Why on Earth would the Grammys give Louis C.K. an award?

His first comedy album since he admitted to sexual misconduct won big on Sunday night.

CENTURY CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Louis C.K. arrives at the FX and Vanity Fair Emmy Celebration at C...
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Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.

Music’s biggest night rarely goes off without something problematic happening — that’s the nature of the beast for self-congratulatory celebrations for the rich and famous. In this year’s case, at Sunday’s 64th annual Grammy awards, it was the Recording Academy giving out a Grammy to defamed comic Louis C.K. for Best Comedy Album for Sincerely Louis C.K. Fortunately, the prize wasn’t given out during the televised portion of the event, so we didn’t have to endure watching Louis C.K. be awarded a Grammy — but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Also, the Academy’s decision to not televise the moment shows that they know the criticism that comes with honoring a man who has admitted to serial sexual misconduct.

C.K.’s Sincerely Louis C.K., which he self-released as a film in April 2020 and as an album in 2021, beat out other worthy contenders by Lewis Black, Kevin Hart, and Chelsea Handler. It was the comic’s first full-length return to the medium since 2017, when five women accused him of predatorily trapping them so that he could masturbate in front of them. The accusations were first reported by the New York Times, but rumors on the matter had circulated for years, proving just how hard it is to out a powerful man even when people are aware that he’s doing horrible things.

C.K. initially denied the allegations, but ultimately admitted they were true. “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn't a question. It's a predicament for them,” he said. “... The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.” C.K. lost contracts with Netflix, Universal Pictures, and FX over the revelations, and outside of a few protested performances at the Comedy Cellar, he has been a comedy pariah. But in his comeback special, Sincerely Louis C.K., the comic still joked about what the #MeToo movement did to him.

The Grammy win enraged many fans and industry professionals who see the award as not just an oversight, but as a dangerous signal that people (especially powerful, straight white men) can abuse and still earn the highest honors in their fields. Sarah Ann Masse, a Hollywood professional who was one of the over 80 women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter, “Louis CK just won a GRAMMY. “[C]ancel culture” seems pretty selective hm? And thanks so much to our industry for once again telling us that survivors don’t matter.” Comedian Jen Kirkman, who has been very vocal about both C.K. and the abuse women endure in the industry in general, wrote in a now-deleted tweet, “After spending the weekend in an anxious mental health place getting harassed in the hundreds by male [L]ouis [C.K.] fans on my social media – this is a kick in the c*nt. Everyone hates women.”

More than anything, C.K.’s ability to both put out a special and it win a Grammy, is further proof that “cancel culture” is a myth. While people certainly do get “canceled,” the term has been weaponized against the #MeToo movement to make it look like some kind of crusade against innocent men. Others have pointed out in the backlash to last night’s win for C.K. that a good deal of the comics who spoke out in horror at Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at last week’s Academy Awards have been mostly silent on the situation with Louis C.K. — suggesting not just racism, but also that people don’t believe women in these matters, even when C.K. has admitted to what happened. Ultimately, it’s about accountability, and the Recording Academy last night proved that it has no interest in being part of any machine that holds men who abuse their power to hurt people accountable.