No institution can dodge Louis C.K.’s comedic legacy and sexual allegations, TIFF included, where he appeared immediately pre-#MeToo with his film I Love You, Daddy. I squirmed slightly recalling C.K.’s appearance at the festival as I watched Cara Mones and Caroline Suh unpacking the case, his survivors, and his humor in Sorry/Not Sorry. The documentary follows entertainment journalists re-contextualizing the controversial comedian’s achievements in the present, along with testimonies from his assault survivors (and talented comedians in their own right) Jen Kirkman, Abby Schnacher, and Megan Koester.
The documentary’s talking-head and archival-footage aesthetic allows for a long runway to observe ethical conundrums in entertainment. Is it okay to be offensive under the guise of comedy? How much truth should be involved in a joke? And how much does that matter? If art is subjective, can the professional remain separate from the personal? While Sorry/Not Sorry proposes intriguing, complicated methods of perceiving raw humor, its execution quashes a meaningful way to build solidarity in showcasing satirists Jon Stewart and Bill Maher’s standing with C.K. and industry bystanders letting him do his thing. While we should be unnerved in witnessing this, Suh and Mones struggle to locate Stewart and Maher’s empathy for the survivors in their interviews. Viewers perceived their silence and indirect answering as uncooperative, and the directors strain to find a safe, honest environment in the industry that doesn’t pander to a single, hopeful takeaway from the controversy.
The film’s sluggish seven-chapter structure buries any momentum towards a common ground, diminishing the intended journey to a final, powerful conclusion. Instead, extended analysis of C.K.’s brand and style combine both praise and jeers while industry players appear cautious to admit too much in regards to their relationship to the man and his material. All of this confuses the issue and fails to demystify “cancel culture.” Comedian Michael Ian Black serves as a bright spot. He uses this moment to clear a controversial Twitter defense by having a dialogue on the subject and apologizing for ignoring the pain of the survivors. He suggests both positive and negative methods to punish C.K. The interview implies how people grow from past mistakes and should not be judged from one event.
Though the film affirms Kirkman, Schahner, Koester, and the other survivors, Sorry/Not Sorry‘s reliant soundbites of measuring one’s heinousness diminishes the strict procedures and legality of what constitutes a banned performer. Suh and Mones might have achieved better results by acquiring feedback from C.K.’s devoted fans outside the predominant white-male demographic in pre/post-show interviews and news editors who had previously been silenced about nasty accounts, thus instilling a more thorough approach to cement C.K.’s perceived standing in society.
The New York Times‘ staff involvement in the production could have also taken advantage of the opportunity to self-reflect on its impact in how they enabled C.K. and others. There’s room to explain how their pre-2017 coverage fueled his popularity and branded his misogynistic statements as comedy. The only noticeable commentary is when reporters and consulting producers Jodi Kantor, Melena Ryzik, and Carol Buckley speak about the developments of their C.K. and Harvey Weinstein articles and do not necessarily share the possible long-term effects of their worldwide circulation. The journalists were gathering sources on who would speak publicly and the story’s immediate prominence obscured pondering how people make sense of it in a journalistic sense. The need to support an organized effort in making survivors of sexual assault feel safe and to hold people in power accountable, such as an anonymous hotline, go undiscussed here––as does the potential realization of one’s freedom of speech that allows C.K. to continue a career in comedy.
Mones and Suh’s missed questions and editing tactics make Sorry/Not Sorry a shallow, reductive portrait into demystifying the myth of cancel culture.
Sorry/Not Sorry made its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in theaters by Greenwich Entertainment and air on Showtime.