BALTIMORE -- The world was different when comedian Louis C.K. last performed in Baltimore. It was May 2016, and C.K. was headlining four shows at the Modell Lyric. Media moguls like Harvey Weinstein were still in power, not yet toppled by sweeping allegations of sexual harassment in the #MeToo movement that began the following year.
This weekend, C.K. performs at Magooby's Joke House in Timonium, a stop on what The Los Angeles Times called "a bizarre comeback tour" with shows in Akron, Ohio, and Reading, Pa., among others.
Like dozens of other high-powered men accused of predatory behavior that year, C.K. saw his career seemingly end overnight. In 2017, five women accused him of sexual misconduct. C.K. acknowledged his behavior, saying in a statement, "These stories are true."
To former fan Bryan Levy, it's too soon for C.K. to be back on stage. A few years ago, the idea of seeing the comedian at a venue like Magooby's would have been a coup. But in light of the allegations, "listening to him complain about not having a girlfriend becomes icky," said Levy, a Medfield resident and co-host of the "City That Breeds" podcast. "It's the idea that behind every joke there is a grain of truth. The grain of truth is pretty disturbing."
For Levy, C.K. has been relegated to the domain of banished former heroes, along with the comedian Bill Cosby, whom he once idolized (he skipped his 10-year high school reunion to see Cosby perform at Pier 6). "Bill Cosby -- he was my favorite for a long time. Not anymore. I can't watch that guy. Right now Louis C.K. is in that camp. I can't watch him. He doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong."
Baltimorean Mike Finazzo, former comedian turned filmmaker, said he hadn't yet decided whether to attend C.K.'s performance; he's friends with the club's owner and may stop by. Although he's not a defender of the comedian, Finazzo said, "I think if he wants to perform, he has the right to do that. It's the audience's right to decide if they want to see him perform or not."
To some, C.K.'s comeback tour speaks to larger issues about how to move forward culturally following the landmark changes -- and career downfalls -- of the #MeToo movement.
"I think this is a case that is emblematic of a wider challenge that we're facing," said Michele Decker, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health specializing in social epidemiology and gender-based violence. "Now that people are being recognized for harassment and sexual misconduct we are faced with, how do we move forward? How do we reintegrate perpetrators?"
That's a question also on the mind of Margaret E. Johnson, law professor and co-director at the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law. "We're not going to cancel all these people and shun them forever and exclude them on an island," she said.
Tickets for the show started at $35, with one performance at the Timonium comedy club sold out as of Thursday, according to the club's website.