Why Did The Comedy Industry Excuse Louis C.K.’s Behaviour For So Long?

Early today, the New York Times published an exposé on Louis C.K. that effectively ended his career. Five women made the brave decision to put their name to the allegations, accusing one of the most powerful men in comedy of sexual misconduct.

A few hours later, HBO dropped C.K. from participating in its autism special Night of Too Many Stars, as well as confirming it is also removing his past projects from its on-demand services. Earlier that day, the New York premiere of C.K.’s film I Love You, Daddy, was cancelled, and his appearance on Colbert‘s Late Show was canned. The release of I Love You, Daddy is now in limbo, with the distributor saying it’s under “review”.

Louis C.K. is cancelled. Finally.

Because here’s the thing: people have been talking about his sexual misconduct for years. In 2012, the now-defunct website Gawker ran a blind item about a “critically cherished sitcom auteur” who had masturbated in front of a female comedy duo. In 2015, comedian Jen Kirkman told a story on her podcast I Seem Fun about a certain (unnamed) comedian who was known in comedy circles for masturbating in front of women. (She later took her podcast down after being flooded with abuse, blaming Gawker and its feminist site Jezebel for the abuse. The journalists have written about the long slog.)

Like Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey, it was considered something of an “open secret” among the industry, which is only now being talked about because a powerful newspaper with a strong legal department and steadfast reporter – combined with the women deciding that now, in the current climate, was the time to go on the record – published the story.

But if it was an open secret for so long, why was Louis C.K. still celebrated?

Mike Schur, who created beloved NBC series Parks and Recreation, apologised earlier today for casting C.K., which we reported on. And as some of our more outraged commenters asked, why was he apologising for casting C.K. years before these allegations came to light?

You only had to read the article to find out. Here’s Schur:

“I don’t remember when I heard the rumours about him. But I’m sure it was before the last time he was on Parks and Rec. And that sucks. And I’m sorry.”

People knew about C.K.’s behaviour, and they promoted his career regardless. After he masturbated in front of comedians Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, they began to tell people about it, until his manager Dave Becky told them not to.

Here’s the NY Times:

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,” Ms. Wolov said. Barely 24 hours after they left Louis C.K.’s hotel, “we could already feel the backlash.”

Soon after, they said they understood from their managers that Mr. Becky, Louis C.K’s manager, wanted them to stop telling people about their encounter with Louis C.K. Lee Kernis, one of the women’s managers at the time, confirmed on Thursday that he had a conversation in which he told Mr. Becky that Louis C.K.’s behaviour toward the women had been offensive. Mr. Kernis also said that Mr. Becky was upset that the women were talking openly about the incident.

The industry closed ranks around him. After the NY Times piece broke, entertainment writer Nicole Silverberg said she was told to delete a tweet about C.K. before applying to a high-profile comedy job.


One of the incidences involved comedian Rebecca Corry, who appeared with C.K. on a television pilot in 2005. She said that C.K. asked to masturbate in front of her and became red-faced when she refused.

The show’s executive producers, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, both confirmed to the NY Times that the incident occurred, and that they almost curtailed production on the show before Corry decided she wanted to move forward.

“Things were going well for me,” said Corry in a statement, “and I had no interest in being the person who shut down a production.”

Yet despite this ongoing knowledge of his behaviour, C.K. continued to reach career heights. If things had gone to plan, he would have been on Colbert tonight. Netflix described him as “a thought leader in the business of comedy” when it announced it would be distributing not one but two of his stand-ups worldwide. Rolling Stone listed his stand-up special Shameless as number three in its list of the best 25 stand-up specials and movies of all time. The man has six Emmys to his name.

Basically: it didn’t matter how many rumours flew about him, or how much his predatory behaviour was an open secret. Louis C.K. was a talented, comedic god – and talented, comedic gods get doors opened and money thrown at them.

He thought he was so protected that he was willing to make a Woody Allen homage film in which his character aggressively mimics masturbating in front of people. When asked if that plot point was connected to the rumours about him, he said: “It’s funny, I didn’t think of that.”


As this story’s broken, plenty of C.K.’s peers have stayed silent. His short-lived Parks and Rec castmates Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari haven’t spoken, and neither has Stephen Colbert, on whose show he was supposed to appear. Kevin Hart, who is also represented by C.K.’s agent Becky, has also stayed silent, despite posting online all afternoon.

That’s not the case for everyone, of course.

Comedy heavyweight Judd Apatow said that one of the saddest parts for him out of this whole story was that one woman, Abby Schachner, was so disheartened after her C.K. encounter that she abandoned pursuing a dream in comedy.

“When you disrespect and sexually harass young, vulnerable people you become a dream killer,” he tweeted.

No offence to Apatow, but the saddest thing about this story is that despite the rumours, C.K. was glorified in the comedy world… until he wasn’t.

Last year, 2016, was the year of beloved celebrities dying. 2017 is the infinitely better year of male reckoning.