This article was originally published on Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in comedy. Subscribe here to get posts like this in your inbox.
Chris D’Elia’s back. Last weekend he headlined at Levity Live in Oxnard, California, part of the Improv chain of comedy clubs. The lineup included alleged rapist Bryan Callen, cycling enthusiast Brendan Schaub, and D’Elia’s longtime opener Michael Lenoci. This past weekend he performed at the Hollywood Laugh Factory, owned by Jamie Masada, in a lineup that included Schaub and Theo Von. (He also stopped by the Improv’s Hollywood location on Sunday night.) Next weekend he’s booked at the Laugh Factory’s San Diego location. He appeared on Von and Schaub’s podcast twice this month, joined on one episode by comedian Erik Griffin. He’s back. This is how it starts.
For those just joining in: in June 2020 D’Elia was accused, by a staggering number of people, of aggressively pursuing young and underage girls on social media. Two fans told the Los Angeles Times he exposed himself to them in a hotel room. Another said that when she was 19 years and he was 37, he told her “he would meet up with her only after she performed oral sex on one of his friends.” One woman said he cold-messaged her on Instagram when he was 36 and she was 17. “It was clear I was in high school,” she told the Times. “I had 16th birthday pictures and photos of me at football games.”
A few months later, CNN reported on allegations that he exposed himself to three women without their consent. Two comedians who knew him well told CNN he had a reputation for that. “There’s a lot of people who will say when the MeToo stuff happened, we were all thinking, ‘What about D’Elia?’” one of them said. “He just seemed really profligate with the way he would go after women, sleep with women, expose himself to women.”
At the time, D’Elia said all his relationships were legal and consensual, though he apologized for getting “caught up in my lifestyle.” His agents dropped him, Netflix axed a prank show it was developing with him and Callen, Spotify removed four Joe Rogan Experience episodes he appeared on, and Zack Snyder replaced him with Tig Notaro in Army of the Dead. (One person stood by him: Hollywood attorney Andrew Brettler, who represents or has represented Prince Andrew, Horatio Sanz, Armie Hammer, Bill Cosby, Chris Noth, Brett Rattner, Ryan Adams, and Chris Brown.) He took a time-out from public life and returned to his podcast eight months later, telling fans he was “on this path of recovery.” He amassed one million TikTok followers and joined Patreon as well as Cameo, where he charges 200 bucks for a customized message ($10,000 for corporate customers).
Now he’s on the club circuit again, with nothing but his own word to show he’s no longer the guy who didn’t do what he was accused of. Once again it turns out the comedy industry offers no resistance to the return of unrepentant creeps. It’s no surprise that clubs are even more amoral businesses than talent agencies and film studios—this much I accept. But what about other comedians, all the theoretically good people who work in and around these clubs? How is this anything but an emergency for them? Do they want their audiences to be safe? The clubs’ employees? It’s been two years of nonstop sermons about how important comedy is, the joy it brings people, the togetherness, the power it has to change hearts and minds. What good is any of that if it also lets people like Chris D’Elia roam free?
A popular talking point in these discussions—because there are enough dangerous people roaming free in comedy for these discussions to have popular talking points—is that it’s unfair to expect anyone to jeopardize their own career by calling out abusers and enablers. I am sympathetic to this argument, but I’ve always found it difficult to get fully onboard. For one, I’m not convinced that any one person’s career success in Hollywood is more important than any other person’s safety, let alone the safety of children. Two, I have yet to see anyone take the success they earned through strategic silence and leverage it against the forces they had to keep quiet about. There is apparently no point at which it stops being too risky to do the right thing. Three, the talking point is really a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that frames the expectation as “only one or two people take a solitary stand against abuse, please,” rather than “lots of people take a stand against abuse, please.” Comedians are as capable as anyone of joining forces to demand change. They did it at the Comedy Store in 1979. They did it when they wanted higher pay from New York clubs in the early 2000s. They did it when comedy clubs were shut down in 2020. They do it every time Dave Chappelle gets criticized. The wheel has already been invented, and it works quite well.
But none of that applies to Chris D’Elia anyway. The guy no longer has powerful representation. There’s no TV network or streaming platform behind him. He sold one of his houses last year. He’s on Cameo and Patreon. (His father is a respected writer-producer currently executive producing a Disney Plus series, yes, which is another way of saying he’s someone who really wouldn’t want to add “running interference for my son credibly accused of grooming underage girls” to his resumé.) D’Elia’s only friends right now are 1) the stupidest podcasters in comedy, and 2) club owners, who are motivated by two things: money, and not getting yelled at by comedians. Getting D’Elia out of comedy spaces is an easy layup. If the entire industry weren’t built on the delusion that baseline morality has a self-interest exemption, he’d never have crawled back in the first place.
Seth Simons is the writer of Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in the comedy industry. He’s on Twitter @sasimons. Subscribe to Humorism to get articles like this in your inbox.