Jon Stewart was “stunned” when he heard that Louis C.K. had been accused of sexual misconduct and subsequently admitted that the women were telling the truth.
But the former Daily Show host, who hosted C.K. as his final guest in 2015, could not pretend that he had never heard the rumors. During a live interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod last May, Stewart was asked about C.K.’s alleged behavior by a student and his first instinct was to make a joke about it.
“I think, you know, you give your friends the benefit of the doubt,” Stewart told Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, a year and a half later, on Tuesday. Like another of C.K.’s longtime confidants, comedian Marc Maron, Stewart chose to believe his friend over the women who were claiming he was a predator.
Stewart, who was ostensibly there to promote his Night of Too Many Stars benefit, in which C.K. was supposed to participate, compared C.K. to friends of his who have “compulsions” like gambling or drinking or drugs, some of whom have died. “And you always find yourself back to a moment of, ‘Did I miss something? Could I have done more?’ In this situation, I think we all could have.”
“Comedy, on its best day, is not a great environment for women,” said Stewart, who has been criticized in the past for not hiring more female writers on The Daily Show. Especially back when he and C.K. were getting started, he said for women to do comedy “was an act of bravery in itself.” So, “the idea that there was this added layer of pressure and manipulation and fear and humiliation” must have made it that much harder.
Then, in a reference to that 2016 interview with Axelrod, Stewart said, “You get mad at yourself, too, for laughing it off or for thinking, that didn’t happen. And it’s hard.” Pushed by Guthrie to explain if he had known what many have described as an “open secret” in the comedy world, Stewart addressed his reaction to the student’s question about C.K. more directly.
“I hadn’t heard, at that point, of any of it,” Stewart said. “My first response was, ‘What?!’ And joke, joke. And as he kept going I was like, ‘I know this is very serious, but I know Louis, he’s always been a gentleman to me, which, again, it speaks to the blindness that a man has [about these issues].”
After that, Stewart said he was “assured” by C.K. that the rumors were not true, just as he told Maron they were nothing but “rumors.” He said he has not spoken to C.K. since the New York Times story broke last week.
“We took somebody’s word for it, and maybe that’s an error on our part,” Stewart added, before again drawing a parallel between C.K.’s sexual misconduct and the actions of drug addicts.
“It’s another one of those endemic, systemic, complex problems that we all haven’t had the urgency for, certainly myself included,” Stewart added of the wave of women and men coming forward to tell their stories this year. “I hope it changes.”