Tickets for Louis C.K.'s three-show run at the Pittsburgh Improv sold out before most of the public was even made aware of the event. But when they were, it sparked anger from many in the local comedy community, especially women who felt particularly hurt by the booking of a man who, a little over a year ago, was accused of and admitted to sexual harassment.
Upon hearing the news, stand-up comedian Cassi Bruno took to Facebook to express disappointment. She briefly stated that C.K. was booked in Pittsburgh and provided a lengthy list of upcoming comedy shows featuring women. The post was shared 120 times.
Bruno was not surprised to see this booking from the Improv. “The Pittsburgh Improv is not exactly known for respecting female performers,” says Bruno. “Since I first got involved in the scene about four years ago, I had always heard that they don’t book women, and they only care about money.”
Bruno also notes that C.K. isn’t the only questionable booking from the Improv. Earlier in January, the Improv hosted comedian T.J. Miller, who has been accused of violent sexual assault, and was arrested last year for calling in a false bomb threat. In March, the Improv will host actor Jeremy Piven, who has been accused of harassment or assault by eight women.
Comedian Gab Bonesso (who is also a CP contributor) is upset that C.K. is performing, despite the harassment, but is also unnerved by the material he’s been performing at his recent shows, which has made its way to the public despite the no-recording policy. In recent shows, he mocked victims of the Parkland Shooting, gender-neutral pronouns, and 9/11.
“[The Improv] has made very clear that no one can record any of his set which says to me that he's going to be telling even more messed up material,” says Bonesso. “It breaks my heart that his shows are sold-out and that people want to hear from a misogynist, victim-blamer. I thought in Pittsburgh 'hate has no place here.' I guess I was wrong.”
When the accusations against C.K. were first made public, many pointed out that it was a workplace harassment issue, since the women he harassed were fellow comedians. Comedian Amanda Averell, is upset the Improv would book a performer that puts women in danger.
“There are more talented people in this scene and in scenes across the country who work harder and have never committed the acts he has,” says Averell. “I think what it says is that the Improv has no interest in keeping its performers safe, especially if they are women.”
Teresa Roberts Logan, a cartoonist and stand-up comedian, echoes this sentiment, urging those who aren’t upset about C.K. performing to consider it further. “[C.K.] masturbated in front of women, in their workplaces. Think about that, what it means. Think about it, for real,” says Logan. “I hope that the women whose careers were damaged or ended by his actions, will be able to continue, somehow, but there are things that he damaged which can’t be fixed.”
All the women interviewed for this piece agreed that there is room for improvement in how women in the comedy scene — locally and generally — are treated. Women are often used as “token” at mostly-male shows, or the alternative, where all-female shows are heavily indicated as such.
“Don’t think of an all-woman show as something you have to balance, or that you always have to have a guy on the show,” says Logan. “It can be an all-woman show without being a ‘Ladies Night’ event.”
For those that are upset about C.K., and the Improv, Averell suggests supporting the kind of shows Bruno listed, as well as locally-owned comedy clubs (the Improv is part of a large national chain), like Steel City Improv, Arcade Comedy Theater, and Burning Bridges Comedy Club.
“They are far less expensive and don’t have purchase minimum – which means they help support performers and the local scene,” she says. “The acts of a corporate entity that has removed itself from the comedy scene, should not speak for the scene.”