NEW YORK — Louis C.K. unexpectedly returned to the stage Sunday night at the Comedy Cellar, where a new policy has been instituted to address patrons uncomfortable with drop-in acts. The performance came just five weeks after his first unannounced appearance there set off broad controversy: Could he be aiming for a comeback, less than a year after he admitted to sexual misconduct with women in the comedy world?
In the performance Sunday, according to audience reports, he did not address his inappropriate behavior, including instances in which he masturbated in front of multiple women. He took the stage just before 10:30 p.m., and, working from notes, did about 20 minutes of material. There was wild applause when the host announced him, and a warm send-off when he left. “You’ve been very kind, thank you very, very much,” the comedian said from the stage.
One audience member visiting from Europe said the crowd was happy to see him and laughed. But some in the audience were made uncomfortable by jokes he told about his daughter, according to HuffPost. And two women walked out on the act, the club said.
It was Louis C.K.’s first time there since Aug. 26, the same day he did an unannounced set at Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown on Long Island.
The outcry over those drop-ins led the Cellar, which has a long and storied tradition of high-profile comics trying out material in unannounced sets, to add a disclaimer on tickets. “Swim at your own risk,” it says, with an icon of a swimming figure. “We never know who is going to pop in. If an unannounced appearance is not your cup of tea, you are free to leave (unobtrusively please) no questions asked, your check on the house.”
The same language is posted on a sign inside the club, an effort to placate customers who might be unhappy while also preserving comedy customs. It has been in place for about three weeks.
The disclaimer did not sit well with Andrew Friedman, a New York writer and longtime comedy fan, who was until recently a regular patron of the Cellar. “It was so passive — as if they have no say over who comes in,” said Friedman, who writes about the restaurant industry. “There is plenty they can do. I’m disappointed in them.” Friedman said he did not envision himself going back to the club anytime soon.
Even before Louis C.K.’s repeat appearance, the prospect of it was troubling enough that some comedy lovers sought assurances from the Cellar that he would not be back before they bought another ticket. He was not expected to return for many months, the club’s owner said, in emails and news reports; furthermore, when he returned, it would not be another surprise gig.
That message did not, apparently, reach Louis C.K. Even when he was not in the club, his presence was felt in the room: Some comedians defended him, prompting at least one walkout. Others in the comedy world have expressed support for his return, saying they would book him.
But the Cellar stage has also been home to comedians who knocked Louis C.K. “What, does a guy have to be convicted of sexual assault to get an extended ovation?” comedian Ted Alexandro asked recently, in a scathing set that also drew lots of laughs.
Sarcastically decrying politically correct culture, he said: “Do you want to live in a world where a man can’t politely ask a colleague if he can take off all his clothes and masturbate to completion? Is that where we are as a culture?”