Friday November 10, 2017

Comedian who asked about Louis C.K. at Montreal's Just For Laughs says A-listers protected him

Megan Koester says she knows for a fact there are other sexual abusers in the comedy industry who are still getting away with it.

Megan Koester says she knows for a fact there are other sexual abusers in the comedy industry who are still getting away with it. (Submitted by Megan Koester )

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Two years before the New York Times published a story exposing comedian Louis C.K.'s history of sexual misconduct, Megan Koester was in Canada trying to get A-list comedians to talk about it.

But Koester, a comedian and writer, says C.K.'s behaviour has been an "open secret" for years in the comedy world, but when she tried to broach the topic on the red carpet at the 2015 Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, she was told to back off.

In a statement on Friday, C.K. admitted to the Times' allegations that he masturbated in front of or on the phone with several female colleagues, and vowed to "step back and take a long time to listen."

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Koester about C.K.'s apology and why it took so long for him to admit what he'd done. Here is part of that conversation.

What do you make of this apology from Louis C.K.?

I find it respectful and contrite and sincere, and it sort of makes me wonder why he didn't do it earlier. Because if he had, he wouldn't have completely ruined his career.

How often did you hear of these kinds of allegations over the years?

I've known about a number of instances that came out in the [New York Times] report for about five years. I would say it was a very open secret among the comedy community.

Can you tell us your efforts to actually try and expose this story?

I went to Just For Laughs in Montreal with the aim of asking A-list celebrities what they thought about these accusations.

This is when the Bill Cosby stuff was sort of breaking pretty large, so I opened up the line of inquiry by asking, "How do you feel about the Cosby allegations?"

And everyone, of course, would be like, "Oh they're horrible. I'm pretty sure they're not allegations." Because so many people had come forward at that point.

But I would follow up with, "Well, how do you feel about the Louis allegations?"

Everyone would just act like they had never heard what I was talking about. But by the virtue of the fact that I, a relative nobody, knew this to be true, I found it very disingenuous for people to pretend as though they had no idea what I was talking about.

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Rumours about Louis C.K.'s sexual misconduct were an 'open secret' in the comedy world for years, says comedian Megan Koester. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

You were told to stop asking these questions. Can you tell us about that?

The COO of the festival sort of took me off the red carpet and explained that, you know, Just For Laughs was a sort of a friendly environment, Louis C.K. was a friend of the festival and I should be asking friendly questions on the red carpet. 

[Editor's note: Just For Laughs COO Bruce Hills defended himself in a statement to Vice, saying: "My intent was to keep our awards ceremony as a celebratory event. In doing so, I was in no way defending nor aware of any allegations towards talent."]

What did you do?

I left. 

The founder of Just For Laughs, Gilbert Rozon, has resigned just recently. After the Harvey Weinstein allegations, a number of women came forward to say that over three decades, they had allegations of his sexual misconduct. Does it seem to be part of the culture of comedy to keep these things under wraps?

I don't think it's something inherent in comedy. Any large, powerful industry, these sort of things will happen. The entertainment industry just happens to be a large and powerful industry. 

He's also, Gilbert Rozon, apologized and he's going to reflect. ... Do you think this would have happened if some women hadn't come forward and gone to the media and said what was happening to them?

None of this would have happened if women didn't come forward. The reason why these things didn't come to light is because, unfortunately, the onus is always on the victims to come forward before you can do anything about it.

And when the victims have been intimidated and silenced, they're incredibly disinclined to go forward and, you know, potentially ruin their careers or be dragged out in some sort of huge media show. 

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Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon resigned Wednesday following allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. (Radio-Canada)

This is having a great affect on people's careers. Movies are being cancelled, productions are stopping, there are all kinds of consequences. Do you think that this is a tipping point? 

It feels like this is a tipping point, yes. And I hope that this is indicative of a larger trend and that it will continue. 

But the one through-line that I've noticed with all of these stories is all of these people being publicly shamed for what they had done is it's things that they had done years in the past.

No one's talking about the things people are doing now, the horrific acts that people are committing now. The fact that a statute of limitations basically has to expire before we can talk about these misdeeds, I find troubling.

And you think, as we speak, this behaviour continues?

I know for a fact, as we speak, this behaviour continues.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.