Just over a week ago, disgraced comedian Louis CK won a Grammy. Well, perhaps before the Grammys, one could describe him as “disgraced.”
In 2017, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations by five women, CK was swiftly dropped by his agent, publicist and manager. Netflix, HBO and FX — where he had a lucrative overall deal and was executive producer of four shows — cut ties with the comedian. The women had accused CK of exposing himself and masturbating in front of them, which CK admitted to doing and apologized.
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“These stories are true,” CK said in his statement in 2017, which continued, in part: “When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick 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.”
After his mainstream career was derailed, CK quietly re-emerged with new standup material at comedy clubs in 2018. Though he was no longer being hired by major Hollywood networks and studios, CK created his own work and his fans followed. Last year, he embarked on a 24-city nationwide, sold-out comedy tour. In 2020, he released a special for $7.99 on his own website, “Sincerely, Louis CK,” where he poked fun and downplayed his own sexual misconduct. That special won him the Grammy for best comedy album last week, his third in the category and fourth nomination.
“There has been zero change in the way comedy is run. There are no rules,” says Julia Wolov, one of the five women who accused CK five years ago, telling the New York Times in their 2017 exposé that she fled in shock when CK suddenly masturbated in front of her at a 2002 comedy festival.
In a new interview with Variety, Wolov says that CK’s Grammy win proves that the #MeToo movement hasn’t done much more than light up headlines in Hollywood. Reflecting on the past few years, Wolov says powerful words have been spoken, but not much action has been taken, now exemplified by CK’s Grammy win.
“Nobody cares. That’s the message this sends,” Wolov says. “It really does. That’s the truth.”
Wolov — a comedy writer and performer who is part of the Chicago-formed comedy duo, Dana and Julia, along with her longtime professional partner and friend of nearly 30 years, Dana Min Goodman — rarely speaks about the incident. In fact, she regrets coming forward in 2017. At the time, she spoke out to help others, concerned that CK might have harassed or assaulted more women.
“You sort of take that on, knowing that you might be able to help somebody else. That’s part of what makes you come forward, but it’s not fun. We took one for the team,” Wolov tells Variety. “Even talking to you right now, I know this will not work in my favor, but so many people are asking and it’s hard when he’s in the constant news cycle.”
Wolov cannot prove that she has faced professional repercussions as a direct response to speaking publicly about CK, but she says it hasn’t helped. She believes she has been labeled a “troublemaker” in the world of comedy, even if people privately applaud her for speaking out. “Of course, his fans will say it’s because we’re not funny or we’re gold diggers — that’s my favorite, like, we got so rich from this,” Wolov says with sarcasm. “People will say we want attention. Trust me, this is not the attention that I ever hoped for.”
Wolov doesn’t even really know why she is speaking out again. But with CK winning a Grammy, she knows with full certainty that nothing has changed. And she’s not sure who can even begin to make that change.
“Anytime that he does anything, I’ll wake up in the morning to messages and emails [from] reporters and it’s the same question: ‘Should he be able to perform?’ I do not know. Don’t ask me. I don’t make the rules,” she says.
“I’ve thought about what should be done and what is the meaning for all of this, but I don’t have an answer because I really don’t know. The way the industry works can be so mysterious,” she adds. “But whoever the decision makers are, is it that necessary that you have to work with this person who has been showing his dick to everyone in town? Do you have to work with him that badly? There are so many funny people. Why him? Why not them? Why not anyone but him?”
The Recording Academy has undergone sweeping changes in the past year, in order to reflect its most diverse and inclusive voting body. With more than 12,000 voting members today, CK was nominated and won.
“It’s such bullshit. What’s wrong with people?” Wolov cracks. “Wouldn’t it be nice if people wouldn’t be rewarded for bad behavior? But what are you supposed to do? These people voted for him. I guess that’s what happens when comedy and music comes together.”
The comedy and music businesses are known to be plagued with rampant harassment and little regulation. While the issue is certainly an industry-wide problem across entertainment, in television and film, it’s hard to make a living with no corporate support. But in comedy or music, an artist can release their own material or go on stage — as long as they have the fans to back them.
“These big brands can’t have Louis CK starring in a movie. Disney can’t have Louis CK But a little black box comedy club can do whatever they want,” Wolov says, pointing out that even with the allegations surrounding him, having CK’s name at a standup show actually helps. “Everyone is about the bottom line. If Louis can sell tickets for a small comedy club, then they will.”
On one hand, Wolov is ready to move on.
“Part of me doesn’t care. If people want to see them, good for them,” she says. “Who is going to tell him he can’t go on stage? I’m not. I really don’t care what he does. It makes no difference to me. All I can do or say is live and be well far away from me.”
But on the other hand, it’s just not right.
“I know that he faced financial repercussions by losing his TV deals, but big deal. For him, I feel like he thinks that’s his god-given right to have these things, where most normal people would see it as a privilege to have that type of platform,” Wolov says. “I don’t believe in cancel culture, but obviously, Louis is not canceled. He seems fine to me. He’s touring. He’s selling out. He’s winning Grammys.”
Wolov admits that she still feels a little bit of guilt for being part of the movement that spoke out against CK, a few years ago. “It’s ridiculous, but I do,” she says. “You don’t want to ruin someone’s life. All of our lives got fucked from this, but at least he has millions of dollars to comfort himself. He’s not going to be homeless.”
Going forward, Wolov isn’t quite sure what to do. When she sees people speaking up on social media, she feels a sense of comfort, but she knows it’s not really moving the needle. “They’re upset, but they’re just talking to each other. You can talk about it all you want on social media, but there is nowhere to go. It’s not like you can go to HR at your public company and the person gets fired and you never have to work with them again,” Wolov says.
Even when celebrities speak up, sure, it helps. But it’s not their burden to take on, the comedian says. “Louis did all this shit, and now everyone else has to talk about it, except for him?” Wolov poses. “It’s just annoying and unfair.”
An attorney listed as a representative of CK, who no longer has a PR rep or manager, did not respond to Variety‘s inquiry on this story. It is unclear who submitted CK for his Grammy nomination this year.
Variety has reached out to the Recording Academy, which has not responded to backlash surrounding CK’s win. When his nomination initially garnered negative attention, along with nods for Marilyn Manson and Dave Chappelle, the Recording Academy’s CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., addressed the controversy in an interview with The Wrap. “We won’t restrict the people who can submit their material for consideration,” he said. “We won’t look back at people’s history, we won’t look at their criminal record, we won’t look at anything other than the legality within our rules of, this recording is eligible for this work based on date and other criteria ? If it is, they can submit for consideration.”
Mason Jr. also said: “What we will control is our stages, our shows, our events, our red carpets. We’ll take a look at anyone who is asking to be a part of that, asking to be in attendance, and we’ll make our decisions at that point. But we’re not going to be in the business of restricting people from submitting their work for our voters to decide on.”
CK was not present at the 2022 Grammys, held last weekend in Las Vegas, to accept his award.
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