The rumors, as is so often the case, had been around for years. Reported as a blind item on Gawker (RIP), whispered among comedians, and even winked at by the purported perpetrator himself: Louis C.K. would force women to watch him masturbate.
On Thursday, the New York Times added to its list of bombshell investigations into high-profile men and alleged sexual misconduct — a list that includes then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and famed hotelier André Balazs — with a report on renowned stand-up comedian and actor Louis C.K. Five women have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Comedy duo Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov (who were, it’s now clear, the subject of the Gawker story) said they were hanging out with Louis C.K. in his hotel room at a comedy festival in 2002 when “he proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.” Abby Schachner said that, during a 2003 phone call in which she was inviting him to one of her shows, she could hear Louis C.K. masturbating on the other end of the line. Rebecca Corry, also a comedian, said Louis C.K. asked her if he could masturbate in front of her while she was working with him on a TV pilot in 2005. And one woman, who spoke anonymously, said she was working in production on The Chris Rock Show in the late 1990s when Louis C.K., a writer and producer on the show, “repeatedly asked her to watch him masturbate.”
There is a kind of sick, sinking feeling you get when you learn that the off-camera behavior of someone you think you know is galaxies away from the on-screen character you’ve come to love. For instance, the dissonance between Cliff Huxtable, adoring father, and Bill Cosby, who has reportedly been drugging and raping women by the dozen since the Johnson administration. You think you can know a person because you watch them so closely on screen; you realize, as you should have from the start, you can’t know someone you don’t know. You feel naive and idiotic, betrayed and insecure. Your instincts are trash. You are as easily fooled by a script and a sweater as a child is by a plate of Christmas Eve cookies mysteriously reduced to crumbs by morning.
With Louis C.K., though, the revelations — that is, revelations for those who were unaware of, or chose not to believe, the reports that had been circulating about him for years — are of a fundamentally different kind. His wasn’t comedy to hide behind; it was comedy that was what he wanted to hide. His work was so purposefully similar to his alleged misconduct that it acted, essentially, as camouflage.
A person inclined to believe Dylan Farrow would call this the Woody Allen strategy: Perform as if you are exactly what your detractors say you are. Go about your work as if you have nothing to hide. Your supporters will deify you for your daring and your candor. And anyone who doesn’t find your funny all that funny, conveniently, can be accused of having no sense of humor. This tactic, like all responsibility-evading maneuvers, works best for men. (See also: R. Kelly, whose music all but provides a play-by-play of his reported sexual abuse of underage girls.)
Louis C.K. loves jerk-off jokes. Scarcely a standup routine of his can pass without one. Within hours of the Times investigation going live, The Cut put together a list of seventeen Louis C.K. masturbation jokes; perhaps it will not shock you to learn that these jokes do not play especially well in this brave new context. “This country’s pretty perverted. We have to jack off to everything,” he says in 2011’s Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theatre, before pretending to orgasm to a female newscaster reporting on Libya.
One of his darkest riffs on masturbating is nestled in a 9/11 joke:
“I was thinking the other day: You can figure out how bad a person you are by how soon after September 11th you masturbated, like how long you waited. And for me, it was between the two buildings going down. So I have a feeling that– I had to do it! I had to. Otherwise, they win. That’s the way I was looking at it at the time. It was a strange time for all of us. I know you all waited a whole week, because you’re awesome, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Even a listener without that forensic impulse probably can’t help but hear all these diatribes as admissions now: “Masturbation doesn’t bring much joy to guys,” he says in his 2005’s Louis C.K.: One Night Stand. “Sometimes you find ecstasy but it’s followed by the deepest self-hate and depression you’ve ever felt.”
And that’s just in his stand-up. A fourth season episode of his Emmy-winning Louie, “Pamela, Part 1,” which aired in 2014, “now plays like a 21-minute confessional,” Jen Chaney writes at Vulture. It depicts a scene in which Louie forces himself on Pamela (performer and writing partner Pamela Adlon). The episode, written and directed by Louis C.K., is a “practically verbatim” retelling of the assault described by Goodman and Wolov, then only known as the Gawker blind item published two years earlier.
Pamela told Louie in a previous scene that she was no longer interested in him. Nevertheless, when Louie returns to his apartment where Pamela has been babysitting his daughters, he tries to pull her into an embrace. (Moments beforehand, she also says something to him when he looks at her while she seems to be napping on his sofa: “Don’t jerk off. I’m awake.”)…
Pamela repeatedly tries to get away from Louie as he attempts to overpower her. At one point, she grab onto a desk and pulls it away from the wall. The whole time, she is saying, “No, no, no.” Then she says, “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid. You can’t even rape well.” Eventually, after he blocks her from exiting the door, she relents and lets him kiss her, though she barely puckers her lips.
In this way, too, there are echoes of Cosby, who joked in his 1991 book Childhood and during a Larry King interview about slipping an “aphrodisiac” called “Spanish fly” into girls’ drinks. “The girl would drink it and, hello America!” Prosecutors considered these stories to be “powerful and damaging admissions” and pushed to have the book and the interview introduced as evidence in Cosby’s criminal trial last spring. (The judge ruled that the jokes were inadmissible.)
Louis C.K. must have felt confident that this hide-in-plain-sight thing was working for him, given his latest project. In a real one-two punch of questionable choices, I Love You, Daddy (which Louis C.K. wrote, directed, and stars in) features C.K. as a TV producer whose teenage — and, more importantly, underage — daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) has an intimate relationship with a 68-year-old film director (John Malkovich) with an intended, uneasy resemblance to Woody Allen.
Not only is the movie a pile-on of Woody Allen references — in addition to Malkovich’s character, the whole black-and-white film is shot in the style of Manhattan — but it includes scenes in which a man “pretends to masturbate at length in front of other people, and other characters appear to dismiss rumors of sexual predation.” C.K.’s character uses the n-word and there are “multiple jokes about child rape.” A real Thanksgiving treat the whole family can enjoy together.
I Love You, Daddy, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, was supposed to have its New York premiere Thursday night. Hours before the Times story went live, the premiere was canceled due to what distribution company the Orchard euphemistically referred to as “unexpected circumstances.” C.K. was slated to appear as a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that same night; that appearance, too, was “hastily scrapped.”
The movie was going to open in select theaters on November 17. By Friday morning, the distributor announced it “will not be moving forward with the release.”
In 2011’s Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theatre, after a sip of water, C.K. launches into a bit about the one part of life he can’t shake.
“You get older, and there’s some things you can’t do anymore,” he says. “There’s things you don’t want to do anymore. It’s a nice change. You feel some desires fall away. New things make you happy. But some things don’t change. And some things I’m sick of. Like the constant, constant, perverted, sexual thoughts.” He smacks himself in the head and smiles. “I’m so tired of those.” He offers some incoherent grunts and mumbles, then mimes — plot twist! — masturbating.
“It makes me into an idiot! I’m jacking off to morons! ‘Oooh, look at my tits.’ ‘Yeah, your tits are awesome.’ It’s just a dumb part of life that I’m sick of. It’s all day, too. You can’t have a day. I just want to be a person in clothes walking in a store.” Even a trip to the library for a book about Abraham Lincoln is derailed by C.K.’s compulsive fantasies about the librarian. “I’m trying to talk to her!” he yells.
“That’s really a male problem, not being able to control your constant sexual impulses,” he goes on, insisting women couldn’t possibly understand his struggle. “You’re a tourist in sexual perversion. I’m a prisoner there.”
In 2003, when Abby Schachner was talking to C.K. on the phone to invite him to her show, “she said she heard the blinds coming down,” the Times reported. “Then he slowly started telling her his sexual fantasies, breathing heavily and talking softly. She realized he was masturbating, and was dumbfounded.”
“The call went on for several minutes, even though, Ms. Schachner said, ‘I definitely wasn’t encouraging it.’ But she didn’t know how to end it, either. ‘You want to believe it’s not happening,’ she said.”