KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In the past few weeks, we have heard stories of sexual harassment in just about every industry from Hollywood to politics to journalism, including here at NPR. The senior vice president of news resigned after harassment allegations. Now one of the most powerful figures in comedy, Louis C.K., has admitted to sexual misconduct against five women. Rumors about the comedian have circulated for years, but comedy is an industry where victims of harassment are essentially freelancers with little to no protection if they come forward.
Here to talk more about this is NPR's Elizabeth Blair. Hi there.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So let's start with this Louis C.K. story. Five women talked to The New York Times about this. We should warn listeners their descriptions are graphic. These women were all in or around the comedy world, and the behavior they describe is pretty consistent. An interaction starts out professionally or collegially, Louis C.K. abruptly steers the encounters into sexual territory, and in some instances he masturbates in front of them, right?
BLAIR: That's right. And these stories have been out there for a long time. It was one of those open secrets. So it's interesting that he's admitting to the allegations. In a statement today he says he's remorseful and that he learned too late the power I had over these women is that they admired me, and I wielded that power irresponsibly.
MCEVERS: Is there something about the comedy industry in particular that puts young women at risk?
BLAIR: It's not for the meek. You know, comedy, you have to be intellectually aggressive, if you will. And you find yourself out on the road, touring these small clubs. You may find yourself in some sketchy situations. You go to these big festivals, and it's sort of understood that you'll go to these after-parties to network or to the hotel bar late at night. One of those festivals is the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. And it's a great festival, but, in fact, the founder of that festival had to resign recently because of allegations of sexual misconduct.
MCEVERS: And, you know, Louis C.K. was well known for his sexually explicit, like, stand-up routine. I mean, he joked about masturbation and he joked about his own perversion. Let's listen to a clip from one of his shows in 2011.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "LIVE AT THE BEACON THEATRE")
LOUIS C K: It's really a male problem not being able to control your constant sexual impulses. Women try to compete. They're like, well, I'm a pervert. You don't know. I have really sick sexual thoughts. No, you have no idea.
C K: You have no idea 'cause see; you get to have those thoughts. I have to have them.
C K: You're a tourist in sexual perversion. I'm a prisoner there.
MCEVERS: So interesting to hear that now in light of the allegations against Louis C.K. But, I mean, this is what he was known for - right? - going into the dark recesses of his own mind. Are comedians talking now about how to walk that line of being yourself without, you know, being offensive?
BLAIR: That's right. I mean, and you heard people were howling at those jokes. And, yes, lots of comedians get their best material from the dark recesses of their mind. And that's kind of a comedian's job, to push the envelope whether it's politics or sex. You know, actually, many comedians joke about masturbation, not just Louis C.K. The problem is when a powerful comedian says that to somehow mask really inappropriate behavior, which is what he did for a long time.
MCEVERS: What are other comedians saying about this issue in the industry now?
BLAIR: Well, so as we're seeing in other industries, comedians are coming forward. And there is a new, a younger generation, male and female, who are doing less sexually explicit material. And comedians who want sexual misconduct to stop, they get the word out from the stage. In fact, you know, Bill Cosby, another comedian that was revered and who has had many, many allegations against him for sexual assault, it was a comedian - Hannibal Buress - who mentioned it in one of his stand-up shows. And when he mentioned it, that went viral. And before you know it, it was making headlines everywhere. So it's still a very male-dominated field. But as more and more women are given opportunities to hone their craft and land specials, they will probably feel more empowered to speak out.
MCEVERS: NPR's Elizabeth Blair, thank you so much.
BLAIR: Thank you, Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH'S "STRATUS")
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