him but I do not condone the behavior,” Cross said. “I don’t think he’s a monster. I know the guy and love him.” Cross went on to bemoan what he described as “one of the problems” he has with the Me Too movement, which boils down to his perception, like Burr’s, of punishments not fitting crimes: “I’m not talking about egregious situations about raping someone, I’m talking about something like the Aziz thing,” he said. “I felt so bad for Aziz. What he did was boorish behavior. And he was getting mixed signals. But publicly he felt the need to hide. That’s shitty. He didn’t do anything to merit that response.” Cross would come under the spotlight for similar comments later in the week.
Third: On Tuesday, GQ published an interview with Sarah Silverman, who also spoke in support of her friend Louis C.K. “I think that there are people who were caught and there were people who were not caught, but the important thing is that they are forever changed,” she said. “And if that’s the case, I don’t see any reason why they can’t continue being artists.” She drew a distinction between men like C.K., who admit their abuses, and men who don’t, complaining that the latter group gets to “continue to be the politicians or the filmmakers that they are” while the former are “excommunicated.” Then she said she doesn’t believe that Al Franken, alleged to have groped several women and forcibly kissed one, ever touched anyone inappropriately. (In his resignation speech, Franken said the allegations either aren’t true or that he remembers them differently.) She is still friends with Ansari, she also said, the allegations against whom she does not appear to take very seriously: “I was just like, Gross, I don’t wanna know that about Aziz! Hopefully he’s dealing with things, looking inward, and will blossom from it.”
And on Wednesday, of course, the men of Arrested Development (minus Michael Cera) gaslit Jessica Walter and obliterated whatever good will we had for them.
What happened this week, in other words, is that a bunch of celebrities—mostly men—rushed to their friends’ defense. They downplayed the abuses their friends allegedly or admittedly committed, and they erased the women their friends allegedly or admittedly abused. That erasure was most obvious in the Arrested Development interview, when Jason Bateman and his co-stars insisted that verbal abuse is “incredibly common” in show business. (And also, perhaps more notably, in their apparent disinterest in the allegations that Tambor sexually harassed two transgender women in the cast and crew of Transparent.) But it is at the heart of the Burr, Cross and Silverman interviews as well. In each case they ask us to spare a little empathy for their friends, and in each case they spare little to no empathy for their friends’ victims, not even when one of those victims is right in front of them, crying.
It’s ugly stuff, made uglier by the fact that all these people have had plenty of time to process the realization that their friends are not who they thought. Apparently they all used that time to arrive at the easiest possible conclusion: That their friends deserve another shot at the very fame, money and power they used to prey on others. Granted, Burr probably hasn’t thought much about it at all; there is absolutely nothing “extreme” or even “punishment” about C.K.’s withdrawal from public life to spend more time with his millions. And for Cross to say he doesn’t think Tambor is a monster means one of two things: Either he does not believe Van Barnes and Trace Lysette’s allegations or he does not believe the alleged behavior is monstrous. I suspect an answer lies in the bit where he feels “so bad” for Aziz Ansari, referencing the woman Ansari violated only as a means of rationalizing the violations.
And that’s the appalling dissonance in all these pleas for empathy: The actual trauma their friends inflicted is always eclipsed by the reputational damage their friends suffered later, much later, when those traumas came to light. And the damage is entirely reputational. None of these men have gone to prison, C.K. will never be homeless, Ansari performed at the Comedy Cellar just last week, Master of None is near-certain to return. Jeffrey Tambor was fired from Transparent, sure, but here he is on a press tour for Arrested Development. I don’t know what Al Franken is doing but I’m sure he’s just fine. These are millionaires we’re talking about—whatever material costs they’ve suffered are of no concern to us. They’ll be comfortable for the rest of their lives. Which is what makes Silverman’s comments so deluded. You don’t see why they can’t continue being artists? Well, they can. They can try for a comeback whenever they want. Tambor and Ansari are trying right now, and I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that C.K. or Franken will try down the line. The relevant question is whether they should continue be artists, whether it would be right for them to be artists, and to answer these questions we must reckon with the fact that all these men are liars. They lied for years, to everyone, to their fans and their friends, to you. Some of them built whole personalities around the lies and those personalities are why they got so famous in the first place. C.K., for instance, is a liar who lied right up until the moment he was caught. If you think he has “forever changed” in the six months since, then I have a bridge I would like to sell you.
I don’t know what the proper punishment is for each of these (alleged, as I am required to say) abuses. But I do know that you cannot care about art—really, genuinely care about it—if you do not care about truth. What Burr and Cross and Silverman and Bateman et al. are asking us is to forgive liars such that they might return to the business of truth, a business where they never belonged in the first place. And what they are telling us is that the voices of those liars are more important than the voices they silenced—the voices they lied about. It is, as Tig Notaro said, a glaring horror.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.