The shady side of Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. seemed untouchable. He was one of the biggest comedians on the planet, selling out arenas on tour, making movies, and even doing voiceovers in cartoons such as The Secret Life of Pets. Unfortunately, comedy's redheaded golden boy had some skeletons in his closet that upended his reputation. After multiple women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, C.K. apologized, but the disturbing stories about his past actions, coupled with his controversial comeback, have proved to be no laughing matter.

From lobbing rape jokes to mocking students involved in a deadly school shooting to being accused of stealing jokes, Louis C.K. has a shady side that may forever overshadow his prior success. Let's take a closer look. 

He played dumb about a huge rape joke controversy

Comedian Daniel Tosh came under fire in 2012 for telling a heckler a poorly-worded rape joke onstage. While the internet was outraged, Louis C.K. happened to think it was a good opportunity to tweet Tosh for what appeared to be the first time, writing (via The Hollywood Reporter): "@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes."

Though the timing seemed uncanny, C.K. insisted it was just a coincidence. He told The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (via Us Weekly), "I was on vacation in Vermont, watching TV in a hotel room and Tosh's program came on. I stopped reading the internet [on vacation] and I wrote a tweet [to Tosh]. Two days later, I read these blogs [saying] 'Louis C.K. Defends Daniel Tosh Amid Rape Joke Controversy' and I didn't know about [the jokes]! I've been called a rape apologist, because I said 'hi' to a guy who everyone's mad at." 

C.K. called the situation "a fight between comedians and feminists, which are natural enemies. Because, stereotypically speaking, feminists can't take a joke" and "comedians can't take criticism."

He was accused of copying another comedian

In April 2017, C.K. hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared in a sketch called "Birthday Clown," in which he plays a depressed man who invites a birthday clown to perform for him alone. In 2015, comedian Tig Notaro released a short film called Clown Service, in which she invites a birthday clown to perform for her. Though the endings to each short are different (C.K. tells his clown that he's going to murder him, while Notaro bonds with hers), Notaro wasn't happy about the eerie similarities.

"It has been impossible for me to ignore the cacophony of voices reaching out personally and publicly about the potential plagiarizing of my film Clown Service," she told Entertainment Weekly in a statement. "While I don't know how all this actually happened, I did find it extremely disappointing… I have recently learned that a writer/director who was fully aware of Clown Service when I was making it actually worked on Louis C.K.'s clown sketch that is in question. Secondly, Louis C.K. and I have not communicated in any way for nearly a year and a half… I never gave anyone permission to use anything from my film. I hesitated to even address any of this, but I think it is only right to defend my work and ideas."

He defended racist and ableist language (and maybe Woody Allen)

C.K. wrote, edited, financed, and released the 2017 film I Love You, Daddy, in which a 17-year-old girl is romanced by a much older man, similar to Woody Allen's 1979 film Manhattan. C.K's film includes scenes in which characters use racial slurs and the word "retard."

"We're depicting oxygen-rich people who live in these beautiful apartments and offices saying whatever they want," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Folks say s**t to each other. You can't think about the audience when you're making the thing. If you do, you're not giving them something that came out of your gut. You'll be making something that you're like, 'Is this OK for you?' And they say, 'Yes, thank you.' Mark Twain said something like, 'You can't say no one can eat steak just because the baby doesn't have teeth yet.'"

He added of Allen, "Woody is an ingredient [in the main character and story], along with a whole other generation of dudes who used to go up and down the age line a lot more easily. I grew up with that. Manhattan is a movie I saw as a kid, and I was like, 'OK, that's what people do.'… We're at the bleeding edge of 'That's not OK to do now,' but those people are still around. That's a very interesting line to be on. But there's a lot of people like that. [In other ways], this character is nothing like Woody. He's an eccentric. He's a very harsh dude. And he's not self-aware."

Sexual harassment rumors emerged

On a 2015 episode of her podcast, I Seem Fun, comedian Jen Kirkman described an incident with a famous comic that many believed was Louis C.K. "He's a known perv, and there's a lockdown on talking about him … If I say it, my career is over. My manager and my agent have told me that" Kirkman said (via Death and Taxes). "…And this guy didn't rape me, but he made a certain difficult decision to go on tour with him really hard. Because I knew if I did, I'd be getting more of the same weird treatment I'd been getting from him. And it was really f**ked up, and this person was married."

Kirkman later deleted the episode, but comedy fans linked her account with a blind item on Gawker and largely believed C.K. was the mysterious culprit. Kirkman later told the Nerdist podcast (via Complex), "That person, on their own, was like, 'Yeah, I was kind of a creep.' I was like, 'You are a creep. That's who you are! And God bless you … So we talked, and that was it. I'm fine, because I was never violated." She also noted, "It's kind of obvious who I was talking about." 

Is it? In September 2017, Kirkman told The Village Voice, "There are rumors out there that Louis takes his d**k out at women. He has never done that to me. I never said he did, I never implied that he did … 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." Hmm…

Many more accusations erupted

Three years after Gawker ran the aforementioned blind item, its sister site, Defamer, published emails allegedly exchanged between Louis C.K. and a fan named "Jason." Jason claimed to have emailed C.K. about the allegations because he has female comedian friends and claimed C.K. then called him. Jason thought CK seemed to be fishing for information about what Jason supposedly knew. C.K.'s rep did not comment on those claims, but the chatter persisted. Anonymous sources told Defamer in 2015 that C.K. allegedly sexually harassed a female comedy duo at the Aspen Comedy Festival as well as the Montreal Just For Laughs festival. C.K. and his rep never commented on those allegations either. The actual sources remain unnamed, and no alleged victims came forward.

In November 2017, The New York Times published a scathing report about the controversial comedian in which five women accused C.K. of sexual harassment. In one instance, it's alleged that C.K. stripped naked and touched himself in front of comedians Julia Wolov and Dana Min Goodman in 2002. Comedian Abby Schachner accused C.K. of getting inappropriately sexual while on the phone with her in 2003. Rebecca Corry claimed that while they were both working on a television pilot, C.K. asked her if she would watch him pleasure himself; she declined. A fifth woman who asked to remain anonymous claimed that C.K. pleasured himself in her presence when they both worked on The Chris Rock Show in the late 1990s.

Tig Notaro tried to distance herself from him

Tig Notaro told the Daily Beast in 2017 that C.K. was still listed as an executive producer on her show One Mississippi, despite her constantly refuting his involvement in the project. "It's frustrating, because he has nothing to do with the show. But I don't waste my time on him or what anyone thinks … everyone that's directly involved in the show works very hard. They are decent, talented human beings. And I feel lucky to be surrounded by them," she said. "But yeah, he has nothing to do with the show."

Tig Notaro also told the Daily Beast that she's not impressed with C.K.'s general lack of acknowledgement of his sexual harassment allegations. "I think it's important to take care of that, to handle that, because it's serious to be assaulted. It's serious to be harassed. It's serious, it's serious, it's serious," she said. 

Notaro also slammed C.K. in an email to The New York Times in November 2017. "Sadly, I've learned that Louis C.K.'s victims are not only real, but many are actual friends of mine within the comedy community," she wrote, adding that she felt "trapped" by her association with him and suggesting he may have used her as cover. "[I fear that] he released my album to cover his tracks," she wrote. "He knew it was going to make him look like a good guy, supporting a woman."

Deny deny deny

In March 2016, Roseanne Barr accused Louis C.K. of "locking the door and masturbating in front of women comics and writers. I can't tell you — I've heard so many stories. Not just him, but a lot of them," she told the Daily Beast. "And it's just par for the course. It's just s**t women have to put up with." In a followup email, she told the Daily Beast: "These allegations [against Louis C.K.] have been leveled and talked about for years. I do not have firsthand knowledge [of the incidents], though have heard women make these allegations."

C.K. dismissed the sexual harassment allegations in a March 2016 interview with Vulture. "I don't care about that. That's nothing to me. That's not real," he said. In September 2017, The New York Times asked C.K. about the sexual harassment allegations and Notaro's commentary on them. He deflected again. "I'm not going to answer to that stuff, because they're rumors. If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real," he said. "They're rumors, that's all that is…"

He admitted to misconduct

Following The New York Times bombshell report in 2017, Louis C.K.'s film, I Love You, Daddy, and his Netflix special, were pulled from the platform. It was then that the embattled comedian changed his tune about all those sexual misconduct allegations.

"These stories are true," C.K. said in a lengthy statement (via Deadline). "At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my d**k without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your d**k isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly." He added, "There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with."

Pete Davidson says C.K. tried to undermine his SNL career

For all of Louis C.K.'s own shady behavior, he seems to have little issue policing that of other comedians. In a New Year's Eve 2018 stand-up set, Pete Davidson revealed that C.K. tried to get him fired from Saturday Night Live. According to Us Weekly, Davidson claims that when C.K. hosted SNL in April 2017, the Louie star "told all the producers in front of me that 'all this kid does is smoke weed and he's gonna smoke his career away.'" Davidson alleged that C.K. told Executive Producer Lorne Michaels "that Pete smokes so much weed that it makes people uncomfortable … Then five years later this mother***ker's been locking doors and [masturbating] in front of people."

Davidson may have gotten the last laugh, cracking (via E! News): "I got a Harry Potter tattoo. Then the next day Alan Rickman, the guy who played Snape, died, and I was like, 'Oh, what a weird coincidence.' Then I got a Willy Wonka tattoo. Next day — Gene Wilder dies. Now I'm like, 'All right, that's a coincidence, that's weird.' So I'm thinking of getting a tattoo of Louis C.K., what do you guys think?"

He's started to punch down

Louis C.K.'s return to stand-up has received mixed reviews. Vulture reported that in one of C.K.'s comeback sets in August 2018, he had a bit about "rape whistles" being unclean. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he also lamented about losing "$35 million an hour" and having "trouble in the PR department." C.K. has also mocked trans people and made vulgar jokes about Asians. Comedian Jena Friedman told The New Yorker that his "hacky" new material "sounded like he went through old joke books to fill an hour."

By December 2018, his material had taken an even darker turn. Leaked audio revealed C.K. mocking student survivors of the Parkland school shooting, which drew furious reactions from survivors as well as victims' families. "To anyone who knows Louis C.K., please deliver this message for me," tweeted Fred Guttenberg (via CNN). "My daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting. My son ran from the bullets. My wife and I deal with loss every day. Why don't you come to my house and try out your new pathetic jokes?"