The Shadiest Comedians In The Business

This feature discusses child abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and mass violence.

Comedy has long been the subject of controversy. Legendary comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin each sparked outrage in their respective days for material that was at times dark, offensive, and perhaps ahead of its time. But humor is subjective, and the comedians on this list have not come under fire for their jokes alone. After all, free speech and freedom of expression are things we value, but shady behavior off-stage is another story.

Even if a comedian's jokes are part of the problem, it's often the joke-teller's response to the backlash that is considered contentious. From being rude to waitstaff and making fun of marginalized groups to sneaky business deals and troubling treatment of others, these comedians have engaged in behavior that is far from funny. So, let's take a moment to separate the art from the artists and fully indulge in these tales of shade involving some of the most prominent comedians working today.

Chris D'Elia

Chris D'Elia was once famous for being Justin Bieber's favorite comedian, but his reputation would soon become much more sordid. Per the Los Angeles Times, in 2020, five women accused D'Elia of having made inappropriate sexual advances toward them. Two of the women claimed they were underage when D'Elia first approached them on social media, while he was in his late 30s. 

"Sex ... it controlled my life," he admitted in a lengthy YouTube response video. "... I had a problem and I do have a problem." D'Elia also suggested his fame made it easier to access women, and he thought being straightforward about wanting sex was the right thing to do. But what he glossed over was the main thing that got him in trouble — the alleged ages of the girls he was pursuing. In fact, right away, he referred to an earlier statement he'd put out saying, "... Everything I've done has been legal and consensual, and that's true."

Despite D'Elia's denial that he'd preyed upon minors, his career took a hit. The comedian-slash-actor was fired from agencies CAA and 3 Arts Entertainment, and replaced in the film "Army of The Dead" by Tig Notaro. It didn't help matters that D'Elia had once depicted a comedian stalking a 15-year-old girl in "You" or that he'd once starred as a child molester in an episode of "Workaholics" (the episode was later removed from streaming services). In January 2023, D'Elia's show at Hollywood Improv was canceled due to new allegations of sexual misconduct, per Rolling Stone

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jay Leno

Jay Leno has been in the comedy game for a long time. Even before he was a late-night staple, he was a stand-up comic who got his start back in the '70s. Leno worked his way up to a guest hosting gig alongside Johnny Carson and eventually took over as host of "The Tonight Show" in 1992. Many were shocked when Leno won the coveted spot since David Letterman seemed like a shoo-in. It turned out Leno had a secret deal with the network to take over from Carson, due to his tenure as a loyal guest host.

He stayed put until 2009 when Conan O'Brien became the host of "The Tonight Show," while Leno helmed "The Jay Leno Show" in an earlier time slot. However, he was reportedly not happy to have given the reins over to O'Brien. Less than a year later, amid falling ratings for "The Jay Leno Show," Leno got his old gig back. Understandably, his predecessor wasn't happy, with O'Brien telling "60 Minutes" (via People), "I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know ... I wouldn't have done that."

Leno left "The Tonight Show" for real in 2014. Five years later, he courted controversy by reportedly making a racist joke during his time as a guest judge on "America's Got Talent." Per Variety, in reference to a painting he'd seen of Simon Cowell and his dogs, Leno said the animals looked like something "on the menu at a Korean restaurant."

Louis C.K.

Prior to 2017, Louis C.K. was on top of the comedy world. His stand-up shows had sold out Madison Square Garden eight times and the TV series that he created and starred in, "Louie," was critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated. C.K. was also responsible for creating several other hit series including "Horace and Pete," "Baskets," and "Better Things." But after five women accused him of sexual misconduct, public opinion swiftly changed against him.

Per The New York Times, the women in question each detailed disturbing allegations concerning C.K.'s alleged penchant for exposing himself to women and masturbating in front of them. Unproven rumors had swirled within the industry about his behavior toward women in the years prior. In a statement published by CNN, the comedian admitted that the women's stories were true. However, the statement did not include an actual apology.

When C.K. returned to the stage in 2018, he seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, deciding to aim his ire at *checks notes* survivors of a school shooting. "You're not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot," he quipped about the Parkland school shooting, per Slate. "... You pushed some fat kid in the way and now I've got to listen to you talking?" Later, during a performance at a San Jose comedy club, C.K. said (via Slate), "If you ever need people to forget that you jerked off, what you do is you make a joke about kids that got shot." 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you have been impacted by incidents of mass violence, or are experiencing emotional distress related to incidents of mass violence, you can call or text Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 for support.

Tom Segura

Like so many stand-up comedians, Tom Segura has jokes that are bound to offend. But he sometimes takes things too far, doubling down and further angering those who took issue with his material in the first place. During his 2018 Netflix special "Disgraceful," Segura told a joke wherein he performed an insulting impersonation of a Cajun person. He went on to say, "We have this whole population of Cajun people living amongst us like they're one of us ... and they're not! Why do they have rights?" 

Segura then suggested a wall should be built around the state of Louisiana. As he claimed during a Chicago show, the joke provoked a huge response, with Segura bragging, "One quarter of a million emails and messages just from the state of Louisiana," per Chicago Tribune. During an appearance on "Conan," he attempted to explain himself but was clearly only looking to take the joke further, quipping, "I'm just saying, let's put a wall around a s***hole state."

The "Disgraceful" special also caused controversy for a different reason, with Segura complaining how people can no longer use an ableist slur to describe something as stupid, per NME. "Now you've gotta be like, 'That's not ... smart,'" he mocked, before making reference to people with Down's Syndrome. "'Your idea has an extra 21st chromosome.' It's not the same." Many were outraged, and a petition began circulating titled, "Take it down, Netflix," which suggested the joke contained hate speech. The name of Segura's 2023 tour? "Take it Down." Shady as can be.

Kevin Hart

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart remains a likable figure for many, but he had a rough couple of years that revealed his truly shady side. Back in 2017, it was revealed that he had been cheating on his wife, Eniko Parrish, who was pregnant with the couple's first child. In an Instagram video, Kevin apologized to Parrish and the two children he shares with his first wife, Torrei Hart.

Torrei herself chimed in amid the scandal to say that her marriage to the comedian ended due to his infidelity. She told "Inside Edition," "All I can say is if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone." In a 2013 stand-up special, Kevin spoke about cheating on Torrei, telling the audience, "Yes, people, I cheated. Am I ashamed of it? No, no I'm not" (via Inside Edition). Ouch.

In 2018, the comedian was set to host the Academy Awards ceremony when the past crept up on him, and he found himself embroiled in yet another controversy. Some of Kevin's old tweets resurfaced wherein he made homophobic and transphobic remarks. When asked by the Academy to issue an apology, he refused. In an Instagram video, Hart claimed that he'd already issued apologies for his jokes regarding the LGBTQ+ community in the past. However, a Vulture investigation into said "apologies" suggested he'd commented on the matter, but never actually acknowledged his mistakes or said sorry. Regardless, Hart did eventually apologize on Twitter and stepped down as host of the show.

Bill Maher

Comedian and TV host Bill Maher is widely known for not mincing words, even if it means offending some folks — the title of his former talk show was "Politically Incorrect," after all. But even knowing that Maher has a tendency to push the envelope, some of his comments still come off as shocking. One such instance was during a 2001 episode of "Politically Incorrect" when Maher compared mentally disabled children to dogs, complete with an ableist slur. When one of his guests, Cynthia Garrett, spoke up and said her nephew had disabilities but that she didn't think of him as a dog, Maher replied, "Well, maybe you should." He later apologized, stating, "'I was wrong and what I said was hurtful to people and I feel terrible about it,” per The New York Times.

But not terrible enough to avoid such offense in the future. Having moved on to "Real Time with Bill Maher," the controversial comedian was still churning out objectionable quips. In 2015, he compared photos of Zayn Malik and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which many saw as a dig at Malik's Muslim faith. Two years later, Maher used a racial pejorative during an interview (he apologized for his comments, as did HBO, per CNN). That same year, he defended Bill O'Reilly after he likened Congresswoman Maxine Waters' hair to a James Brown wig. And in 2020, he used a whole segment on his show to explain why he thought it was okay to refer to Covid-19 as "The China Virus."

Carlos Mencia

Comedian and actor Carlos Mencia has many fans, due in part to his TV show "Mind of Mencia" which ran for four seasons on Comedy Central. But he has also made his fair share of enemies during his time in the spotlight, due to accusations that he's a joke thief. 

In 2007, fellow comedian Joe Rogan confronted Mencia onstage at The Comedy Store and accused him of stealing jokes from other comics. Although Rogan ended up banned from the venue for his antics, Mencia's reputation still took a dive. The comedian has since noted the hypocrisy of being called out by Rogan telling The New York Times, "It is ironic that a guy who is now saying you shouldn't cancel anybody at least started the building of his podcast by canceling me." 

In 2010, Mencia discussed the allegations during an appearance on "WTF with Marc Maron," but he failed to acquit himself well. Despite host Marc Maron giving the comedian the benefit of the doubt, he ended the episode by suggesting that something felt off about Mencia's demeanor. In a follow-up episode, he decided to interview comedians who claimed to have experienced Mencia's deceptions first-hand.

Still, Mencia maintained his innocence. In a 2019 interview with "The Checkitow Podcast," he even claimed that he'd maintained elaborate archives of all his shows which proved he didn't steal jokes, saying, "I can literally hand you a copy of something that's dated to show you when I wrote a joke and if I wrote it first."

Michael Che

"Saturday Night Live" star Michael Che has a history of shady behavior. In 2021, he shared a post on his Instagram Stories that read, "Man, I want to make fun of Simone Biles." At the time, the Olympic athlete had pulled out of the U.S. gymnastics team to take care of her mental health. So naturally, Che proceeded to post jokes sent to him by fans, some of which had racist undertones and made light of the alleged abuse she endured from disgraced coach, Larry Nassar, per NBC News. Upon receiving backlash, Che posted another story suggesting he'd been hacked — which may have also been a joke. 

But this wasn't the first time Che had faced significant backlash. In 2014, in response to a viral video highlighting the daily street harassment women face every day, the comic took to Instagram to air his opinion, quipping, "I wanna apologize to all the women that I've harrassed with statements like, 'Hi' or 'Have a nice day' or 'You're beautiful'. I can't imagine what that must feel like." As many critics pointed out, his comments belittled the discomfort and potential violence women actually experience. He cushioned an apology for his comments with yet more quips.

Che also seems to have a hard time taking criticism, specifically from women. In 2018, he called out several female writers for having the gall to criticize his jokes online. Per Jezebel, he even reportedly shared the email of Daily Beast reporter, Samantha Allen, and encouraged fans to let her know their feelings about her. Yikes.

James Corden

While seemingly friendly and affable, comedian and former host of "The Late Late Show" James Corden is actually one shady character. In October 2022, Corden was accused of being so rude and obnoxious to wait staff that he was temporarily banned from the NYC restaurant Balthazar. On Instagram, the restaurant's owner, Keith McNally vented about his famous customer. He introduced his tirade regarding Corden's alleged behavior by writing, "James Corden is a hugely gifted comedian, but a tiny Cretin of a man. And the most abusive customer to my Balthazar servers since the restaurant opened 25 years ago." Cordon had seemingly apologized to the restauranteur in private, but not without publicly denying the things McNally had accused him of, per The New York Times.

That same year, Cordon fessed up to having performed a joke stolen from Ricky Gervais after fans quickly pointed out the obvious comparisons. "I inadvertently told a brilliant Ricky Gervais joke on the show last night, obviously not knowing it came from him," he wrote, with nary an apology in sight. Later in 2022, during an appearance on "Table For Two," Andy Cohen further accused Cordon of having copied the design of the raucous clubhouse from "Watch What Happens Live" for the look of his own show's set — from the pop culture knickknacks to the onstage bar. Need further proof of his sketchiness? During a 2016 segment of "Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts" on his own show, Corden failed to name any of his cameramen. We call shade!

Russell Brand

Actor and comedian Russell Brand is known for his charismatic delivery and rockstar style. But the U.K. native is also kind of shady — just ask his ex-wife, Katy Perry. In 2013, the pop star told Vogue that Brand broke things off with her via text. "Let's just say I haven't heard from him since he texted me saying he was divorcing me December 31, 2011," she said. A New Year's Eve divorce text? Super shady.

But Brand's sketchy antics are not just limited to his personal life. Always somewhat outspoken, the comedian made some controversial statements on fellow shady comedian Bill Maher's show, "Real Time with Bill Maher" (per USA Today). During a March 2023 episode, Brand faced off with political analyst for MSNBC John Heilemann. The comedian began spouting off about how MSNBC is propaganda, getting increasingly worked up and talking over both Maher and Heilemann. When asked by Heilemann to provide some facts supporting his claims, Brand turned the discussion to Ivermectin (the drug some were touting as a cure for Covid), claiming, "[The network was] deliberately referring to it as a horse medicine when they know it is an effective medicine." Brand's claim was false, and easily debunked.

Brand seemed determined to get a point across. However, his over-the-top delivery couldn't hide that he didn't have all the facts — in other words, he's not exactly one to talk about spreading misinformation.

Ellen DeGeneres

It's no secret that comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has a shady side. The star used to close out each episode of her long-running talk show with the words, "Be kind." However, DeGeneres went on to face allegations that her TV persona was wildly different from her real self. In 2020, a Twitter thread went viral full of accusations detailing all the purported ways in which she mistreated her staff. But there have also been rumors of DeGeneres' mean streak seemingly substantiated by many celebs as well.

For instance, during a 2022 episode of "Watch What Happens Live," Rosie O'Donnell revealed how the two had developed a friendship after finding fame around the same time, and within the same corners of the industry. However, during an interview with Larry King, she claimed that DeGeneres had spoken unfavorably about her. "Ellen said, and I'm quoting, 'I don't know Rosie. We're not friends ... that's what happened and it hurt my feelings." Meanwhile, the comedian helped musician Grayson Chance jump-start his career as a tween, after an appearance on her show. But when his popularity began to wane,  he claimed that DeGeneres ghosted him. "I've never met someone more manipulative, more self-centered, and more blatantly opportunistic," he told Rolling Stone about DeGeneres.

And we cannot forget all the times she made celebrity guests feel uncomfortable on her show. From making Mariah Carey drink champagne to prove she wasn't pregnant to denying she'd been invited to Dakota Johnson's birthday party, DeGeneres is shade personified.

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle has been considered a controversial comedian since "Chappelle's Show" aired on Comedy Central in the early '00s. But it wasn't until the latter half of the '10s that the comedian came under fire for his sexist, homophobic, and transphobic jokes. In 2017, Vulture reported that he even spent about 20 minutes of his hour-long set making mean-spirited jokes punching down against transgender people. 

Despite mounting criticism, two years later, Chappelle released his "Sticks and Stones" special on Netflix in which he defended fellow shady comedians Kevin Hart and Louis C.K. saying, "I'm sorry, ladies, I've got a f***ing #MeToo headache. This is the worst time ever to be a celebrity. Everyone's doomed" (via BuzzFeed). His 2021 Netflix special "The Closer," sparked even more controversy when the comedian doubled down on his transphobic material by defending JK Rowling's statements against the trans community and declaring, "I'm team TAERF," in solidarity with people accused of being trans-exclusionary radical feminists (per The Guardian). This incited a walkout by employees of the streaming company.

Chappelle's response to the backlash was to post an Instagram video that was shady at best. "To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anyone's demands," he said (via NPR). He also added that one of his conditions to speak with the trans community was, "You must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny." Gadsby is a gender-queer comedian whose own Netflix special "Nanette" was widely praised.