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Bill Cosby’s rotten reputation has finally solidified in such a way that there’s no doubt it will be his legacy. It’s strange to realize that less than a year ago, this was emphatically not the case. Not yet a monster, he was still more or less Dr. Cliff Huxtable in our collective imagination. He had a TV show in development with NBC, a 77-stop comedy tour, and a new brick of a biography that, in September, was one of Amazon’s best books of the month. An elder statesman of comedy, he had been raping women for at least 45 years.

Last week, just one day before Louis CK hosted the season finale of Saturday Night Live, Gawker posted the latest episode in what has been years’ worth of rumors surrounding the comedian’s sexual misconduct. (I’ve been aware of it since their first post along these lines, which was in 2012.) Much like CK’s comedy on his TV show and in his standup, the subject of the allegations is pathological masturbation. No longer able to satisfy his exhibitionism by talking about jacking off in front of an audience, it seems that he prefers the real deal, in person, in front of non-consenting female comics. They say he once went so far as to block his victims’ egress from his hotel room by standing in front of the door.

On Monday, the same culture outlets (Slate, Vox, and Vulture, among many others) that heavily criticized Bill Cosby’s non-interview last week tweeted furiously about Louis CK’s transgressions. They weren’t referring to the accusations of sexual misconduct. Instead, they were talking about his “edgy” Saturday Night Live monologue, which included jokes about pedophilia. Was his monologue offensive? Maybe. Waving his dick around at people who didn’t want to see it? Apparently not.

To my ear, CK’s “boundary-pushing” jokes about child molestation were pretty lazy. They were much less polished than, say, any given joke in one of CK’s stand-up specials. I’ve watched them all, I think, in addition to seeing him live in 2010. I watch Louie. And while I think he’s often funny, and mostly likable, two things have always bugged me: his tired jokes about not having sex with his (now ex-) wife, which were prominent in the first stage of his career, and his weird brand of sanctimony, which has become more pronounced over time.

The latter might sound counterintuitive given that CK has built an empire on exploiting his own flaws. But to me his comedy persona (not unlike Cosby’s) has always been centered on the idea that he’s a good person. The SNL thing was for shock value—and don’t get me wrong. He does that, too. But much more often, CK’s comedy is about being a Good Dad. His “mild racism” bit from that SNL monologue is another good example of how aggressively he presents himself as a good person, even as he’s ostensibly putting himself down.

Like many people who celebrate their own goodness, it seems as though Louis CK has a bad, bad secret. So far there have been no formal charges—only whispers. These sorts of rumblings often surround serial abusers in male-dominated industries, where it’s hard for women to come forward. The CK allegations are gossip, not journalism, but remember Jian Ghomeshi? There was a whisper campaign around him too, which many people wrote about once he had been fired. One woman described it like this:

I’ve said that “we” knew about Jian, but I couldn’t tell you exactly who all that means. For years, the “we” was so amorphous, a shifting chorus of voices that whispered or shouted and slipped away. To be clear: what I heard and what I knew was not special. It was not secret knowledge. It was open and clear as day, a smear of bright-red warning paint slashed across entire loose-tied social scenes.

Hannibal Buress was the turning point with Cosby. When his bit went viral last year, victims saw a cultural shift and understood they’d be believed—unlike the 13 women who had preceded them. Dozens more ended up coming forward. I’m a huge fan of Buress, and I don’t take what he did lightly. But I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the conditions that made his joke sayable: he was already well established, and Cosby, who can barely string a sentence together, was no longer a potent figure in the industry.

Louis CK, in sharp contrast, is the reigning king of comedy, and at some point during the last year or two, people have also started to think of him more as an artist and an auteur, the same protected class in which we’ve placed Woody Allen. Even with the minor backlash surrounding Season 4 of Louie, his cultural status isn’t likely to diminish anytime soon. He’s at the top of the heap, but he’s still retained his status as a comedian’s comedian, a vital force in a relatively insulated world.

Stand-up comedy is one of the hardest hustles there is, even for men—and on top of that, of course, it’s an especially misogynistic milieu. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a struggling comic going on the record to say that Louis CK forced her to watch him jerk off. I mean, would you want to risk throwing away your life’s ambition for that? Is that how you would want to be known?

Dunderfucks like Patton Oswalt perceive the most salient issue in comedy to be censorship, but as ever the real stakes are a different kind of silence. I think about CK making jokes about how gross he is—something I myself once paid $40 to watch. I think about Cosby’s bit about drugging women. I wasn’t there for that one, but on the recording you can hear the crowd laughing their heads off. Comedians can say whatever they want, and that’s one thing. What we’re willing to laugh at is another, and what a comic’s colleagues endorse and support—explicitly or otherwise, onstage or off—is another still. Comedians tend to close ranks around even their worst specimens (like Daniel Tosh). Collectively, the comedian, his audience, and his colleagues form a system. And it is broken.

Unsourced accusations shouldn’t preclude discussions of CK’s talent, but they can’t quite be separated from it either. The most recent Gawker piece is sketchy as hell, but statistically speaking, women aren’t likely to lie about allegations like these (even to their friends). In the absence of concrete charges, I don’t have an easy answer for what’s the “right” way to talk about Louis CK. But I’ll tell you one thing: if I were one of the girls he assaulted, I would have taken one look at Twitter over the last few days and resolved to take it to the grave. That’s not just on CK. It’s on us.

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