The owner of one of the most prominent and influential comedy clubs in the country has received national media attention for her decision not to book comedian Louis C.K., who has admitted to sexually harassing women and threatening their careers if they came forward.
Wende Curtis, who started her career at Comedy Works as a cocktail waitress, bought the downtown Denver club in 2001 and expanded it to a Denver Tech Center location a few years later. She’s known for booking big acts like George Lopez and Bob Saget as well as discovering the next big up-and-coming comics.
“I know I would be on someone’s first tier if they were trying to make a comeback,” Curtis said.
Back in December, Curtis said she received an email from Louis C.K.’s assistant asking if there was any availability at Comedy Works in April 2019. She said she was in a meeting at the time and shot back a couple of dates, but had a “gut instinct this wasn’t going to happen.”
"I firmly believe there's a difference between right and wrong," she said.
Curtis said she also entertained the possibility of making some good out of a potential Louis C.K. appearance by getting women’s groups involved.
“I’m not the judge, I’m not the jury, I don’t know what I don’t know,” Curtis said. “I’m trying to make the best decision for my club, the comedy community and my conscience.”
She said she spoke to a friend in the comedy community who connected her with one of Louis C.K.’s victims. Curtis said she wanted to do her due diligence before making a final decision.
"I sent her an email saying, 'how would this make you feel?'," she said.
The victim sent her a one-sentence statement and a link to something she had written about what had happened to her. After reading it, Curtis said she knew she wasn’t going to let Louis C.K. perform at Comedy Works in the immediate future.
“She became a member of a club that she never asked to be in,” Curtis said. “He changed the trajectory of their careers.”
Louis C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct following a November 2017 report from the New York Times, which discussed graphic allegations from five women who were victimized by the comedian.
Before the accusations and his apology, Louis C.K. was the star of his own show, headlined numerous comedy specials and big venues, and was considered in some comedy circles to be a feminist for the ways he called out male hypocrisy in his act.
Curtis said she sent Louis C.K.’s assistant a follow-up email where she declined hosting the comedian, but left the door open to work together in the future should he rehabilitate himself.
“I do wish him well and mean that sincerely, but it’s not right for me and my club,” Curtis said. 'We all know that oppression of women has gone on for a long time in lots of different ways and it needs to change and if I could do something to be part of that."
It's a move that Karmen Carter from Blue Bench said can make survivors feel heard.
"Everybody is at their different place in their healing but survivors at this point have been hearing so many stories and for many of them hearing people like Wende saying 'I'm not going to let them come to my comedy club right now,' that will feel absolutely validating."
Carter said it's validation that's been a long time coming.
"People are stopping to think hey what is the impact of this and how do I feel about it," she said. "How do I feel about this person in my business. Two years ago people would not have given that consideration."
For Curtis, it's a stand she said she had to make.
"There's just a difference between right and wrong and had this been a female comedian or a male comedian, it doesn't matter," Curtis said. "There's just a difference between right and wrong. I think we're still making strides. I think it's going to be slow. It is slow but I think that's how real change occurs."
It’s worth mentioning that Curtis’ decision came before Louis C.K. was the subject of criticism when a leaked comedy set revealed he has new material making fun of the survivors of the Parkland shooting.
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