What a difference 18 months can make.
Last May, Jon Stewart sat down for a rare, long interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod for his podcast The Axe Files in front of a live audience of students at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
After a wide-ranging conversation that included Stewart’s assessment that Democrats had opened the door for Donald Trump by not governing effectively enough, a student stood up to ask him about some rumors surrounding Louis C.K., who had been his final guest on The Daily Show the previous summer. Knowing what we know now about C.K.’s disturbing history of sexual misconduct, Stewart’s answer was deeply problematic.
When the questioner noted that the interview came “after some of the rumors about Louis C.K.’s alleged harassment of female comedians,” Stewart stopped him, saying, “Whoa. Wait, what?” As the young man began to explain the situation as it had been reported in Gawker and elsewhere, Stewart let out a laugh and said, “Wait. I’m a little lost. So the internet said Louis harassed women.”
“You know who you’re talking to, right?” Stewart, who has never had a Twitter account, said when the questioner brought up tweets by women accusing C.K. “I didn’t see the tweets,” he said with a chuckle.
As actor James Urbaniak wrote when he shared the video on Twitter yesterday, “Quaint and enabling responses from a different time.”
“I apologize. I’m not that connected to that world,” Stewart added, turning more serious. “I don’t know what you’re talking about but—I can’t really answer. I don’t know what to say.”
“All I can tell you is I’ve worked with Louis for 30 years and he’s a wonderful man and person and I’ve never heard anything about this,” Stewart said before Axelrod ended the show. “We’ve all known Bill Cosby was a prick for a long time, so I don’t know what to tell you. But I didn’t know about the sexual assault, but you’re right, it’s important.”
We have reached out to a representative for Stewart about his comments and have not received a response.
Louis C.K. has a lot of friends in the comedy world, as The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern reported this week, Jon Stewart among them. Stephen Colbert got his big break working for C.K. on The Dana Carvey Show more than 20 years ago. He was supposed to be on The Late Show last night, but canceled at the last minute when he found out that the New York Times story was about the drop. On his show, Colbert addressed the issue, made a quick joke about it and then moved on.
Other hosts, like Conan O’Brien, who hired C.K. to write for his original Late Night show on NBC, decided not to mention it at all. This weekend, the writers at Saturday Night Live will have to decide how they handle the allegations. C.K. has hosted that show four times in the past five years, often leaving some controversy in his wake, including a bit in 2015 about pedophiles that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, so to speak. Will they be willing to call out a man who has practically become part of their family?
Next Saturday, C.K. was scheduled to appear alongside Stewart at the live Night of Too Many Stars benefit, founded by one of his oldest friends in the comedy world, Robert Smigel. HBO has since announced that he will no longer be participating.
Will Stewart be able to avoid addressing the elephant conspicuously absent from the room on that stage? If he does, he would be wise to say he was wrong to laugh off the question about what turned out to be very real allegations about his friend.