When Chris Hardwick was accused of controlling behavior, emotional manipulation and sexual abuse by his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra last week, the silence from those in his orbit was deafening.
Dykstra described a man who could be controlling and manipulative as he gained more and more success as the host of AMC shows and Comic-Con panels, as well as his own multimedia empire, Nerdist. One former employee said her accusations rang true, and that Hardwick was prone to loud confrontations with employees.
“Nobody’s surprised. Everyone can think back to incidents with Chris that line up with something in that story,” the former employee said. “You don’t see anybody saying ‘That’s not the Chris Hardwick I know,’ because that is the Chris Hardwick most people know.”
Dykstra wrote in a Medium post: “What I felt that this man wanted was a woman who would feed him, sleep with him, and go to events with him,” she wrote. She said she felt pressured to take jobs at Hardwick’s company, only associate with friends he approved of and have sex with him whenever he wanted. Because he is a recovering alcoholic, he asked her not to drink in his presence, she said.
Hardwick has denied any abuse.
Those in his professional circle could not speak to the sexual coercion Dykstra described, but agreed with other criticisms.
“She’s not writing about a complete stranger there, I could recognize him through the details,” said a producer who has worked with Hardwick in the past. “He’s an alcoholic who replaced his alcoholism with workaholism, and that may have led to just as bad a side effect for people. He wasn’t going out and getting drunk and insulting people, but he was concentrating on the work and building up his empire, not concentrating on how that affected people.”
“I have no reason to think he would be violent, but everything else she says, the way she describes his behavior, sounds like things about him that I absolutely do know to be true,” said another acquaintance of Hardwick’s in the TV industry. “It absolutely rings true.”
An actor and stand-up comic, Hardwick got his start in the 1990s as a regular presence on MTV, hosting shows like “Trashed” and “Singled Out.” Following a period of career decline and a battle with alcoholism, Hardwick bounced back by leveraging his nerd credentials on shows like G4’s “Attack of the Show” and PBS’s “Wired Science,” as well as his own rapidly growing Nerdist blog and podcast.
Throughout the 2010s, Nerdist Industries quickly blossomed into a sprawling entertainment network made up of podcasts, web shows, and, eventually, the Comedy Central late-night game show “@midnight.” The company had reached an audience in the tens of millions by the time Legendary Entertainment acquired it in 2012.
But some who worked for Hardwick at the time said he was not equipped to manage the growing company.
“He was an absentee landlord,” said the former Nerdist employee, who described Hardwick as increasingly focused on outside projects like AMC’s “Talking Dead” or other high-profile hosting gigs. “He wasn’t around except to call in to beat up on us. But he made sure our successes always got painted as his work.”
After Dykstra spoke out, Legendary said Hardwick has “had no operational involvement with Nerdist” since at least 2015.
But when Hardwick was around, he would sometimes explode at staff when they made decisions he believed to be inconsistent with his public-facing brand, insiders said.
“He’s very professional, but he does have high standards,” the producer said. “When he’s working, things have to be right for him.” Production assistants were always pointedly instructed not to approach him on days Hardwick’s shows would tape, the producer added.
Describing Hardwick as “obsessed with celebrity,” Dykstra wrote that Hardwick would present different faces in public and in private, always cautiously guarding his public image. That account is consistent with that of his professional collaborators, who described him as exceedingly charming in public but shameless in his Hollywood glad-handing.
“If you’re in the room talking to him, you could have a great conversation, but if someone walks in with a higher Q rating, he’s going to stop talking to you, not apologize and walk over to that person,” the producer said. “It’s the Hollywood suck-up type of lifestyle, but that’s kind of just the way talk show hosts have to be … I can see a lot of people not liking him because of that, but I’m sure Tom Cruise likes him.”
Those who found themselves on the wrong side of Hardwick and his allies said they paid the price, later struggling to find work. In her post, Dykstra suggested she was also blacklisted after her breakup with Hardwick. She left it open to interpretation whether she believed he was directly responsible.
“That seems like the kind of thing that could happen,” the producer said. “Maybe Hardwick was upset about a personal relationship and somebody took that as their marching orders.”
The former Nerdist employee said he believed Hardwick did play a role. “It was never explicit, but whenever someone said they were thinking of hiring Chloe, [Hardwick] would say, ‘Let me tell you a story.’ He used people’s emotions to get them on his side,” he said.
But now Harwick himself appears to be persona non grata.
“Following the allegations, every blue tick on Twitter pretty much dropped him like a sack of potatoes, offering their support to Chloe,” said gaming and tech journalist Ian Miles Cheong. “It’s easy to understand why — her story was harrowing, and it echoed their suspicions about yet another too-nice geek guy in Hollywood.”
“Personally, I sympathize with Chloe and have no reason to doubt what she said,” Cheong continued. “Her experiences are sadly common in the entertainment and gaming industry, and many of the victims seldom find justice.”
A day after Dykstra’s story posted, Hardwick said he was “blindsided” by the allegations and said he had never sexually assaulted her.
“I’m devastated to read that she is now accusing me of conduct that did not occur,” he said.
But Hardwick nonetheless faced heavy consequences. Legendary and Nerdist distanced themselves from the company’s co-founder, scrubbing his name from their website. AMC yanked his upcoming talk show “Talking With Chris Hardwick,” and he has been pulled from moderating two panels at next month’s Comic-Con.
“He’s a toxic property,” Cheong said. “At least for now.”