When the line gets crossed

Louis C. K.’s turn.

In 2002, a Chicago comedy duo, Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, landed their big break: a chance to perform at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. When Louis C.K. invited them to hang out in his hotel room for a nightcap after their late-night show, they did not think twice. The bars were closed and they wanted to celebrate. He was a comedian they admired. The women would be together. His intentions seemed collegial.

As soon as they sat down in his room, still wrapped in their winter jackets and hats, Louis C.K. asked if he could take out his penis, the women said.

They thought it was a joke and laughed it off. “And then he really did it,” Ms. Goodman said in an interview with The New York Times. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”

In 2003, Abby Schachner called Louis 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. Another comedian, Rebecca Corry, said that while she was appearing with Louis C.K. on a television pilot in 2005, he asked if he could masturbate in front of her. She declined.

Sweet of you to offer, but no thanks.

The stories told by the women raise sharp questions about the anecdotes that Louis C.K. tells in his own comedy. He rose to fame in part by appearing to be candid about his flaws and sexual hang-ups, discussing and miming masturbation extensively in his act — an exaggerated riff that some of the women feel may have served as a cover for real misconduct. He has all but invited comparison between his private life and his onscreen work, too: In “I Love You, Daddy,” which is scheduled to be released next week, a character pretends to masturbate at length in front of other people, and other characters appear to dismiss rumors of sexual predation.

At the same time, Louis C.K. has also boosted the careers of women, and is sometimes viewed as a feminist by fans and critics. But Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov said that when they told others about the incident in the Colorado hotel room, they heard that Louis C.K.’s manager was upset that they were talking about it openly. The women feared career repercussions. Louis C.K.’s manager, Dave Becky, was adamant in an email that he “never threatened anyone.”

For comedians, the professional environment is informal: profanity and raunch that would be far out of line in most workplaces are common, and personal foibles — the weirder the better — are routinely mined for material. But Louis C.K.’s behavior was abusive, the women said.

“I think the line gets crossed when you take all your clothes off and start masturbating,” Ms. Wolov said.

You’re supposed to do that on the subway in front of strangers, not in a hotel room in front of friends.

Goodman and Wolov told people about it the next day, figuring they should at least warn people, but Dave Becky got word of it and told them to stop. He’s a mover and shaker in their world, so that limited their career.

Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov moved to Los Angeles shortly after the Aspen festival, but “we were coming here with a bunch of enemies,” Ms. Goodman said. Gren Wells, a filmmaker who befriended the comedy duo in 2002, said the incident and the warning, which they told her about soon after Aspen, hung heavily over them both. “This is something that they were freaked out about,” Ms. Wells said.

In the years since, Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov have found some success, but they remained concerned about Mr. Becky and took themselves out of the running for the many projects he was involved in. Though their humor is in line with what he produces, “we know immediately that we can never even submit our material,” Ms. Wolov said.

So that’s great. He does skeevy creepy thing and their careers take a hit.

Tig Notaro, the comedian whose Amazon series, “One Mississippi,” lists Louis C.K. as an executive producer, is one of the few in the fiercely insular comedy world to speak out against him. Her career received a huge boost when he released her 2012 comedy album, about her cancer diagnosis. But their relationship has crumbled and she now feels “trapped” by her association with him, she wrote in an email.

Her fear is that “he released my album to cover his tracks,” she said. “He knew it was going to make him look like a good guy, supporting a woman.” Ms. Notaro said she learned of his reputation after they sold the series to Amazon, and a recent story line is a fictional treatment of the alleged masturbation episodes.

“Sadly, I’ve come to learn that Louis C.K.’s victims are not only real,” she said by email, “but many are actual friends of mine within the comedy community,” like Ms. Corry, who confided in her, she said.

Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov said that with other allegations swirling around the entertainment world, they could no longer stay silent. “Because of this moment, as gross as it is, we feel compelled to speak,” Ms. Goodman said.

Ms. Notaro said she was standing in support of those with the courage “to speak up against such a powerful figure,” she said, “as well as the multitude of women still out there, not quite ready to share their nightmares.”

Brought to you by The Harvey Weinstein Moment.

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