Louis CK documentary reveals the deadly serious abusive underbelly of the US comedy circuit

Sorry:Not Sorry

Dirs. Caroline Suh, Cara Mones. US. 2023. 90 mins

Sorry/Not Sorry is a timely piece of work, indeed. As the world wracks itself wondering what MeToo really meant, and what precisely cancel culture means in that zone, some high-profile court cases have fallen apart even as others have been upheld. Victims struggle with burdens of proof, while online commentators make careers out of defending so-called grey areas and victimised men. Sorry/Not Sorry is a New York Times production and assembles some of the same investigative reporters who were behind the Weinstein story to look at one case: Louis CK, who does not actually speak directly to directors Caroline Suh and Cara Mones. Nine months after he held his hand up to five accusations of sexually predatory behaviour in an article in the New York Times, Louis CK was back on the circuit. Sorry/Not Sorry takes a good look at how, and why.

The film’s brightest spot is the female comics and commentators who assemble here

It was, as one complainant notes, a dirty, grubby thing that Louis CK liked to do – and she is not dirty, so why does she still feel that way? He got his kicks from masturbating in front of female colleagues, many of them younger aspiring comedians aware of his power in the industry. None of the women were his equal. He has acknowledged that, and his defenders say he asked for permission first, so what’s the problem? How could they have been damaged by watching a man jerk off, or listening to him masturbate down the telephone line?

Some women in this film attest very strongly to the contrary but, either way, he is back out there in Madison Square Garden making jokes about it. Yet, As Sorry/Not Sorry perfectly illustrates, none of this is funny. Premiering at Toronto six years after his audaciously nose-thumbing film I Love You Daddy was scuppered by the allegations, Suh and  Mones’ film steps right into the molasses that is this case. It is a nicely-packaged, technically-proficient production that stands out due to its timing, certainly, but also for the power and personality of the female comedians interviewed by the directors.

What becomes clear throughout Sorry/Not Sorry is that the comedy circuit in the US is not an easy place for a woman to succeed. Even visually, these basement bars and crowds are seedy places, where a woman has to be as vulgar and up-for-it and crude with their jokes in order to raise a laugh. It’s down and dirty. Fair enough, for those who want to put their heads in the lion’s mouth and perform – but what happens when all that rolls off the stage, when the performance has ended? There seems to be no line, not even a blurry one. It’s a clearly misogynistic environment in which there is very little support, even from the few female comics who have made the cut.

If there’s a perfume exuding off the screen here, it’s arrogance – and that includes John Stewart, who was clearly sipping the soda that affected the film world when it came to professing complete ignorance of what Harvey Weinstein was up to behind hotel room doors. (Louis CK liked to do it in his office, and it is interesting seeing him being interviewed here by Matt Lauer, who liked the same thing.) Still, say some pundits: nobody was raped. Why should a man lose his ability to earn any income after he has apologised and, after all, there wasn’t even an arrest – there was no crime.

The film’s brightest spot is the female comics and commentators who assemble here to give a picture of what was going on; the story of the comedy industry’s open secret and the gang of bros who rule its roost. They are eloquent as well as funny, and some are certainly damaged; no matter how much the pundits try to dismiss them  There is a type of personality that is willing to bare its soul on stage for laughs, and it’s almost always a fragile one (take Robin Williams, Pete Davidson, Sarah Silverman, for examples). These women who face the cameras are no different. They paint a precise picture of how it all was, and, most likely still is. After all, nothing has changed – and that’s the point of Sorry/Not Sorry. Hashtag MeToo. Hashtag sad clown face.

Production company: The New York Times, Left Right

International sales: Dogwoof (US sales: CAA)

Producers: Caroline Suh, Cara Mones, Kathleen Lingo

Cinematography:  Bob Richman

Editing: Peter Holmes

Music: Kyle Scott Wilson