After Twitter outcry, five women detail Chris D’Elia’s alleged sexual improprieties
One morning in the fall of her senior year of high school, Julia Holtzman awoke to find that Chris D’Elia had sent her a direct message on Instagram.
The 17-year-old was confused. She was not a fan of the then-36-year-old stand-up comic, and was not following his page. But she saw that D’Elia had a verified social media account, and was intrigued. So she responded to him, asking how he’d found her.
For the record:
11:04 a.m. June 25, 2020An earlier version of this story said that Laura Vitarelli was 18 in August 2015. She was 19 and her friend was 21, not 20.
“Just came across. Is that bad????” he said in the November 2016 exchange.
“It was clear I was in high school. I had 16th birthday pictures and photos of me at football games [on my Instagram],” Holtzman, now 20, told The Times. “I told my guy friends about it and they were like, ‘He’s famous! You have to answer.’”
D’Elia proceeded to give Holtzman a phone number, which public records link to his name, and suggest that she travel from Long Island to New York City to come see him. She never went, but saved screenshots of their correspondence for years. This week, she shared them publicly for the first time on Twitter, where multiple young women have come forward in recent days to allege that D’Elia was sexually inappropriate with them.
The avalanche of screenshots — many of which revealed the same telephone number and email address for D’Elia — began flooding Twitter on Tuesday night. Simone Rossi, another high school student who said she’d had a virtual relationship with D’Elia, was the first to share how he allegedly asked her to “make out” and send him pictures of herself when she was underage.
Within hours, Rossi’s story began to trend on social media. Michaela Okland, who runs the popular Twitter account SheRatesDogs, said she received hundreds of messages from women with stories about D’Elia — some who claimed they’d had negative encounters with him, some who knew other women who allegedly had. Okland shared many of these stories, most of which were anonymous, in a thread that went viral.
By Wednesday, the claims had proliferated to such an extent that D’Elia, 40, whose latest stand-up special “No Pain” debuted on Netflix in April, issued a statement to TMZ. In it, he said he had “never knowingly pursued any underage women” and that all of his relationships had been “both legal and consensual.”
“That being said, I really am truly sorry,” the 40-year-old continued. “I was a dumb guy who ABSOLUTELY let myself get caught up in my lifestyle.”
In interviews with The Times, Holtzman and four other women told stories of aggressive, sexually charged overtures initiated by D’Elia, who is known to many young fans as Justin Bieber’s favorite comedian and has 2.4 million Instagram followers. All of the women — two of whom were not yet 18 when their communications with him began — described a flirtatious demeanor that escalated almost instantaneously. In one case, he allegedly invited two female fans to his hotel room, where he exposed his erect penis to them in an attempt to convince them to sleep with him. In another, he allegedly told a 19-year-old that he would meet up with her only after she performed oral sex on one of his friends.
D’Elia declined to be interviewed for this article. A legal representative — Andrew Brettler of Lavely & Singer — directed The Times to the comedian’s Wednesday statement.
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Rossi read D’Elia’s statement earlier this week and found it “disappointing and misleading,” she said. She’d recently begun to reflect on her teenage encounters with the comic after seeing him on the second season of the Netflix show “You,” which was released in late 2019. On the program, D’Elia plays a stand-up comedian who grooms underage women, then drugs and sexually assaults them. The role marked the second time he’d been cast in such a part: In 2011, on the Comedy Central program “Workaholics,” he guest starred as a child molester.
“I really couldn’t believe they cast him as a pedophile,” said Rossi. “For me, it was like: Why are these shows casting him as this person?”
Sera Gamble, the showrunner of “You,” declined to comment for this article, as did production company Warner Horizon Television and Netflix. (D’Elia’s three comedy specials and “You” remain on the streaming platform, which will release a Zack Snyder film, “Army of the Dead,” featuring the actor next year.) Kyle Newacheck, one of the creators of “Workaholics” who wrote the “How to Friend a Predator” episode in which D’Elia appeared, did not respond to a request for comment. But a spokesperson for Comedy Central said the episode had been pulled off all platforms (the series is available on Hulu and Amazon). His 2013 special “White Male. Black Comic” is also no longer available through Comedy Central.
Rossi began corresponding with D’Elia after she made a public comment about him on Twitter in 2014, she said, which led to him offering her his email address via direct message.
“I was excited when he first started messaging me,” Rossi, now 22, recalled. “I was obsessed with celebrities and always wanted to be on E! News. I wanted to brag about it to my friends. But it took me years to understand that it was predatory.”
According to their email exchanges, which Rossi provided to The Times, D’Elia expressed dismay when he first learned that she did not live in Los Angeles.
“How we supposed to make out then,” he wrote her in July 2014. He then requested Rossi send him pictures of herself; she responded with an image in which she was smiling in a pool and another of a fluffy panda.
“Hahaha the f— panda. Dick,” he replied.
“I joked and told him they were exotic,” Rossi said. “I thought I was being witty — because I wasn’t that blind to what he was doing. He was preying on the fact that I was underage. I was insecure. I wanted attention. I’d followed him because I saw him on the [Comedy Central] Justin Bieber roast. And it took me a long time to piece together that what he did was wrong.”
Six months after she sent him the photos, Rossi said, D’Elia reached out to her again in January 2015, when he was performing in her home state, Arizona. He said he wanted to hang, again asking, “can we make out?” and requesting her Instagram handle. She provided the username to her page, on which she had recently posted a photo of herself posing with large wooden cutouts of the numbers “1” and “6” to commemorate her 16th birthday. She never heard from him again.
The Times spoke to two of Rossi’s high school friends, who said she told them about her messages with D’Elia at the time. Her mother, Brooke Askew-Rossi, said she was also aware of the interactions her daughter had with the comedian.
“She very casually told me that Chris D’Elia asked her for nudes,” said Askew-Rossi. “I was disgusted. I was incredibly proud of how she handled him, and I’m proud of her years later for sharing her story. If this had to happen, she’s on the right side of the fence, trying to pull women like her up and be a sherpa.”
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Holtzman, like Rossi, never ended up meeting with D’Elia in person. But her mother, like Rossi’s, was horrified by her communication with the older man.
“I said: ‘Immediately block him. You’re not going to the city. This is creepy,’” recounted Terry Holtzman, Julia’s mom. “As a parent, you have to intervene. It automatically sent up red flags. I was like, ‘He’s an old guy. What does he want with you?’ It was extremely inappropriate. She was still in high school. I guess that didn’t stop him.”
In the comedy world, some high-profile performers have made allusions to D’Elia‘s popularity with underage followers. On their podcast “The King and the Sting,” Theo Von and Brendan Schaub joked about “Chris D’Elia’s “cult” of female fans.
“That ain’t gonna end well,” Von said in 2019.
“With everyone drinking Kool-Aid, except Chris,” Schaub added. “And everyone dies.”
“Well, a lot of the people are going to be drinking Kool-Aid because they’re underage girls, probably,” Von replied. “That’s what I’m guessing. It’s just in their natural diet pattern.”
D’Elia, whose latest stand-up special, “No Pain,” debuted on Netflix in April, is the son of “Judging Amy” co-creator Bill D’Elia. He began working the stand-up scene when he was 25, his first major acting role was opposite Whitney Cummings on the 2011 NBC sitcom “Whitney,” and he later starred on the network’s show “Undateable.” He has two previous Netflix specials as well as the one on Comedy Central; in 2017, he began hosting the podcast “Congratulations With Chris D’Elia,” on which he refers to his fans as “Babies.”
One of those fans was Jackie Cowan, then a UCLA student who first started talking to D’Elia when he responded to a picture of her on Snapchat, she said. Their conversation moved to text message — he wrote to her from the same number he used to correspond with Holtzman — and was immediately sexual. Cowan shared screenshots of their exchanges with The Times.
“Hey hey,” he said in his first June 2017 message.
“Hey :) whatcha up to?” Cowan responded.
“U wanna suck my cock,” he replied.
The 19-year-old told the 37-year-old she would give him oral sex, telling him she was “looking for nothing more than fun” and would “be gone” with “no strings” after the potential encounter.
“He was like, ‘How badly do you want to hang out with me?’” Cowan said of the exchanges. “I said, ‘Pretty badly. You’re really cute, we get along, we don’t have to go out.’ But he kept wanting me to prove myself before we could hang out.”
After months of on-and-off messaging, D’Elia wrote to her out of the blue in August 2017: “I want u to suck my friend tonight. Will u go do that for me.” Soon thereafter, she said, she began receiving phone and video calls from an older man who identified himself as D’Elia’s best friend.
“He told me: ‘Chris just wants to make sure you’re real. I want nothing, I promise. Chris is making it out to be more than it is,’” Cowan said of the conversation. “He kept asking for my address so we could meet and I could be approved to meet Chris. But I wouldn’t tell him where I lived. I only told him I lived in Encino.”
Later that night, she said, she received angry messages from D’Elia inquiring why she had not met his friend. “My buddy drove to u wtf,” said a screenshot of the text. Jimmy Cowan, Jackie’s brother, told The Times he was sitting with her while the exchange was happening and was “creeped out,” finding D’Elia’s request “hilariously pathetic.”
“Chris never had my consent to promise my body to anyone,” added Jackie Cowan, now 24. “I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I never disrespected him.”
D’Elia apparently had a pattern of quickly taking his relationships with fans to a sexual place. After a 2015 performance in Nyack, N.Y., Laura Vitarelli, then 19, and a female friend who was then 21 approached D’Elia after his set to request photographs with him. He obliged and then invited the pair to a party at his New York City hotel, they said (Vitarelli’s friend spoke with The Times but asked that her name not be used due to the vitriol she has received on Twitter). They made the hourlong drive but when they arrived at D’Elia’s room, they were surprised to find him alone.
“We looked at each other low key because no one was there,” said Vitarelli. “There was shrimp scampi on the counter and he was watching ‘Cops.’ There was no sign of a party. But I was so naive and excited to be there that I didn’t even really see an issue.”
Before they could enter the room, Vitarelli’s friend said, D’Elia told the women he needed to take their cellphones and leave them in a basket.
“I just assumed it was something that anybody with any level of fame did,” the friend said. “I think he told us that it was for privacy reasons.”
They said that D’Elia offered them alcoholic drinks — he has long maintained he does not consume alcohol — and sat between them on the couch. He began complimenting them and groping their buttocks, they alleged. Growing increasingly uncomfortable, the friends stole awkward glances at each other.
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“I didn’t know where his hands were going to go,” Vitarelli said. “We realized no one else was coming. He wasn’t drinking — he was just saying she and I should drink. So we ended up getting up to leave.”
But as they started to gather their things, both women say, he pulled down his sweatpants, pulled out his erect penis and asked: “Are you sure about that?”
They grabbed their phones and exited the room, later telling a male friend who had attended the show with them about the encounter. Their friend confirmed this with The Times.
“On the drive home, we kept trying to figure out if we had done something wrong or given him the wrong impression,” said Vitarelli. “After I shared the story on Twitter this week, I almost started crying because it was so nice to feel supported by random people agreeing the situation was wrong.
“Now I know I wasn’t being crazy or sensitive. I know it’s wrong.”
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