Amid the current burst of sexual-misconduct accusations against powerful men, the stories about Louis C.K. stand out because he has so few equals in comedy.
In 2002, a Chicago comedy duo, Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, landed their big break: a chance to perform at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. When Louis C.K. invited them to hang out in his hotel room for a nightcap after their late-night show, they did not think twice. The bars were closed and they wanted to celebrate. He was a comedian they admired. The women would be together. His intentions seemed collegial.
As soon as they sat down in his room, still wrapped in their winter jackets and hats, Louis C.K. asked if he could take out his penis, the women said.
They thought it was a joke and laughed it off. “And then he really did it,” Goodman said in an interview. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”
In 2003, Abby Schachner called Louis C.K. to invite him to one of her shows, and during the phone conversation, she said, she could hear him masturbating as they spoke. Another comedian, Rebecca Corry, said that while she was appearing with Louis C.K. on a television pilot in 2005, he asked if he could masturbate in front of her. She declined.
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After years of unsubstantiated rumors about Louis C.K.’s behavior, women are coming forward to describe what they experienced. Even amid the current burst of sexual-misconduct accusations against powerful men, the stories about Louis C.K. stand out because he has so few equals in comedy.
In the years since the incidents the women describe, he has sold out Madison Square Garden eight times, created an Emmy-winning TV series, and accumulated the clout of a tastemaker and auteur, with the help of a manager who represents some of the biggest names in comedy. And Louis C.K., 50, whose real name is Louis Szekely, built a reputation as the unlikely conscience of the comedy scene, by making audiences laugh about hypocrisy — especially male hypocrisy.
After being contacted for an interview this week about the on-the-record accusations of sexual misconduct — encounters that took place more than a decade ago — Louis C.K.’s publicist, Lewis Kay, said the comedian would not respond. “Louis is not going to answer any questions,” Kay wrote in an email Tuesday night.
Neither Louis C.K. nor Kay replied to follow-up emails in which the accusations were laid out in detail, or to voice messages or texts. On Thursday, the premiere of Louis C.K.’s new movie, “I Love You, Daddy,” was abruptly canceled; he also canceled an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
Actress Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars in “I Love You, Daddy,” pulled out of all film promotion two weeks ago “when she was made aware of numerous possible accusations,” the young star’s publicist said.
Louis C.K. is the latest artist to be ensnared in allegations of sexual misconduct, joining a growing list of Hollywood power players including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and James Toback, among others.
As for the encounter in Aspen, Goodman and Wolov decided against going to police, unsure whether what happened was criminal, but felt they had to respond in some way “because something crazy happened to us,” Goodman said.
Hoping that outrage would build against Louis C.K., and also to shame him, they began telling others about the incident the next day. But many people seemed to recoil, they said. “Guys were backing away from us,” Wolov said. Barely 24 hours after they left Louis C.K.’s hotel, “we could already feel the backlash.”
The stories told by the women raise questions about the anecdotes that Louis C.K. tells in his own comedy. He rose to fame in part by appearing to be candid about his flaws and sexual hang-ups, discussing and miming masturbation extensively in his act, a riff that some of the women feel may have served as a cover for real misconduct.
Louis C.K. has also boosted the careers of women and is sometimes viewed as a feminist by fans and critics. But Goodman and Wolov said that when they told others about the incident in the Colorado hotel room, they heard that Louis C.K.’s manager was upset that they were talking about it openly. The women feared career repercussions. Louis C.K.’s manager, Dave Becky, was adamant in an email that he “never threatened anyone.”
Becky arguably wields even more power in comedy than Louis C.K. He represents Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler and other top performers, and his company, 3 Arts, puts together programming deals for nearly every platform.
For comedians, the professional environment is informal: profanity and raunch that would be far out of line in most workplaces are common, and personal foibles — the weirder the better — are routinely mined for material. But Louis C.K.’s behavior was abusive, the women said.
“I think the line gets crossed when you take all your clothes off and start masturbating,” Wolov said.
A fifth woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy, also has disturbing memories about an incident with the comedian. In the late 1990s, she was working in production at “The Chris Rock Show” when Louis C.K., a writer and producer there, repeatedly asked her to watch him masturbate, she said. She was in her early 20s and went along with his request, but later questioned his behavior.
“It was something that I knew was wrong,” said the woman, who described sitting in Louis C.K.’s office while he masturbated in his desk chair during a workday, other colleagues just outside the door. “I think the big piece of why I said yes was because of the culture,” she continued. “He abused his power.” A co-worker at “The Chris Rock Show,” who also wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that the woman told him about the experience soon after it happened.
In Louis C.K.’s forthcoming film, about a television writer whose underage teenage daughter is wooed by a Woody Allen type, one character aggressively mimics masturbating in front of others. The content has raised eyebrows. Given the rumors surrounding Louis C.K., the movie “plays like an ambiguous moral inventory of and excuse for everything that allows sexual predators to thrive: open secrets, toxic masculinity, and powerful people getting the benefit of the doubt,” Joe Berkowitz wrote in Fast Company magazine.
Yet in an interview with The New York Times in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “I Love You, Daddy,” was shown, Louis C.K. dismissed stories of his alleged sexual misconduct as “rumors,” and said the notion that the masturbation scenes referred to them never occurred to him. “It’s funny; I didn’t think of that, “ he said.
In private, though, he appears to have acknowledged his behavior.
In 2009, six years after their phone call, Schachner received a Facebook message from Louis C.K., apologizing. “Last time I talked to you ended in a sordid fashion,” he wrote in the message, which was reviewed by The Times. “That was a bad time in my life and I’m sorry.”
He added that he had seen some of Schachner’s comedy and thought she was funny.
Schachner accepted his apology and told him she forgave him. But the original interaction left her deeply dispirited, she said, and discouraged her from pursuing comedy.
In February, Netflix announced it would be the exclusive home of two of C.K.’s stand-up comedy specials, the first of which was released April 4. Netflix has not commented on the fate of the second special.
Louis C.K. is an executive producer of comedian Tig Notaro’s Amazon series, “One Mississippi.”
Notaro’s career received a huge boost when he released her 2012 comedy album about her cancer diagnosis. But their relationship has crumbled and she now feels “trapped” by her association with him, she wrote in an email.
Her fear is that “he released my album to cover his tracks,” she said.
FX Networks, which airs several shows created by or starring Louis C.K., says it has received no complaints of harassment about the comedian but is reviewing its relationship with him.
In a statement late Thursday, the network said it is troubled by the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against the comedian and will take all appropriate measures to protect its employees.
The network has produced five shows in the past eight years with Louis C.K., including his comedy “Louie” and the current series “Baskets” and “Better Things.”
He is also developing another series for FX called “The Cops” in which he’s set to star opposite Albert Brooks.
Also, late Thursday, HBO said Louis C.K. would not appear on its upcoming autism benefit, “Night of Too Many Stars.”