In 2017, filmmaker Caroline Suh, a fan of Louis C.K., was uncertain about the allegations of sexual misconduct against the comedian. The allegations, detailed in a New York Times article, included accounts from female comics who claimed that C.K. had exposed himself to them. C.K. admitted to these actions, leading to FX, Netflix, and C.K.’s management company, 3Arts, cutting ties with him.
Suh admits that she was a devoted viewer of C.K.’s show and was surprised by the severity of the allegations. She questioned whether his actions warranted him being banished from the comedy scene but was unsure of how to think about it.
Now, nearly six years later, with C.K. selling out Madison Square Garden and winning two Grammys for his comedy albums, Suh and her co-director, Cara Mones, explore the complex questions surrounding sex and power that emerged from C.K.’s downfall and comeback in their new documentary, Sorry/Not Sorry.
Produced by The New York Times, the film premieres on September 10 at TIFF and features interviews with women who spoke out about C.K., such as writer and producer Jen Kirkman, comedians Abby Schachner and Megan Koester, as well as male colleagues like Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur and Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman. The film also incorporates archival footage of C.K.’s performances and discussions about him, including a notable moment from a Q&A in May 2016 when a University of Chicago student questioned Jon Stewart about the allegations against C.K. that were circulating in comedy circles at the time. This moment, which reemerged online after the New York Times article, provides insight into the pre-#MeToo era’s attitudes. Mones explains that their intention was to present how people reacted to the story in real time and track its evolution.
Suh, known for directing the Obamas’ 2023 series Working: What We Do All Day and the 2020 film Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, initiated the Sorry/Not Sorry project after a meeting with The New York Times in 2020. The publication had been expanding its journalism into nonfiction film and TV projects, such as the Oscar-nominated Amazon documentary Time and the Emmy-nominated Hulu series The 1619 Project. Suh approached Mones, who had produced her Blackpink movie, to join the project. Suh, a Gen Xer, acknowledged her possibly calcified thoughts about normalized behavior and believed Mones, a millennial, would offer a fresh perspective. Initially hesitant, Mones eventually realized the importance of adding depth to the conversation and exposing what had been missing from it.
The documentary delves into the repercussions experienced by women who spoke publicly about C.K., including online harassment and decreased work opportunities. Schachner, who disclosed that C.K. masturbated on the phone when she invited him to her show, shared her experience with the New York Times to ensure others knew about his behavior. Kirkman, not mentioned in the original article but alluding to C.K.’s treatment of women on her podcast, states that she participated in the film because nothing has changed in the six years since the article’s publication.
The filmmakers encountered difficulty in convincing industry figures to discuss C.K. due to fear of career repercussions. Although C.K. did not participate in the documentary, the filmmakers included clips of his work, including a stand-up routine where he casually referred to his misconduct as his “thing,” suggesting that exposing himself was a harmless, albeit embarrassing, fetish. Suh realized that C.K. had reframed the issue from being about power dynamics to a personal sexual preference, which surprised her as a fan who had questions about what he meant.
Initially set up at Showtime under the supervision of Vinnie Malhotra, the cable network’s then-docs chief, Sorry/Not Sorry experienced a setback when Showtime underwent restructuring. Malhotra subsequently left to become the president of the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. The filmmakers and Showtime parted ways, leading Suh and Mones to seek a distributor at TIFF.
The filmmakers hope to attract both C.K. fans and those who are angered by his actions. However, their primary concern entering the festival is the well-being of the women who participated in Sorry/Not Sorry; none of them will be present at TIFF. Suh expresses anxiety on their behalf, emphasizing that their safety is the documentary’s biggest concern.
Regarding her own opinion of C.K. since reading the New York Times article, Suh reveals that her thinking has evolved. However, she refrains from expressing further thoughts, emphasizing the film’s objective to provoke individual contemplation.
As Sorry/Not Sorry prepares for its premiere, both Suh and Mones are eager to contribute to the ongoing discussion around the topic of sexual misconduct and the balance of power. By shedding light on the experiences and perspectives of those affected by C.K.’s actions, they hope to encourage introspection and further exploration of these complex issues.