Wende Curtis
Screenshot: Colorado Education Association

Louis CK’s fumbling attempts to return to public life haven’t gone particularly well so far: His limp appearances at the Comedy Cellar and a leaked set of truly gross new material haven’t exactly returned him to grace. Now, a tipster tells us that CK is attempting to book some kind of national tour, with dates at clubs across the U.S. That too seems to be meeting with mixed success. One club owner, Wende Curtis of the famed Comedy Works club in Denver, tells Jezebel that she declined to host CK. Curtis did something no other club owner, to our knowledge, has done: She said no after first calling one of CK’s victims to better understand how it would feel to see him return to a national stage.

CK admitted in November 2017 that he masturbated in front of women who didn’t want him to, after many years of denying that he was doing just that. He returned in August with a few performances at the Comedy Cellar and a Long Island club. More recently, a leaked set of his new material appeared on YouTube. In it he makes fun of the Parkland survivors and the concept of young people who insist on specific gender pronouns. (“What are you—going to take away my birthday?” CK says, mid-set, in one of his only true moments of clarity. “My life is over. I don’t give a shit.”)

Meanwhile, Wende Curtis’s career is going just fine. She started out at Comedy Works as a cocktail waitress in 1986, and by 2000, she was the CEO. The club’s two locations host some of the biggest names in comedy.

“It’s the bucket list,” she acknowledged to Jezebel modestly. “Pete Davidson was just in last weekend with some of his young friends.” They were favorably impressed, she says: “It’s a legendary room and when they get in there it’s magical.” (Over the next few months, the club will be hosting Jenny Slate, Ali Wong, Bob Saget, Natasha Leggero, and Marc Maron, among others.)

Recently, Curtis told us, confirming what we’d heard from a tipster, she got an email from CK’s assistant, asking to book a date at her club in April. Curtis, who was about to head into a busy day of meetings, responded quickly with a list of available dates that month. Then, she says, she had second thoughts: “It wasn’t until after I had sent that back that I really realized, this is Louis CK and he wants to come in.”

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Curtis contacted a trusted friend in comedy (“a man,” she points out). The friend expressed gentle dismay, sending her links to a few stories about CK’s behavior, starting with the New York Times exposé.

Though Curtis was obviously aware of the broad outlines of the story, she says, she hadn’t read that piece. That night, she did. Within a day, she’d gotten an email address for one of CK’s victims—she declined to specify which one—and reached out to the woman via email.

“I was conflicted,” she tells us. “I’d love to have Louis CK and those numbers and that marquee name in my club. But for obvious reasons, I was conflicted. I wanted to dig back in to what had happened.” She told the woman via email, “I want to know from you how that would make you feel.”

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The woman, Curtis says, responded curtly. “She sent me a link to what she’d said in an article and added, ‘I’ll say no more on the subject.’”

Curtis, in all her Googling, hadn’t yet seen that particular interview. “I read it and I was like, enough said. Enough said.”

Curtis wrote back to CK’s assistant and asked if she could talk to the comedian. The assistant responded that she could. Curtis went into the weekend, she says, thinking about what to say to him, thinking that maybe someone needed tell him, as she puts it, “I’d love to have you in, but you need to talk to some women’s organizations and donate every cent you’ve made, and work on behalf of those people.”

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But then, Curtis admits, “I kinda cowarded out, honestly. I thought, ‘I’m not going to make a difference with him.” Instead, she wrote CK’s assistant back early the next week, politely declining. “I just can’t,” she says she told the assistant.

“On a personal level,” Curtis says, “I respect his comedy. I’ve come up with his comedy ... And I believe in second chances. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made so many myself.” But she has the strong perception, she says, that CK has not yet done the work to make amends. “From what I’ve heard from comedians in New York who have regularly seen him come into the Cellar and the other things I’ve read, I don’t think he’s in a place,” she says simply. “It seems like he thinks, ‘I did a fuckin’ year, fuck you, I’m coming back.’ That’s my speculation, though I don’t know. So I did say this, from my club, from me right now, it’s just not the right thing.”

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“When you make a mistake and hurt someone,” Curtis adds, “You say you’re sorry. You do what you can to make it right. I don’t know what could make it right for those women. All of it—they didn’t bring it on themselves and what was done to their careers.”

Curtis admits that she’s in a fortunate position. Her clubs—Comedy Works opened a second location in 2008—are thriving, and she was able to comfortably turn down a huge name. Other club owners will certainly agree to have CK perform, and he’ll definitely have his comeback tour, in one form or another.

“That’s their decision,” Curtis says. “I can’t judge them. This would’ve been a really tough thing if it had happened in hard times, when things were really tough in 2009 and 2010 when I’d just taken on a $12 million debt.”

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In the end, though, she says, “I just couldn’t look at myself if I did this.”

We’ve contacted CK for comment and will update in the unlikely event we hear back.

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