Louis C.K.'s masturbation habits were an open secret in the comedy world. So why did so many comedians laugh them off before the 'New York Times' report came out?
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Since the New York Times published a report on Louis C.K.'s pattern of sexual misconduct on Thursday, the comedy community has almost uniformly denounced him. On Twitter, Judd Apatow called C.K. a "dream killer," and Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur condemned the comedian, before admitting that he'd heard about the rumors and still cast him on his show. On Thursday night, mainstream late-night talkshow hosts like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Jordan Klepper made sure to address C.K.'s transgressions in some capacity. Colbert, who broke into the world of mainstream comedy working for C.K. on The Dana Carvey Show, mentioned why C.K., who had been scheduled to appear as a guest on the Late Show, would not be making an appearance.
“Louis canceled his appearance here tonight because the New York Times broke this story today: Five women are accusing Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct,” Colbert said in his opening monologue. “When reached for comment, Jesus said, ‘La la la la la. I don’t want to hear about it. I was a big fan.’" He then quickly pivoted to a joke about Keith Urban.
It's been great to see comedy's major players bemoan the fact that C.K. has a long history of masturbating in front of women without their consent and then using his position of power to silence their stories. But it also makes you wonder: What took them so long?
While C.K. finally confessed to the allegations on Friday afternoon, information about his transgressions have been publicly available for over two years. In 2015, Gawker's Jordan Sargent reported on these same allegations. And three years earlier Gawker published a blind item headlined, "Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?"
With the exception of a few brave women like Roseanne Bar and Tig Notaro, most of comedy's elite have been mum on this until the past two days, which isn't surprising, but also pretty reprehensible considering these were open secrets known to everyone in the industry.
"You’d hear it mentioned under people’s breath when he did episodes about masturbation or released the trailer for his movie," Mike Drucker, a writer for The President Show on Comedy Central and formerly of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, explained to me in a text message. "There’s still a fear among comedians that—even now—speaking out about this or having a strong opinion will damage you or backfire."
John Levenstein, who's produced and written for Arrested Development, Silicon Valley, Kroll Show, and appeared on Portlandia, told me in a text message, "Anyone in comedy who says they weren't aware of the rumors is full of shit."
But looking back, what's even more disturbing is what famous comedians had to say about Louis C.K. when they were confronted with these rumors following the 2015 Gawker report.
During an audience Q&A in May 2016, a young man asked Jon Stewart about interviewing C.K. on The Daily Show in light of his sexual misconduct allegations. "Woah, what?" Stewart said, apparently confused.
The man explained that comedian Jen Kirkman had suggested C.K. harassed her—she subsequently reneged her claims—also mentioning that Gawker had published a story, and people had been talking about it on the internet. He then asked if there was any discussion at The Daily Show about having C.K. on as a guest. Stewart burst out laughing. "Wait, I'm a little bit lost," he said. "So the internet said Louis harassed women?... You know who you're talking to, right?"
Stewart continued, smiling at the apparent ridiculousness of the question, "I'm honestly not that connected to that world, so I don't know what you're talking about... All I can tell you is I've worked with Louis for 30 years, and he's a wonderful man and person, and I've never heard anything about this. We've all known Bill Cosby was a prick for a long time, so I don't know what to tell you." The audience laughed.
If I'm being generous and taking Stewart's word that he wasn't aware of the C.K. allegations at the time, his response—laughing when asked about claims of sexual harassment—is still alarming.
Aziz Ansari, who was mentored by C.K. and shares a manager with him, also had a weird response to the allegations. In late 2015, the Daily Beast asked Ansari about the sexual misconduct reports following a discussion of a Master of None episode about a subway masturbator. Ansari shut them down, saying, "I’m not talking about that." (Neither Ansari's nor Stewart's managers immediately responded to requests for comment.)
Shortly before the publication of the New York Times story, Pamela Adlon, a frequent Louis C.K. collaborator, defended the comedian in an interview on KCRW. C.K. is also the executive producer of Adlon's new TV show, Better Things.
"He’s a person of integrity, and he takes care of people, and he’s an incredible collaborator, and everybody that I know, knows that about him," Adlon said. "He’s a good man. It’s just painful. It hurts right now, because people should be celebrating him, because he’s part of my show. We wrote the whole season together. It’s really hard and it’s confusing and I hate the whole thing."
While it might seem unfair to fault Stewart, Ansari, and Adlon for their responses to Louis C.K.'s sexual misconduct, they didn't need to be so glib, dismissive, and defensive.
On Wednesday, the day before the New York Times report was published, I interviewed Judah Friedlander, who starred on 30 Rock and is a regular at the Comedy Cellar, the Greenwich Village club where C.K. was also a regular. I didn't ask him about the C.K. allegations directly, but because his latest Netflix stand-up special, America Is the Greatest Country in the United States, is so political and he's been outspoken on social media about Weinstein, I wanted to know how he's responded to the sexual misconduct claims in the comedy community.
Here's what he said:
There’s a big rumor. I think I know who you’re talking about. I’ve only read things on Gawker. I got alerted to that about a year ago when it was online… I generally don’t deal with him. He’s usually been a dick to me. So I know nothing about it, but if anyone in the comedy community has been abused by anyone, I support them 100 percent. Whoever’s doing it, no matter how big or small they are, I hope they do the time for the crime.
Friedlander demonstrates that there's a way to offer support to victims of abuse even if the rumors aren't entirely substantiated. You don't laugh it off. You don't say you've known him for 30 years and "he's a wonderful man." You don't have to decline to comment, especially if you're someone who uses the alleged sexual misconduct as a plot device in your TV show.
You can just say you don't know if it's true or not, and offer your support to any victims. It's that easy.
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