Some background: a few weeks ago, Louis C.K. showed up at the Comedy Cellar.
Noam Dworman (the owner) wasn’t there. He got a text. “Louis’s here.” He saw it the next morning.
Now everyone is asking Noam, “Where do you draw the line?”
He’s gotten death threats. The Twitter mob came after him. He’s become a talking point. And the more he’s reduced to a talking point, the more hate he gets.
So I wanted to ask Noam questions about his life, his club, his business, his family. He told me about his influences. I wanted to get to know him. And then I wanted to get to know his side of the controversy.
But then I realized… he doesn’t have a “side.”
Sure, he has an opinion.
He has thoughts.
But it’s not for one team and against another. And somehow, that gets him EVEN more hate.
People want him to ban Louis from the stage.
“I’ve been accused of not believing the victims,” Noam said. “And nothing could be further from the truth. I can’t say this enough: It’s not about not believing anybody. It’s not. I take everyone at their word. I don’t know how else to put it.”
He told me about a customer who called yelling.
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘I was there with my in-laws. We come to the Comedy Cellar to have a good time and this was upsetting them.’”
Noam listened (something a lot of people don’t do).
And they worked it out.
“We actually became friends,” Noam said. “He actually came in and offered to tell the media that he thought he overreacted.”
Louis could’ve done some things better his first time back on stage. He used a trigger word. He said “rape whistle” on stage. And he didn’t address the elephant in the room.
Noam knows the wrongness of the situation.
But when someone tells Noam to ban Louis, they’re forgetting the larger questions…
Who gets to decide who works and who doesn’t? Who has the right to censor people? And information? Do we want people to be censored? What’s the longterm risk?
Sometimes we need to let people speak just to find out what they’re hiding. Look at Roseanne. If Twitter blocked her tweet before the world saw it, we wouldn’t have seen that side of her.
I told Noam this…
When we were growing up no one had peanut allergies. A generation later, because we’ve disinfected everything, millions of kids have peanut allergies. And now, people are allergic to language.
And it doesn’t seem like this trend ever reverses.
First, we disinfected our food. Now we’re disinfecting language. So then that leads to another big question. What’s next?
Noam has thought a lot about these questions. He’s studied the judicial system. I think we should be glad that he’s not taking this lightly.
He looks at the laws, he looks at the claims from all the women, and he sees that the women can take their claims to court.
And he makes this point in the podcast.
He says, “We have quite developed institutions to make sure people make amends for the things they do. And, up until recently, we all respected that. We took pride in the fact that we didn’t do things by emotion. We did things by procedures. And it seems like now we think that was all a big dumb experiment. [It’s as if people think] really what we should be able to do is read a paragraph in the Times and then anyone who’s in the position to punish ought to dole it out… Nobody, I think, really believes that’s the way the world should be. I don’t think they really want that.”
Noam shouldn’t have to be Twitter’s juror #1. Or the judge. He runs a club. Not a courtroom.
Some people disagree. Some people make it political.
The Twitter mob wants you to say what you stand for. You stand for “this” or “that.” Then they can define you. But what if you stand for something outside of the “this” or “that”?
Communication isn’t math. Expression isn’t linear. Unless you’re writing a headline.
It’s only linear if you have an agenda.
But when someone like Noam chooses to stay outside of the teams (left vs. right), then each team accuses you of being on “not their team.”
And this is dangerous.
If you’re not spewing the left’s agenda, you’re somehow alt-right. And if you’re not spewing the right’s agenda, you’re somehow alt-left.
And if you’re neither, you’re both.
If I, James Altucher, am going to boil down MY perspective of what Noam is saying it’s this…
He said, “If somebody should be punished, I hope they are punished.”
That’s part A.
And then he said, “In my position, I need know that things are true. I can’t just smell it in the atmosphere. I have to verify.”
“Why do you have to know?” I asked.
“If people want me to take action on something, they shouldn’t fault me for wanting to make sure I have the right to investigate. These are the lessons since the Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights or due process and giving people the benefit of the doubt and perjury. We got away from Town Hall justice and public humiliation.”
That’s part B.
And he also said, “I’ve seen interviews with jurors. And you [can see] that when they were the ones who knew they had to make these decisions, all of a sudden they take things very, very seriously. And I think that’s the difference.”
“The rumor can be wrong or exaggerated or understated — we don’t know.”
That’s part C.
Part A+ B + C = Punish people who should be punished. Follow the law. And verify the truth.
I think that’s all reasonable. But Twitter doesn’t seem to want reasonable.
I’ve been on Noam’s podcast before. I’ve been to the Comedy Cellar. I know their rules.
There’s a line-up. A bunch of comedians go on. They each get about 15 minutes. And sometimes, people drop in. And if someone in the audience doesn’t like the jokes or the comedian, they’re free to leave. The Comedy Cellar will even cover your bill. No questions asked.
So there’s this real sense of hospitality there. For the comedians and the customers.
Noam told me the history:
“My father opened his first coffee shop in 1960. And that became the place where musicians would come informally after gigs. Bob Dylan used to come in. Jose Feliciano… Peter, Paul and Mary… a lot of people. And then, at some point, because he was Israeli, a lot of Middle Eastern musicians started coming.”
Then his dad opened a club. And when Noam grew up, he joined a band. Within six months, they were successful.
“That’s what I did until I started going deaf.”
“Why are you going deaf?”
“All of that loud music five nights a week.”
“You play a lot of instruments, right?”
“I play guitar, mandolin, bass, piano, oud…”
“It’s a Turkish instrument. My father played that kind of stuff.”
I asked about the business more.
“Small business people, for the most part, they think of their business as their home,” Noam said. “My grandmother was known to be just a wonderful hostess. This was one of her defining attributes. And that was passed down to my father and, in some way, it was passed down to me.”
I’m going back on Noam’s podcast this week. And I know he’ll treat me like he treats all people.
And I appreciate that.
Links and Resources
Fat Black Pussy Cat
The Comedy Channel
Jerry Seinfeld’s Documentary “Comedian”
Fable: The Emperor’s New Clothes
“The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”by Greg Lukianoff