A couple of years ago, I traveled to a comedy festival in the hopes of asking comedians like Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, and T.J. Miller what they'd heard about Louis C.K. It did not go well.
Louis C.K. photo via Creative Commons. Photo of author at the Just For Laughs festival courtesy of author
I've known Harvey Weinstein is a piece of shit for years. Anyone paying attention would.
Pieces of shit like Harvey Weinstein get away with despicable behavior because power equals protection. The argument could be made that the only reason Weinstein's decades of abuse have finally resulted in consequences is because his power has waned enough to render it less career suicide-inducing to call him out. People only started talking about Bill Cosby's decades of alleged sexual abuse after his star had waned, when he was known less as a comedic legend and more as a doddering old fool with a propensity for telling black men they needed to pull their pants up. But I digress.
Let me tell you a story.
In 2015, I attended the Just for Laughs (JFL) festival in Montreal as a journalist writing on behalf of Gawker, a profoundly flawed organization I miss desperately. The organizers of the festival did not know the purpose of my presence was a desire to investigate the numerous rumors I'd heard about Louis C.K. behaving in a sexually inappropriate way. Had they known, I surely would not have been invited to attend. Because Louis, you see, is a "friend" of the JFL organization.
I made my move on the red carpet of the awards show. One by one, I would ask a conveyor belt of comedians, all men, "How do you feel about the Cosby allegations?" They would all, invariably, claim to be disgusted by the man's misdeeds. I would then follow up with "How do you feel about the Louis C.K. allegations?" They would all, invariably, claim ignorance.
I had just finished with my third interview of the afternoon, Kevin Hart (who responded with incredulity before his handler escorted him away from me), when a woman holding a clipboard called me off the carpet. She told me "we've been receiving complaints" about the Louis question; no one I had asked so far, however, seemed outwardly upset by the inquiry.
A tall man in a suit approached, relieving her of the duty of admonishing me. He was, in a word, livid. In two words: fucking livid. Red faced, he informed me that JFL is a "family," that Louis is a member of said "family," and that I could ask my question on "my turf," but that this was "our turf." This wasn't "that kind" of red carpet, he informed me—it was a "friendly one," and Louis was a "friend of the festival." Were I to ask the offending question again, he said, I would be ejected from the carpet. But if I asked "nice" questions, I would be allowed to stay. His demeanor aggressively implied he had no desire to let me do so. Tears stinging my eyes, I apologized to the man who loomed over me, the man I later learned was JFL COO Bruce Hills, for my indiscretion. I told him I would straighten up and fly right. I had only asked three comedians the offending question so far—my plans to also ask Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, and Dave Chappelle, who I could see out of the corner of my eye making his way down the aisle, were stymied.
(In an emailed statement to VICE, Bruce Hills said that his issue was with the author's approach to asking questions, rather than the questions themselves. "My intent was to keep our awards ceremony as a celebratory event," he wrote. "In doing so, I was in no way defending nor aware of any allegations towards talent. If Ms. Koester wanted talent to comment on the record, we would hope she go through the proper journalistic protocols, be forthcoming with her intentions and request a full interview. We always ensure all talent at our festival have fair notice and opportunity to decide if they wish to address such questions with a representative of the press.")
After getting back to the carpet, I briefly considered staying and making a point to ask the most innocuous questions possible (i.e. "What do YOU love about laughter?") but felt horrifically awkward and embarrassed—I knew I was being watched like a hawk, and the whole exercise seemed pointless. I was shaking. I was terrified. It was then I heard my friend, the comedian Andy Kindler, yell "Hey, Koester!" over my shoulder. I hobbled over to him (I was using a cane due to an injury at the time, which made me feel even more pathetic and powerless) and, in hushed tones, explained the situation. I then asked if I could walk out with him. He agreed that it was probably a good idea.
Instead of sticking around and, in all likelihood, getting "officially" kicked out, I left. I then proceeded to literally cry on Kindler's shoulder.
It was, by design, not a pleasant experience. It was an attempt to intimidate me into silence, and it was successful. I never wrote the piece.
When I told friends and acquaintances why I was at JFL, their eyes bulged with excitement. They had all heard the accusations. They wanted answers, too. They were willing to help my cause as much as they could, so long as they weren't personally dragged into the mire.
Because that's the thing when you try to follow stories like this. Everyone wants to be your Deep Throat, but only under the cloak of anonymity. No one wants to be publicly affiliated with you, lest their careers suffer like yours for daring to ask the goddamned question that's on everyone's goddamned mind. People I knew, I respected, I loved—they supported me, but silently, in a very "there but for the grace of God goes someone who is not I" kind of way. One stood with me for a moment while I waited for C.K. to exit a venue on the last night of the festival. She told me that she loved and supported me, but she had to leave, lest he see her with me. Because she wanted to work with him again. And so there I stood alone, in the rain, holding a cane, waiting for a man who never emerged—I had picked the wrong exit to stand outside of. The scene was hamfistedly cinematic.
"I think what you're doing is so brave," a friend told me at the time. "I'm so scared," I replied. I still am.
A version of this article originally appeared on the author's personal website.
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