Back in May 2022 I shared Alice Hamilton’s CEX KRIMINAL, a 30-minute set about how much she hates Chris D’Elia. In the year-and-a-half since, the alleged groomer and rapist has fully resumed his comedy career, not only returning to the Los Angeles club circuit but also touring theaters across the US, playing sellout shows to thousands and thousands of fans. Tonight he'll play at Pittsburgh's Byham Theater, which this weekend will also host Chris Tucker, Samantha Bee, and Chelsea Handler.
While D'Elia's been at it, the pile of evidence against him has only increased. In December 2022, comedian Kyle Anderson released The Chris D’Elia Problem, a documentary re-examining the allegations that first surfaced in June 2020. It featured testimony from Jazzmyn Wollfe, who said she was in an abusive relationship with D’Elia until she ended it in 2022, and from D’Elia’s former tour manager Zack Doncovio, who said he witnessed red flags of abuse in 2018 and 2019. This past May, Rolling Stone published an investigation featuring 10 women (including Wollfe) who described D’Elia’s allegedly predatory behavior towards them—four of whom said they were teenagers at the time—and reporting an apparent FBI investigation into the comedian. D’Elia and his attorney, Andrew Brettler, denied the allegations.
When D'Elia goes onstage in Pittsburgh tonight, Alice Hamilton will be a few blocks down the road at the Arcade Comedy Theater, whose staff reached out to her to arrange counter-programming. Titled “Nudged: A Comedy Show without Groomers,” the show will raise money for the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. I hope you can make it if you’re Pittsburgh-based; for everyone else, I chatted with Hamilton over email about her work, comedy’s D’Elia problem, and what comedians can do to fix it. Our conversation is below.
(I’ll note here that Hamilton intentionally omits the apostrophe from D’Elia’s last name, an omission I’ve preserved in the transcript. “I don’t care about his shitty little apostrophe,” she told me. “I also want to ruin that stupid last name. I want to make it synonymous with sexist behavior.”)
You’re one of a few comedians I know of who not only still gives a shit about Chris D’Elia and (the many) other creeps in comedy, but who consistently uses their platform to draw attention to these people. Why do you do what you do, and why do you think so many other comics seem content to let these guys roam free?
I know how much creeps rely on us being too uncomfortable to talk about them. Chris Delia only made a return to standup because he knew the other comedians would protect him with their silence.
The other male comedians are ignoring Delia for a lot of reasons. Partly because they’ve all hurt women as well. They’re not rapists, but still they can’t condemn an alleged rapist without looking like hypocrites. Partly because they’re just boring, run-of-the-mill misogynists. I remember Andrew Santino and Neal Brennan ranting about how dangerous the MeToo movement is. But they NEVER condemn sexism. At the end of the day, they just don’t care about women, and resent being asked to.
One thing I admire about you is that you use your work onstage to criticize D'Elia and the culture of abuse in comedy. I know there are comics out there who've decided to steer clear of these sorts of discourses because they feel it might adversely impact their ability to do standup; I'm sure that's a valid choice for some people, but it seems important to me how you demonstrate the issue isn't either/or. There doesn't have to be a wall between the offstage conversations and the art itself, and in fact the art can be a valuable means of facilitating those conversations. As one of the only people in an industry of self-styled risk-takers who's actually taken genuine risks in their art, what does comedy mean to you? What do you think this art form could be if it weren't dominated by creeps and frauds and right-wing ideologues?
I‘ve always loved comedy. I’m not sure how to say what it means to me without sounding like a dork but the question makes me think of back when I was a kid. Junior high, homeschooler, using our satellite dish to digital-video-record episodes of Comedy Central Presents so I could tell their jokes to my friends at church. I’m not religious anymore, but whenever I wanted to get closer to God I would watch whichever televangelist was the funniest. Usually Jesse Duplantis or Creflo Dollar, but they were stealing jokes from secular comedians, I just didn’t know it at the time.
I hope I live to see all these centrist hacks, closeted republicans, and liberal-coward comedians fall by the wayside. They’re just so boring. I’m tired of ironic bigotry, sexist clapter, and pandering to the right to boost ticket sales.
I noticed that whenever the phrase “comedians gotta stick together” was being thrown around, it was over stuff like Joe Rogan being mocked for using the n-word. No one was saying “comedians gotta stick together” when Trump was trying to have Kathy Griffin arrested for that ketchup-mask-beheading photo. She’s the only American comedian to face potential jail time over a joke in decades! …And these guys don’t care. That’s how you know they’re full of shit.
They’re protecting Delia. I hate them for it. And maybe it’s a risk, but I’m not gonna pretend to like those spineless assholes just to get ahead in my career.
If male comedians can make fun of Kathy Griffin, Hannah Gadsby, Tiffany Haddish, and Amy Schumer, then comics don’t gotta stick together and I can mock the Rogan Extended Universe. Fair’s fair. I mean, how can Rogan claim he’s worried about “groomers” but has nothing to say about Delia? If Amy Schumer was accused of raping high school boys in 2020, comedians would not be scared to make fun of her.
They’re protecting Delia. I hate them for it. And maybe it’s a risk, but I’m not gonna pretend to like those spineless assholes just to get ahead in my career. But I don’t think I’m risking anything, because I don’t think those headliners were ever gonna help me anyway. Even on my best behavior. Whitney jumps through all their hoops and they still call her crazy behind her back. Might as well do my own thing.
Over the last year or so I’ve been filing records requests with publicly owned venues that host D’Elia for contracts and internal emails about the shows. I haven’t written much about these yet because, other than a few concerned emails from elected officials or complaints from members of the public, it’s honestly all what you’d expect: venue operators and employees not really giving a shit. In May, after the Rolling Stone investigation came out, someone who works for a theater in Salt Lake City (I don’t know their position exactly; identifying info is redacted) said the following in response to a manager’s question about how they were dealing with the issue:
I spoke to management and requested a statement. I also met with the building managers of two venues that just had dates here at the League meetings; Minneapolis and Portland. Both said grumbling in advance but zero meaningful stress. Both also said they don’t act on accusations which is what has come out so far. The Portland manager said they told unhappy community members they were welcome to not buy tickets and ultimately had 2 protesters show up who show up for everything and no problems. Minneapolis said they had no issues at all. Both sold out.
What I take away from this is that so long as there are people out there buying tickets to D’Elia’s shows, venue operators will have an easy time ignoring or willfully deluding themselves about everything that’s out there about him. (Indeed, this particular show in SLC sold 2,400 tickets and grossed more than $100,000.) Still, I’m wondering: how would you respond to someone who says all that’s come out so far are “accusations”?
Some people refuse to believe monsters exist. It doesn’t matter how many women share their stories, it doesn’t matter that Delia’s former tour manager, Zack Doncovio, condemns Delia. The only things that could change those minds would be 1. Famous comedians condemn Delia, or 2. Chris Delia is arrested.
In a similar vein: given the amorality of so many venue owners, what can people do to protect comedy spaces from the industry’s scumbags? Should comics refuse to work with venues that book them, should fans protest their shows?
Standup comedy has no plan to handle abusers. That’s why men like Jeremy Piven turn to standup after they’ve been accused. Delia is highlighting the total lack of regulation in this industry.
So far, Kyle Anderson’s documentary, The Delia Problem, has caused Chris Delia’s career the most damage. Once, in a conversation with Kyle, he lamented how shameful it is that handling Chris Delia’s behavior has fallen to him and me. Everyone with significant influence simply can’t be bothered, so the first line of defense is a literal open mic-er (me) and Jamie Kennedy’s featuring act (Kyle). That’s who handles creeps in west coast comedy.
Headliners refusing to play venues that book rapists would be monumental. I wish standup comedians knew how little solidarity is being asked of them.
Can you elaborate on how Kyle's documentary damaged D'Elia's career?
It went so viral it led to the Rolling Stone articles. The Hollywood Improv stopped booking him after the documentary for fear of protests.* It put so much public pressure on Delia and his enablers. It pops up when you search his name, and it was so good. Headliners actually talked about it on social media and their podcasts. It reignited the conversation about Delia’s behavior and provided evidence that could not be ignored. That phone call with Delia is chilling. He’s undeniably calculated.
What would meaningful regulation in the industry look like, to you? Do you think comedians need a union?
I’d love a comedian’s union. Ideally it could be used to condemn people like Delia. That way individual comedians wouldn’t wind up taking the heat for saying something, they could add their names to an official statement. However, if this current lot formed a union, they’d use it to release statements saying shit like “Hannah Gadsby is officially NOT a REAL comedian!” and “True freedom of speech means Joe Rogan CAN say the n-word.” So I don’t know, maybe comedy needs a feminist comedian’s union? I’m sure they’d all love that.
A (fair) question I often get from readers is, more or less, “Why don’t you focus on the good comedians?” To which my answer is usually some form of, “I think there are already plenty of publications where you can go and read about those people, and also the bad ones exist and have power whether we pay attention to them or not, and also I think a lot of the good people in comedy are happy to avert their gaze from the abuse and rot plaguing their industry, which frankly complicates my understanding of them as good.” Which is all a long way of saying: I think it’s pretty bad out there in a way that sometimes bums me out, because personally I love comedy, and I'm not even trying to work in it. So I imagine it can’t be a total breeze—psychologically or professionally—to fight the battle you’re fighting against people who dominate so much of the industry. What keeps you going? What gives you hope?
I’ve received so many DMs from women telling me to keep going. Telling me they feel seen, heard, and sane whenever I call out Delia. Creeps don’t stop until someone stops them. Delia’s behavior has not changed. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t say something. It feels like the bystander effect is sweeping through comedy. We can all see the danger, but no one feels like it’s THEIR responsibility. So I’ll handle it as best as I can, with what little platform I have. Fuck Chris Delia and these spineless, soulless cowardly headliners that enable him.
*Per the Rolling Stone investigation, the Improv canceled a scheduled show after the documentary came out and inspired plans for a protest. D'Elia's booker attributed the cancellation to a scheduling conflict; he hasn't appeared on the club's published lineups since.