Fall of the funnymen
I grew up on Bill Cosby. I loved Louis C.K. I saw Aziz Ansari live. Now, I can’t enjoy anything produced by any of these comedians. Bill Cosby has been accused of, among other things, drugging and raping dates. Louis C.K. has been unofficially charged with pressuring women into masturbating in front of him. Aziz Ansari is being held accountable for sexual aggression and failure to gain clear consent. In a Hollywood now preoccupied with uncovering and blackballing celebrities accused of misconduct, comedians are at the center of the controversy.
Sexual assault is an issue that has existed in the comedy world for an extremely long time. Many have even gone so far as to call it an ‘open secret,’ and allegations against comedians span generations – and yet, this is the first time it has been given due coverage by national media. Woody Allen was accused of sexual molestation by his seven-year-old daughter in 1992, but has escaped the public condemnation quick to envelope Cosby or C.K. In fact, some of Hollywood’s most well-known actors continue to defend (or at least remain neutral towards) the director. Even with Louis C.K., allegations of sexual misconduct have been swirling around him since a 2012 Gawker article – and yet, nobody took it seriously until he admitted guilt last year.
“Abuse of power” is a phrase which gets re-purposed and applied periodically in the face of events such as these. In the case of C.K. (as perhaps simply the cleanest example), coercing or pressuring aspiring female comedians to perform sexual acts for personal entertainment is clearly an abuse of power. But the almost more insidious abuse of power comes in the subsequent decision to cover the crime up. Editor and T.V. writer Nicole Silverberg says she was told to delete a tweet she wrote about C.K. abusing women before applying to a high-profile comedy job, and comic Jen Kirkman claimed in 2015 that a moratorium had been placed on talking about it. Even through the publication of the New York Times article – up to C.K.’s admission of guilt – certain comedians and celebrities continued to question or deny the accusations. There was a sense he was part of a family, and nobody wanted to break that bond.
As the industry continues to expunge and cleanse predators from its ranks, it’s important we look at the culture that continues to produce norms which encourage sexual misconduct. The way in which allegations of sexual assault have historically been handled within the industry is despicable. Network ties are prioritized over moral violations, the tendency to immediately dismiss victim reports strong. The cascade of sexual harassment claims are indicative of a culture that favors those with status and money, at the expense of those in vulnerable positions (i.e. those trying to find their way, or struggling to make it). The entertainment industry, and more specifically those involved in comedy, need to take steps past #MeToo to create a lasting change in how their culture interacts with sexual activity.