This article was originally published on Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in comedy. Subscribe here to get posts like this in your inbox.
Chris D’Elia, the comedian accused of pursuing sexual encounters with underage girls, is on TikTok, the app for teens. After posting on the video-sharing service four times between July 2019 and June 2020, when the allegations against him surfaced, D’Elia started posting regularly this past March, the same month he resumed podcasting.
A quick refresher. Last June D’Elia was accused by numerous women on Twitter of conduct ranging from solicitation of nudes to sexual assault. In many cases the women were allegedly underage when the conduct occurred. In a statement to TMZ, D’Elia said he “never knowingly pursued any underage women,” but that he did “get caught up in my lifestyle.” In July, Netflix axed a prank show it was producing with D’Elia and Bryan Callen, who was himself accused of sexual assault later that month. In September, two women accused him of exposing himself to them. After an eight-month intermission from public life, D’Elia released a video on his YouTube page this past February. He again denied any illegal or nonconsensual conduct and claimed he was in recovery from a sex addiction that drove him to sleep with his fans. In March, he was sued over allegations that he sexually exploited and solicited child pornography from a 17-year-old fan when he was 34. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit in April, perhaps a sign of an out-of-court settlement.
D’Elia has 675,000 followers on TikTok, even more than his 553,000 YouTube subscribers. His content is nothing remarkable. In his first post back in March, he banters with his fiancée, animator Kristin Taylor, about his nose hair, the camera centering a shirtless D’Elia while Taylor remains out of frame. Many of his videos concern his domestic life, featuring Taylor, their son Calvin, and D’Elia’s parents. Some are clips from his podcast or stand-up specials, such as the routine “What Drunk Girls Are Really Like” from his 2013 Comedy Central hour. In other posts he tries popular TikTok challenges and mocks critical comments from other users, like one who said he’s not funny.
A Mashable feature about the D’Elia accusations last June detailed his alleged use of social media to groom underage fans. One woman said she liked his photos on Instagram and “immediately” started receiving messages from him. Another said she was a high school senior when she tweeted at him after a show. He responded with a direct message and later “tried to hook up” with her and her friend in a hotel room. Another said she was 15 or 16 when he messaged her on Twitter, later moving the conversation to text messages, where he offered to trade career advice for nudes. Another said she was 17 when a 30-year-old D’Elia sent her flirtatious Facebook messages and asked for her number in 2011. Another said she was 17 or 18, and told him as much, when he insisted she visit him in Los Angeles because he “wanted to get naked” with her. The Los Angeles Times contemporaneously spoke with a woman who said D’Elia sent her flirtatious Snapchat messages in June 2017, when he was 37 and she was 19. As all these allegations came to light, a clip from the podcast The Fighter and the Kid made the rounds on Twitter. It showed D’Elia’s apparently shocked reaction to the news that Snapchat users can screenshot messages.
TikTok, as you may know if you use the internet, is very popular among internet-savvy youths. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of US adults between 18 and 29 use the app. The New York Times reported last year that TikTok’s own data “classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger.” In May, research firm eMarketer predicted that TikTok’s US user base—defined as individuals who access the app at least once a month—will include 37.3 million Zoomers by the end of this year, of an estimated 78.7 million total users in the US. Chris D’Elia is 41.
There’s an interesting thing about the D’Elia case. Of the three high-profile comics accused of sexual misconduct last summer—D’Elia, Callen, and Jeff Ross—he’s the only one who hasn’t returned to the stand-up circuit. Callen, accused of rape, resumed touring in a matter of months. Ross, accused of grooming and raping a teenager, eased back into corporate gigs, drop-ins at the Comedy Store’s outdoor shows, and eventually regular sets in Los Angeles and on the road. For some reason the stand-up community, ever eager to forgive its own, hasn’t been so welcoming to D’Elia—who, as comedians love to say in these situations, hasn’t been convicted of anything.
If he’s at all bothered by this, it doesn’t show. With millions of views on some of his TikTok videos, he’s clearly happy to find an audience online.
Seth Simons is the writer of Humorism, a newsletter about labor, inequality, and extremism in the comedy industry. He’s on Twitter @sasimons. Subscribe to Humorism to get articles like this in your inbox.