Brow Beat

The Comedy Cellar’s Owner Has Clearly Been Waiting to Let Louis C.K. Back on Stage Since Day One

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22:  Louis C.K. attends Tribeca TV Festival's sneak peek of Better Things at Cinepolis Chelsea on September 22, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca TV Festival)
Noam Dworman clearly doesn’t think Louis C.K. deserved his 10-month exile. Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

The owner of the Comedy Cellar Noam Dworman has been out and about defending both himself and Louis C.K. this week, following C.K.’s surprise return to the stage on Sunday night. In the New York Times story that broke the news, Dworman said that “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” He told the Hollywood Reporter that “I have other comedians work here who I’ve heard accusations of worse things than Louis—worse than sexual harassment.” He appeared on Wednesday on Fox News radio, where he said that he doesn’t think of comedy as a workplace or this as a “workplace issue.” He also hosted #MeToo critic Bari Weiss on this week’s episode of the Comedy Cellar podcast, Live From the Table, where she critiqued the reporting around C.K.’s being thrust upon the audience: “Everybody’s thrust upon the audience, that’s the point!”

But Dworman’s defense of his decision to allow C.K. back goes even further—it’s not just that it’s time to forgive C.K. for being a sexual harasser, but that C.K. isn’t a sexual harasser at all.

When Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov (two of C.K.’s five original accusers) tweeted on Thursday that Dworman had spent nine months trying to poke holes in their story, causing them a great deal of pain, he replied saying that he was “stunned by the level [of] hate that passes for logic.”

He also used this opportunity to link to a recorded conversation with Melena Ryzik, the New York Times culture reporter who broke the news about C.K.’s Sunday night set as well as the original accusations, that he sarcastically referred to as the “‘poke holes’ conversation.” Which—surprise, surprise—is exactly what it was.

In the 50-minute snippet from Ryzik’s 2017 appearance on Live From the Table, Dworman questions Goodman and Wolov’s reactions and response time as well as Ryzik’s reporting of the incident and even implies that the women’s admiration for C.K. might have meant they were OK with his actions. It’s an uncomfortable listen, in which one of the men on the show repeatedly brings up sex dreams about his female co-host.*

Dworman continually picks at Goodman and Wolov’s story (“really put your lawyer cap on for this,” one co-hosts remarks). He questions the idea that C.K. or his manager were powerful enough back in 2002 to intimidate victims into silence, and questions whether there was really a power imbalance in the room, saying “Louis was not famous in 2002 … If he was on the board outside in 2002 it wouldn’t have done anything.” He questions Goodman and Wolov’s reported reactions (they were laughing uncomfortably), questions the idea of “freeze or friend,” and questions how long it took them to react. “Why didn’t they say stop?”

Ryzik: It happened quickly.

Dworman: How quickly?

Ryzik: Minutes.

Dworman: Minutes? So for minutes, which is a long time, minutes, for minutes they couldn’t, they didn’t ever say to him “cut that—what are you doing?”

He repeatedly returns to C.K.’s problematic statement, which acknowledged that the women’s admiration for him complicated things. Dworman doubles down and misses the point. “Now, I’m a guitar player, I don’t if maybe my wife admired me and that’s why she married me. We tend to gravitate sexually to the people we admire.” The man who runs the most powerful comedy club in New York shows complete ignorance of—or simply disregard for—what it’s like to be a woman in these kind of situations (both in the moment and in coming forward.) His focus is entirely on C.K. and what was going on in his mind. “Is it possible that he didn’t take that as a no? That in the jovialness of the moment he saw that as a green light? Is that possible?”

He also questions Ryzik’s reporting repeatedly, in a series of questions reminiscent of the way accusers are questioned: “Did you ask that as a reporter? Did you probe? Did you ask them if he might have misinterpreted that?” He brings up the UVA rape case, which involved seriously negligent reporting, and says that journalists often leave out whatever they want (Ryzik points out space limitations as well as the extreme vetting her story went through). In an intro to the original interview that Dworman didn’t share today, he casts doubt on Ryzik’s reporting without her in the room:

I have to be honest, while I felt that Melena was smart, I believe she came at this more of a champion of a cause than as an objective reporter. I don’t believe she asked some of the key questions that as a reporter I would have asked … in order to give a full and robust context to the story.

Dworman tries to have it both ways, sounding highly skeptical of the allegations while also pointing to C.K.’s statement of regret as sign that he isn’t a bad person.* He also points out that it’s not fair for C.K. to be penalized when Woody Allen still gets to work, and claims that everyone has done something bad in their life. “If you can put a number on that level of moral violation… let’s say call it a level C moral violation. How many people have not committed a level C moral violation? … We’re focusing on one aspect of ways in the universe that people can be bad.” He’s also keen to clarify that what Ryzik heard from the victims wasn’t as bad as the longstanding Gawker rumor, in which C.K. blocked the door. “That’s news in a way, that part of the rumor, at least they’re not maintaining that it’s true. I think that’s important. Because if that were true, and I was afraid that you would say that it was true …. that would be a serious crime.”

It’s obvious Dworman doesn’t just think that C.K. has served his time, or that everyone deserves a second chance. He never believed C.K. deserved punishment at all. After all, this wasn’t a serious crime. And that’s deeply problematic coming from the owner of the Comedy Cellar—an important gatekeeper in the comedy world. Men can be shamed into hiding, or shamed out of letting Louis C.K. on their stage for 10 months. But too many still refuse to accept that there was anything to be ashamed of at all.

Correction, Sept. 4, 2018: This article originally stated that one of the hosts of the Live From the Table podcast discussed having sex dreams about New York Times reporter Melena Ryzik. Host Dan Naturman was discussing his co-host, Kristin Montella, and not Ryzik. This piece has also been updated to reflect that while Noam Dworman sounded skeptical of Louis C.K.’s accusers’ claims at points throughout the interview, he never explicitly stated he was skeptical of them.