At this point, it's unfortunately not a surprise that Louis C.K. performed at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on Monday night. After he made his surprise return back in August, he's not only continued to drop by unannounced, but is now appearing on the official lineup when hopeful patrons head to the Comedy Cellar's website to order tickets. It was the lineup that tipped off 27-year-old housing rights lawyer Lana McCrea at around 9 p.m. Monday night. She noticed that the Comedy Cellar was advertising C.K.'s performance loud and proud, and as a frequent Comedy Cellar attendee and longtime comedy fan, she was livid.
She was not the only one to notice C.K.'s appearance. As the New York Times reported, she was joined by 37-year-old Jennifer Boudinot. The two held signs outside the venue on Macdougal Street that read "When you support Louis C.K., you tell women your laughter is more important than their sexual assaults and loss of their careers" and "Does this sign make you uncomfortable, Louie?"
"We’ve taken a lot of criticism for surprising people with his unannounced performances," Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman said in a statement following the New York Times report. "I’m afraid now we will be criticized for the opposite."
"We have no beef whatsoever with the two women who came to show their disapproval," Dworman said in a separate statement to Refinery29. "They protested us respectfully, and I very much hope they feel we treated them with respect in return. I believe in that — I know that sounds corny." He added that he hoped to have the women on the Comedy Cellar podcast to discuss the subject more.
In an interview with Refinery29, McCrea and Boudinot spoke about their experience protesting outside a venue that has become a lightning rod for controversy in the comedy scene. During their time there, they spoke candidly with manager Steve Fabricant, audience members, and even comedians like Michelle Wolf, who all had wildly different opinions on Louis C.K.'s return.
Refinery29: When and why did you decide to protest outside the Cellar last night?
Lana McCrea: "Around 9:00 p.m. last night I saw someone post the Comedy Cellar bill on Twitter with Louis C.K. named. I had no intention of going to the Comedy Cellar that night, but felt it was my duty to speak up. I got on a train and stopped at a Duane Reade on the way to make my poster."
Jennifer Boudinot: "Someone posted a photo on Twitter about him performing and I got angry. It was a split-minute decision — I was already in my PJs for the night but I threw on some clothes, grabbed some cardboard and a marker, and wrote my sign on the subway. I'm sick of seeing things on Twitter and feeling like I can do nothing. I looked at that photo and I looked at the time and I thought, I could be down at the Comedy Cellar by 11. And I was."*
Why did you decide to protest Louis C.K. specifically?
McCrea: "[B]ecause it felt personal. This is my community; it’s my backyard. I’ve been going to the Comedy Cellar for over a decade. I’ve referred countless friends and family there when they visit. It felt like a big betrayal to see a known sexual abuser performing there. As a survivor and activist, it hurt me to see the owner prioritizing Louis C.K. over the comfort of the community.
"There is a lot going on in our country that I can’t directly impact, but this I felt I could address. I was grateful for the opportunity to have my voice be heard and say, this is our city, too. That’s what I kept repeating — This is our city, too. It belongs to us. And so many people said thank you for coming out. It felt good."
Boudinot: "I didn't want the narrative of Louis's return to be 'Louis C.K. took the stage and everyone was fine with it' and I wanted to try to change that, even if I was the going to be the only one there. And I thought I was going to be, for a little while! I was there for about 15 minutes before Lana (a stranger) showed up with a Walgreens bag full of poster board and said 'Are you protesting?' And I said 'Yes, are you?' And she said yes and I said 'Can I hug you?'"*
Have you protested any #MeToo-related issues before this?
McCrea: "[Yes]. As I mentioned, I’m the legal director at @safercampus, which is an organization dedicated to fighting sexual assault and misconduct. I also protested the Kavanaugh nomination and Trump’s election."
Did anyone who worked at the Cellar approach you?
McCrea: "Yes, the manager, Steve, talked to me. He seemed interested in our perspective, although of course there was a lot of 'how long should someone be punished' arguments. They were cordial and even brought us coffee. I may go on their radio show. We’ll see."
Did you speak to any comedians from the night?
McCrea: "I spoke to Michelle Wolf, who was on her way out. She was quite indignant and even a bit angry. It was weird. She kept saying she needed to feed herself, that she needs her career. But when we asked if she spoke to the owner about any reservations re: working the same show as Louis CK, she said no, she hadn’t. That was disappointing coming from someone who purports to be a feminist. That she seemed more angry at us than the situation."
Boudinot: "It was hard to hear that coming from someone who I admire. And, I'm currently out of work and looking for a job. I gave my full name to the Times and the Post and of course, when you Google me for the next month I'm sure this will be the first thing that comes up — which has the REAL possibility of putting me at a disadvantage, even in the nonprofit world. I was putting MY livelihood on the line by being out there protesting and to have Michelle Wolf be so dismissive — even angry — with us because she doesn't want to have to use her position to stick her neck out was probably the hardest part of the night — way harder than being screamed at by a super-angry ex-marine who told me women are liars because if they were really sexually assaulted they would go to the police right away."*
McCrea: "I believe it was also Jamie Lee who spoke to us at length and was very sweet and thanked us for what we were doing. She had performed that night as well. By contrast though, she told us she had made her feelings known."
Did you speak to any of the audience members?
McCrea: "The audience I would say mainly awkwardly ignored us walking in — avoiding eye contact. I’d say around 10 people walked out during Louis C.K.’s set, mostly expressing solidarity. A few just skipped out on the show entirely even though they had tickets ahead of time. One Irish guy said he 'didn’t want to cross the picket line.'"
Would you consider yourself a comedy fan?
McCrea: "I am a huge comedy fan! I’m a huge fan of live entertainment in general. That’s why it’s so personal to me. I remember seeing Dave Chappelle randomly drop in at the Comedy Cellar one night when I was a teenager, I believe. About a decade ago. That’s probably what got me into live comedy and variety shows. I go to the Slipper Room probably twice a month. I love it. So it’s disappointing that this place I grew up with isn’t comfortable anymore. They don’t have my back. That hurts."
Do you plan to keep protesting, at the Comedy Cellar or elsewhere?
McCrea: "I have a big mouth and a lot of opinions. I’ll never stop protesting. So, yes."
What do you hope the Comedy Cellar changes?
McCrea: "I hope the Comedy Cellar stops booking Louis C.K. I hope they take a stand and seriously consider the effect their choices have on the community. What message they’re sending. I hope they make this right so I can feel that they have our back again."
Boudinot: "They seem to have an issue over there of men not admitting that they have power. Louis C.K. acts like something was taken away from him, when he very purposely made the decisions he made for years. HIS actions—no one did anything to him but tell the truth he was trying so hard to conceal. It's the same with the owner of the Comedy Cellar. He's acting like, well, if Louis C.K. wants to perform, what can he do? The answer is, tell him no. It's very simple, and it's 100 percent in his control. In addition to giving back the spotlight to an abuser, he's putting his entire staff and other comics — both famous and otherwise — through an ordeal that I'm sure is very painful for survivors in particular. To pretend that doing the right thing is somehow beyond his control is disingenuous at best and morally bankrupt at worst."*
Representatives for Michelle Wolf and Jamie Lee did not immediately return Refinery29's request for comment.
*This story was originally published at 4:15 p.m., additional reporting was added.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).