When Jon Stewart visited campus in May 2016 as part of Institute of Politics Director David Axelrod’s The Axe Files podcast and spoke in Rockefeller Chapel, he probably wasn’t expecting to be asked about charges of sexual harassment against the last guest of his show— Louis C.K.
The interview between Stewart and Axelrod happened a year and a half before Louis C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct in response to a report published by the New York Times on November 9, saying, “these stories are true.” Recently, the video has resurfaced.
Dan Ackerman (A.B. ’16) asked the last question of the day after Stewart fielded questions about his upbringing in New Jersey and the state of the media. He told Slate last week that he hadn’t prepared in advance to pose the question to Stewart.
“I wanted to ask you about the last interview on your show, which I think was Louis C.K.,” Ackerman asked Stewart, “so from my memory, I think that was after some of the rumors about Louis C.K.’s alleged harassment of female comedians—”
“Whoa,” interjected Stewart. Ackerman proceeded to cite allegations published on the former celebrity blog Gawker, tweets, and Jen Kirkman’s podcast episode that was subsequently deleted due to her worry that it was misinterpreted.
Stewart laughed it off, mocking the credulity of Ackerman’s sources, all from the internet.
“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. 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—”
Ackerman attempted to clarify that Louis C.K. was accused of harassment instead of assault, but Axelrod cut him off, clearly irritated, thanking both Stewart and Ackerman for their time.
On Monday, Axelrod commented to the Chicago Tribune on the resurgence of the video online, and his interruption of Ackerman’s question.
Axelrod called Ackerman’s question a “non sequitur” insofar as it wasn’t based on the previous discussion. “It wasn’t really a question and, in any case, we were at the end of our allotted time so I had to bring it to a close.” He added that it was “in no way an attempt on my part to bypass or overlook what is a very disturbing issue.”
“Knowing what I know now, of course I would have probed Stewart more deeply,” Axelrod wrote to the Tribune. “And knowing what we all know now, I’m pretty certain he would have answered differently.”
Full transcript below:
Audience member: I wanted to ask you about the last interview on your show, which I think was Louis C.K.
Audience member: So from my memory, I think that was after some of the rumors about Louis C.K.’s alleged harassment of female comedians—
Audience member: —had sort of started to come out.
Stewart: Wait, what?
Audience member: It was after Jen Kirkman had talked about her knowledge of Louis C.K.’s alleged harassment of comedians—at least people interpreted it that way—and an article on Gawker, I believe, about it. I just wanted to know—if this is the first you’re hearing of it, maybe I already got my answer, but there wasn’t discussion about this on the show.
Stewart: [laughs] Wait, wait, wait. I’m a little lost. So the internet said Louis harassed women.
Audience member: So there was first a Gawker article and then a couple of tweets by people—
Stewart: [laughs] You know who you’re talking to, right?
Audience member: It’s a fair point that internet rumors are not court cases or anything. I just wanted to know if there was any sort of discussion about that on the show, if that was a thing on your radar.
Stewart: No. I didn’t see the tweets.
Audience member: Or Jen Kirkman’s podcast about—
Stewart: I apologize. I’m not that connected to that world. I don’t know what you’re talking about but—I can’t really answer. I don’t know what to say.
Audience member: I think a lot of people at the time didn’t know what that was. Again, the internet is not for sure, but there have been comedians who have taken strong stances on Bill Cosby without certain knowledge, from Bill Maher to Hannibal Buress. I just wondered if you could talk about the role of comedians—
Axelrod: But as you pointed out, the Bill Cosby case actually is a legal case.
Audience member: It is now but it wasn’t when Bill Maher and Hannibal Buress were talking about it. Maybe you can speak to the role of comedians—
Stewart: 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. 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—
Audience member: Not sexual assault, but—
Axelrod: Sir, appreciate your question. Thank you. And let’s say thanks to Jon Stewart.