Comedian-filmmaker Louis C.K., known for his edgy, sex-steeped comedy, is the latest Hollywood figure accused of sexual misconduct: Five women told The New York Times he masturbated in front of them, or tried to, without their consent.
In a story published Thursday, the Times identified four women by name, and a fifth who was anonymous, who recounted similar stories of C.K. crossing the line of sexual misconduct in encounters with them dating back more than a decade.
Chicago comedy duo Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov described how, after their big-break performance at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., in 2002, C.K. invited them to hang out in his hotel room for a nightcap. They thought he was joking when he asked if he could take out his penis.
“And then he really did it,” Goodman told the Times. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”
"In 2003, Abby Schachner called 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," the Times story continued. "Another comedian, Rebecca Corry, said that while she was appearing with C.K. on a television pilot in 2005, he asked if he could masturbate in front of her. She declined."
Corry's allegation was confirmed by the pilot's executive producers, Courteney Cox and David Arquette; Cox said in an email to the paper she felt "outrage and shock" about the incident.
“What happened to Rebecca on that set was awful,” Cox said in her email. They discussed curtailing the production but Corry decided to continue, declining to be the one who shut down the production.
The women's allegations called into question whether C.K.'s comedic schtick — he's known for his candor about his sexual hang-ups and his frequent talk about masturbation in his act — has served as a longtime cover for real misconduct.
The Times said C.K.’s publicist, Lewis Kay, said the comedian would not respond to the allegations. “Louis is not going to answer any questions,” Kay wrote in an email Tuesday night.
Kay told USA TODAY Thursday, "In the coming days, Louis will issue a written statement."
More List of accused continues to grow: List: All of the Hollywood power players accused of sexual assault or harassment
Initial fallout was swift: HBO announced it will remove all of C.K's past projects from its On Demand services. And, HBO said, the comedian will no longer be participating in the Night of Too Many Stars: America Unites for Autism Programs, which will be presented live on HBO on Nov.18.
The consequences of impending scandal revelations were obvious even before the Times story broke: The premiere of C.K.'s new black-and-white film, I Love you, Daddy, scheduled for Thursday night in New York, was canceled, abruptly and with no explanation, earlier on Thursday.
His appearance on CBS' The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Friday also was canceled, with William H. Macy taking his place.
The Hollywood Reporter claimed Thursday that a coming New York Times story on the comedian was about to break and the premiere was canceled in case it was damaging.
"This evening’s premiere has been canceled due to unexpected circumstances," according to a statement issued by Kate Lowell, a spokeswoman for I Love You, Daddy.
After the story was published, the film's distributor, The Orchard, issued a new statement:
“In light of the allegations concerning Louis C.K. referenced in today’s New York Times, we are canceling tonight’s premiere of I Love You, Daddy. There is never a place for the behavior detailed in these allegations. As a result, we are giving careful consideration to the timing and release of the film and continuing to review the situation,” read the statement issued by Anna Dinces Janash, spokeswoman for The Orchard.
The film, which C.K. self-funded and filmed in secret, made USA TODAY's reviewer, Andrea Mandell, feel "nauseous" when she saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The film is about a New York TV writer's flummoxed reaction to a budding relationship between his 17-year-old daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and a 68-year-old filmmaker who is his idol (John Malkovich). Instead of shutting this duo down tout suite, C.K.'s character instead makes a passionate speech defending a relationship that could amount to statutory rape.
Aside from controversial dialogue, including use of the N-word by C.K.'s character and multiple jokes about child rape, critics have noted the film's similarity to Woody Allen's 1979 film Manhattan (teen girl in relationship with man in 40s played by Allen), not to mention the longstanding sexual abuse allegations (never proven) made against Allen by his own daughter.
In response to the allegations, Mike Schur, co-creator of Parks and Recreation, apologized for casting C.K. in early seasons of the popular series, which ended in 2015.
"I don't remember when I heard the rumors 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," he posted on Twitter under his Ken Tremendous account.
Vulture reported C.K.'s last appearance was in a 2012 episode.
The Times story's three listed writers included Jodi Kantor, who also co-wrote the paper's earlier investigative reports on fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, accused by nearly 80 women of sexually harassing, coercing, assaulting or raping them in episodes dating back four decades. That Oct. 5 story, and another on Weinstein in The New Yorker a week later, set off a cascade of allegations of sexual misdeeds against Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and other high-profile figures that continues.
C.K. has been dogged for years by allegations of sexual harassment against female comics. Roseanne Barr once claimed he is known to force women he works with to watch him masturbate, though she later acknowledged she had no firsthand knowledge.
"Well, you can’t touch stuff like that," C.K. told Vulture last year. "If you need your public profile to be all positive, you’re sick in the head. I do the work I do, and what happens next I can’t look after. So my thing is that I try to speak to the work whenever I can. Just to the work and not to my life.”
Tig Notaro told The Daily Beast that C.K. needs to "handle" his sexual-misconduct rumors. "Because it’s serious to be assaulted," Notaro said. "It’s serious to be harassed. It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.” She said it's common talk at comedy clubs "what some big-shot comedian or person has done. People just excuse it.”
Notaro also suggested there was an “incident” that happened between her and C.K., without going into detail. “We don’t talk since then,” she said, even though he's credited as a producer on the comedian’s Amazon series One Mississippi.
Another comedian, Jen Kirkman, mentioned rumors about C.K.'s reputation for misconduct in the comedian community in a podcast in 2015, then walked it back. She said he had never done anything to her and never implied that he did. In fact, she said she talks to him on a regular basis.
Kirkman isn’t sure about the rumors, she told AV Club in September.
“Sometimes there’s nothing there. I think this might be a case of there’s nothing there,” Kirkman said. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and if any women want to come forward and say what he’s done, I’ll totally back them, because I believe women. But I just don’t know any…"
Megan Beth Koester, who calls herself "The Inoffensive Comedian," said on her website that in 2015 she attended the Just for Laughs comedy festival as a writer for Gawker, intending "to get to the bottom of Louis CK’s numerous accusations of sexual impropriety" by asking male comedians on the red carpet about them.
This did not go over well with the festival organizers, she wrote. She was threatened so she left. Besides, no one wanted to go on the record for fear of career damage.
"When I told people the purpose for my being at JFL, their eyes bulged with excitement. They had all heard the accusations," she wrote. "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."
C.K.'s recent projects include Baskets, a dark comedy about clowns that premiered on FX in 2016, and Better Things, a comedy-drama in its second season on FX about a divorced actress raising three daughters.
"The series co-creators (C.K. and Pamela Adlon) embrace the unsettling as they explore difficult but real topics," USA TODAY's reviewer Bill Keveney reported.
“What we found out is that when we start going down a road and exploring a storyline, if it’s making either of us uncomfortable, we know we’re onto something,” Adlon told him in September.
FX Networks put a statement Thursday: “We are obviously very troubled by the allegations about Louis C.K. published in The New York Times today. The network has received no allegations of misconduct by Louis C.K. related to any of our 5 shows produced together over the past 8 years. FX Networks and FXP take all necessary actions to protect our employees and thoroughly investigate any allegations of misconduct within our workplace. That said, the matter is currently under review.”