Actor Bryan Callen accused of sexual assault, misconduct
As soon as she saw his name, Katherine Fiore Tigerman broke out in a cold sweat. Her shirt damp, she scrolled through the text messages from her best friend alerting her that comedian Chris D’Elia was being accused of sexual misconduct by scores of women on Twitter. She’d never watched the comic’s stand-up. She just knew he was the best friend of Bryan Callen, a fellow comedian and actor. And Callen, she’d long told those closest to her, had once raped her.
Lightheaded, she logged on to Twitter to scan the allegations. She found that many of the tweets referred not just to D’Elia’s supposed misconduct but to that of his tight circle of male comedians.
“My first thought was: ‘Is something going to happen with Bryan?’” Tigerman recalled. “Reading all the comments, I thought: Here it comes. I’ve known how terrible this person is for 20 years. And maybe I’m not the only one.”
In a statement to The Times, Callen adamantly denied raping Tigerman and said their encounter was consensual.
Tigerman is not the only woman to say Callen was sexually inappropriate. Since June 17 — the day D’Elia started trending on social media — three additional women told The Times that they had been mistreated by Callen, 53, describing sexual incidents ranging from assault to misconduct to disturbing comments. Their stories suggest a pattern of behavior going back at least as far as 1999, when, Tigerman said, Callen held her down and forced her to have sex with him as she pleaded with him to stop.
In the years since, three women said, the cast member of “The Goldbergs” continued to be both verbally and physically aggressive. An American Apparel saleswoman said that in 2009, Callen pinned her against the wall of a fitting room against her will and began to kiss her. An aspiring actress who had a four-year affair with Callen while he was married said he told her in 2016 that women have a “biological, primal desire to be raped.” One year later, a female comedian said, he suggested she give him oral sex in exchange for stage time and money.
Callen denied all these accounts. “Let me be very clear: I have never raped, forced myself upon any woman nor offered to trade stage time for sex. EVER,” he said in a statement to The Times. “I know the truth. And I can only hold my head up high, remain true to myself, my family, my audience and know that I will not allow the cancel culture to subvert what I know and as importantly, what they know, is the truth.”
In recent weeks, Callen has come to the defense of D’Elia, who said last month that he’d only ever had consensual relationships and hadn’t “knowingly” pursued underage females. On a June 18 episode of his podcast, “The Fighter and the Kid,” Callen described D’Elia as a “ladies’ man” whom he’d “never seen or heard” engaging in illegal activity. “And right now I have to believe that, because he’s still a friend,” he said.
Despite that assertion, within days, Callen had scrubbed his Instagram account of any trace of D’Elia. Previously, the comic had played up their friendship on the app, where he has 897,000 followers — about 1.4 million fewer than D’Elia. They appeared onstage together at the Comedy Store, did stints on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast and had closed a deal this summer to make a prank show for Netflix. (The streaming network scrapped plans for the docuseries after the headlines about D’Elia surfaced.)
Even Tigerman, who’d tried her best to avoid Callen since that night in 1999, was aware that Callen’s friendship with D’Elia was part of his public persona. Every few years, she said — against her better judgment — she’d Google his name, and inevitably most of the search results linked Callen to D’Elia.
When Tigerman first met him in 1994, Callen was not established as an actor or comedian. He had yet to be cast on the inaugural season of “MADtv,” the sketch comedy series she herself would join four years after his departure in 1997. He hadn’t landed roles on prestigious television shows like “Oz” or “Kingdom” or scored cameos from his pal, director Todd Phillips, in films like “The Hangover.” And it would be years before he became a series regular on the ABC family sitcom “The Goldbergs,” playing a gym teacher and coach who was later one of the main figures on the short-lived spinoff series “Schooled.”
In fact, Tigerman’s father, actor Bill Fiore, gave Callen one of his first acting gigs: a role in a mid-’90s New York City theater production. Years later, when Tigerman moved to L.A. in 1999, she ran into Callen at a bank and he expressed excitement at the prospect of showing the 23-year-old around town. So they became friends, meeting up at group dinners and trading stories about auditions. That spring, she booked a television pilot, and Callen suggested he take her out to a celebratory dinner at Chaya, the late industry haunt.
When he arrived to pick her up at her West Hollywood apartment, Callen immediately commented on her outfit, she said.
“I come downstairs in these dumb jeans and a gray long sleeve shirt and he goes, ‘What are you wearing a bra for? Girls don’t wear bras. Take it off!’” recalled Tigerman, now 44. She laughed it off and they got in his car.
At dinner, she ordered a glass of wine and excused herself to go to the restroom. By the end of the meal, she’d consumed only about half the glass but felt off — nauseated and disoriented. Still, when Callen suggested they head to a movie theater after dinner, she obliged. Back in the car, he attempted to find a newsstand where he could purchase a paper to look up showtimes but ultimately decided to stop at his house to do so.
At his home above the Sunset Strip, the two sat down on the couch and Callen began kissing Tigerman. She was uncomfortable and still felt ill, so she went to the bathroom.
“I remember looking in the mirror and being, like, ‘OK, you just have to tell him to take you home. This isn’t going right,’” Tigerman said. “I needed to sit with him and have a conversation about how we were best buds and I was in love with another dude.”
But when she emerged from the restroom, she said, Callen was immediately outside the doorway. He moved behind her, staring at her in the mirror. “Look how hot you are. You could be a Playboy Playmate,” she said he told her.
Within moments, she said, she found herself in his bedroom, where he pushed her down on the mattress. As he ran his hands over her body, she said, she kept saying “no.” Her mind drifted to a crime show she’d recently seen on TV in which a woman repeated her name aloud to her abuser in an attempt to humanize herself to him.
“So I said, ‘I’m Katherine. I’m Katherine. It’s me. Please, this is not what I want to be doing right now,’” she said. “And he’s like, ‘You’re gonna love this. We’re just going to get this out of the way. You’re going to love this. You’re going to be my girlfriend.”
She felt powerless. If she screamed, she feared no one would hear her from his private home. She didn’t think she could escape from under the weight of his body. So she “checked out,” eventually ceasing her pleading and remaining silent.
This is not how Callen remembers the incident. He stressed to The Times on Thursday that Tigerman’s allegation of rape is “demonstrably false,” saying they had “BOTH agreed to have sex.”
Tigerman said that after the 1999 encounter was over, she immediately began crying and searching for her underwear. Her bottoms had been thrown on the ground, where Callen’s dog had chewed holes in them. Noticing her tears, he tried to calm her down.
“Aw, come on. What am I, a big bad rapist? I’m not a big bad rapist,’” she said he told her. “Come on, you’re gonna be my girlfriend now. We needed to get this out of the way.”
Callen did not respond to a question about this comment.
Tigerman told Callen he needed to drive her home, which he did. Back at her apartment, she called her best friend and then her boyfriend, Rino Romano, both of whom remembered her distraught phone calls and corroborated Tigerman’s account. Romano drove to be with her, but she was so upset she wouldn’t let him touch her.
“I just wanted to kill the guy,” Romano recalled. “I tried to gently encourage her to do something about it, but she insisted it was better to put it behind her.”
Indeed, Tigerman acknowledged, she threatened to break up with Romano if he told anyone what she’d told him. She feared that if her father found out, he would get into a physical altercation with Callen and end up in jail. And the idea of going to the cops and submitting a rape kit felt too physically invasive. So she went alone to get pregnancy and STD tests.
Eventually, Callen stopped calling. But Tigerman would go on to confide in those closest to her about the alleged assault. Within a year, she had shared the story with a fellow actress. Her husband, Gabriel Tigerman, heard the story early on in their courtship in 2006. And her best friend, actress Jenny Wade, learned about the incident in 2014. All three confirmed these accounts in interviews with The Times.
As Callen’s star rose, other women said, his brazen behavior continued. In 2009, Callen walked into an American Apparel store in Pittsburgh. Rachel Green, an employee there, had no idea who he was. But her colleagues recognized him and pulled up IMDb to show her his credits. The actor, meanwhile, had ventured to the second floor of the store — an area that required employee supervision. So Green trailed him upstairs and helped him gather clothes to try on. He was friendly, she said, though he did emerge from the fitting room wearing only his boxer briefs numerous times.
The following day, Callen returned to the store and requested Green’s help. This time, he was wearing a Speedo.
“It was one of those tight gross little things,” she said. “He ran out of the fitting room to grab something, so I went in to get the clothes he’d already tried on. And then he comes in, pushes me against the wall, closes the curtains and starts kissing my neck as he asks me if I’m going to get in trouble.”
Shocked, Green said she pushed Callen off her and ran downstairs, telling her colleagues he’d just attempted to make out with her.
“I remember not really taking it seriously, which is something I have felt guilty about, frankly, for a couple of years,” said Lydia, a co-worker who asked that her last name not be used. Lydia is one of two co-workers who told The Times that Green immediately told them something untoward had occurred with Callen that day. “As I’d see him on TV over the years, I’d be like, ‘That was really not OK, and I tried to laugh it off.’”
Callen denied ever forcing himself on any woman.
Callen often played up his reputation as a self-proclaimed “dirtbag.” In a 2016 episode of his podcast featuring comedian Whitney Cummings as a guest, Callen joked about how he’d been sexually harassing her since early in her career. Cummings then revealed that Callen had once asked for a ride home after a comedy show and pulled his penis out in her car. He said he didn’t remember the incident but believed her version of events.
“My definition on ‘creepy’ is that if I’m into you, you’re gonna know it, front and center,” he said. “It’s when guys kind of pull this gentleman thing and he’s being a really nice guy and then you look and he’s got his dick out. You’re a serial killer. Be honest about your creepy. Which, of course, I’ve always been.”
Though Cummings was laughing as she recounted the story on “The Fighter and the Kid,” she said she gleaned that Callen was the type of guy who does “not hear ‘no’ a lot … or you don’t listen to it. You don’t take it seriously.”
“I’m a rapist,” Callen replied in jest.
“I remember being like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to have to have sex with him because he’s not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I’m just gonna do this to get him to go away,’” said Cummings on the show. She declined to comment for this article.
Callen, who described Cummings as a “good friend,” said that they had “ranted ad nauseam about showing her my penis on my podcast, which is no secret to anyone at this point anywhere.”
Cummings is not the only female comedian who remembers a surprising experience with Callen. Tiffany King met Callen while performing on the comedy circuit in Hollywood, and though he was always “touchy feely” with her, she counted him as a friend. He’d given her stage time before one of his gigs in Houston, so when she found herself down on her luck in 2017, she put his name on a list of contacts to reach out to.
In the midst of a contentious divorce and fighting for custody of her daughter, King had been seeking financial aid from colleagues. At the time, she was living in Pennsylvania and saw that Callen had a show within driving distance. When she arrived at the Helium Comedy Club, she approached Callen and began crying as she relayed her situation.
“He goes, ‘Are you on drugs?’” King said. “‘I don’t understand you, Tiffany. You’re a really beautiful woman. But there’s something that’s always been off about you. You need to learn how to work with what you’ve got.’”
He declined to offer King monetary help but invited her out to dinner after his show. She said they ate and then Callen asked if she could give him and his opening act a ride back to their Airbnb. About two minutes from the destination, she said the opener — who goes by the name Stevie Blue Eyes but is legally named Steve Pearson — asked to be let out of the car. King said she obliged and continued down the road to drop off Callen. But instead of getting out of the vehicle, she said, he asked: “How about that blow job?”
“I’m not going to give you a blow job for stage time,” she responded.
“No, I’ll give you some money too,” King said he told her.
She said she rebuffed him and drove home in tears. But in his statement to The Times, Callen denied ever offering to “trade stage time for sex.” And Pearson — who spent time in federal prison for selling drugs — insisted that King dropped off Callen and him simultaneously. “We got out at the same time and went upstairs,” he said. “There was no separation. He was never alone with her.”
The Times spoke to two female comedians who said King told them each about the incident that year. King also shared the experience in a one-woman show she performed in January.
“It was so humiliating,” she said. “He was somebody I looked up to as a comedian who had control over something I loved. If it had been another woman, she could have done it and killed herself the next day because she felt so horrible.”
A young woman who had a four-year affair with Callen said she felt so “devalued and demoralized” by her illicit interactions with the comic that her mental health suffered. Claire Ganshert was 23 when she met Callen in 2012 while working as a barista at a New York City coffee shop. He was in town filming the movie “My Man Is a Loser.” When the actor walked into the cafe, Ganshert recognized him immediately from an episode of “Sex and the City.” As she served him, they struck up a conversation and she revealed that she was hoping to become an actress. He invited her to set after her shift, and she was thrilled, her eyes wide as she saw his costars like John Stamos in the flesh.
“The grandiosity of it all — I was so starstruck and beside myself, and that transferred to Bryan,” said Ganshert, now 31. “It started an infatuation on my part.”
During the five weeks Callen was in town filming, he and Ganshert began a sexual relationship. She said she was not yet aware he had been married since 2008.
After the movie wrapped, Ganshert said, she and Callen continued to see each other in New York and Los Angeles. He told her he wanted to help her with her career, offering her advice on how to secure parts.
“He would say things like, ‘When you go into an audition room, you definitely can’t wear an engagement ring. You need to make them think they can fuck you,’” she said. “I’m a theater actor, but he kept telling me I needed to be funny and create content based off of me sexualizing myself.”
One of her co-workers at the time said she remembered thinking: “‘This guy is sleazy.’ He’s, what, 40? It wasn’t illegal, but she was an impressionable, aspiring actor,” said the friend, one of two who confirmed Ganshert’s account to The Times. “She talked about him all the time. He brought her to things, and he’d always say he’d introduce her to a casting director or somebody. It was this weird relationship where he was sort of like a mentor but they would hook up.”
Still, Ganshert was so taken with “his extreme and aggressive energy” that she pushed down any negative feelings. Once, during a 2016 visit in Philadelphia, she said, he told her that women have a “biological, primal desire to be raped.” She did not challenge him.
Callen said Ganshert’s allegations were false, arguing that she was “mud-slinging” in an attempt to “get her name in the press.” He also noted that in 2019, she wrote him an email “apologizing for her unrelated misdeeds and promising going forward to only treat [him] with kindness and respect.” He did not specify what misdeeds he was referring to, but Ganshert said she did apologize to him last year for showing a friend messages Callen sent her.
After ending her sexual relationship with Callen in 2016, Ganshert said, she began seeing a therapist who helped her realize that the comic took advantage of the power dynamic between them.
“I was just a wide-eyed girl starting out in the industry when he swooped in,” Ganshert said. “There were these moments that were so intense, where it felt like he was really seeing me for my sexuality and my mouth and my body. Now, I see that for what it was. When I would start talking, he didn’t care what I had to say. No, he didn’t expose himself to me backstage; the things he did were more in the gray area. And I think that story is relatable. I am not a victim but I’m standing up for that 23-year-old girl by saying that a 45-year-old man should have known better.”
Tigerman, too, said she views the act of speaking out about Callen as an act of love for her younger self. As she navigated Hollywood, she often encountered reminders of what had happened. After booking “MADtv,” she turned up to find Callen’s nameplate still on her dressing room door. A friend even persuaded her not to bail on a chemistry read with him for a television series because it was “just work.”
In his statement, Callen pointed out that Tigerman did multiple auditions to play his character’s wife on a show “that would have had us working together every day for years.”
“That is not what rape victims do,” he said.
Tigerman, who remembered auditioning with Callen only once, said she was at Mel’s Diner with a friend when her agents called her to tell her about the chemistry read. She hung up, began sobbing and told her friend she could not work with a man who she said assaulted her.
But her friend, also an actor, advised her to “not let [Callen] win. If you miss out on this job, then he wins,” she recalled.
“She said she was raped by an actor she was supposed to do a chemistry read with,” the friend told The Times, although he said he no longer remembered the name of the actor. “And I remember forcing her to go to the audition. I am a very persuasive person. I gave an Independence Day speech. ‘By you not going, that person wins.’”
Tigerman also had aging parents whose medical care she was financing, and felt like she shouldn’t pass up the opportunity for a gig. But at the audition, she said, she was so shaky and anxious that she botched it. She said she “stupidly” never considered the possibility that she might end up working with Callen on a permanent basis.
Indeed, she didn’t get the job. And eventually, she left acting — though not because of Callen.
In 2013, while in labor with her first child, Tigerman contracted an infection and went into septic shock. She was placed in a coma and put on life support, her body in organ failure. During the three months she spent in the hospital, doctors constantly poked and prodded her body, which no longer felt like her own. The trauma of it “compounded” what Callen had done to her years earlier, she said.
“So when Bryan’s name started coming up on Twitter last month, for the first time in 20 years, I started feeling relief,” she said. “‘Oh, I’m not by myself in this. I finally feel powerful against him.’ And if I can give that feeling to somebody else, that would be great.”
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