How comedian Louis CK can get back on track after misconduct claims

Key Points
  • On August 26, comedian Louis CK, created a stir after he performed an unannounced stand-up set at New York City's Comedy Cellar. 
  • Experts say the comedian could make a comeback, but it wont be easy.

On August 26, comedian Louis Szekely, better known by his stage name Louis CK, created a stir after he performed an unannounced stand-up set at New York City's Comedy Cellar.  It was his first public appearance since November, when the New York Times reported that he had been accused of sexual misconduct by five different women, and became one of several prominent entertainment figures hit by sexual misconduct allegations.

When the claims came to light, the comedian released a statement corroborating the allegations against him, which included committing lewd acts in front of his victims. The scandal cost Szekely deals with the FX network, Netflix and Universal Pictures, as well as the services of his publicist and management firm.

At the time, the idea of a comeback would have seemed out of the question. Yet nine months later, several people think Szekely's Comedy Cellar appearance may be a stab at rehabilitating his image. The comedian's representatives did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

However, if Szekely is testing the waters for a comeback, will the public allow it?

Jill Stanley, a legal expert and founder of the celebrity legal news website Proof with Jill Stanley.com, said that if Szekely wants to get back in the public's good graces, he has already made some preliminary steps towards making that possible.

"The fact that he apologized and publicly admitted what he did made the allegations easier for many to process," Stanley said. His public statement "had the added benefit of not calling into question the veracity and credibility of the victims. This is important because, as most know by now, it is difficult for victims to come forward."

Still, Stanley said that the comedian had more work to do to get the public to embrace him once more. "Is nine months out of the spotlight and listening truly the 'long time' the comedian referenced" in his statement, Stanley asked. "I don't think so."

'Switch teams'

Louis C.K. performs on stage as The New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation present the 10th Annual Stand Up for Heroes event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 2016 in New York City. 
Kevin Mazur | Getty Images

Addiction author Anna David suggested Louis CK could undo some of the damage he's done by following step nine of Alcoholics Anonymous' twelve steps by "making amends" for his actions, and seek forgiveness from those he wronged

"Afterwards comes the 'living amends' where we commit to not doing whatever it was to anyone else again," she added.

Candice Blain, managing attorney at Blain LLC, told CNBC that Szekely -- or any other celebrity accused of sexual misconduct -- would need to demonstrate his remorse through concrete action.

This could include making a charitable donation to a survivor's organization, speaking at college campuses about sexual assault, or lobbying congress for greater protections against abuse.

"The celebrity would need to back up any stated contrition with an observable commitment to helping to effectuate change," she said. "The celebrity would need to 'switch teams'— essentially they would have to move from aiding societal abuse to undoing it."

Szekely was never accused of touching anyone, which has prompted some to downplay his actions. His defenders include fellow comedian Dave Chappelle, who said in a January Netflix special that C.K.'s accusers were "weak" and had a "brittle spirit."

Brooke Norton, LMFT, a clinical associate at Northampton Sex Therapy Associates, LLC, took issue with this observation.

"These incidents have an impact," Norton said. "In some folks, it might look like a PTSD kind of response... some folks develop phobias, somatic pain or disorders of control that they might not understand, but stem from traumatic incidents."

While it's too soon to say whether Louis C.K. can return from "Me Too" exile, Anna David acknowledged that it's entirely possible, even if he disregards all the experts' advice.

"We're a build-'em-up and tear-'em-down culture that tends to have a very short memory," she said. "I think if people think they can make money off a celebrity, they will provide a way for that person to come back."