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Rochester comedy scene rocked by sexual abuse allegations

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A prominent Rochester stand-up comedian and force in the local comedy scene, Woody Battaglia, is under fire amid allegations of sexual harrassment and sexual assault.

The accusations, which were published anonymously online last week, prompted a swift and extensive backlash in the comedy community that included multiple female and male collaborators moving to publicly shun Battaglia and disavow his alleged behavior.

Battaglia, whose real name is Ron Wood, denied the allegations in a phone interview, casting them as fallout from his recent departure from a local podcast. 

The allegations were posted last week on the social networking site Tumblr under the microblog “steadyreadycollective” with the headline, “Enough — Accountability Demand of Woody Battaglia.” The post and its subsequent updates accused Battaglia of abusing his authority in the comedy scene and engaging in “obvious patterns of predation.”

The post and updates consisted mainly of screenshots of private message exchanges purported to be between Battaglia and unidentified women, and screenshots of private messages from anonymous alleged victims sharing their stories, interspersed with commentary. Many of the images of private messages were undated, although some appeared to date to 2013.

Ilhan Ali, a Rochester comedian and producer, who described herself as a former close friend of Battaglia, said she did not author the blog but helped compile its narrative and screenshots. She declined to identify the author by name, but said they were an expert in sexual harassment law.



One accuser did identify herself. Emily Champion, a musician based out of New York City, said she was a bartender at the former Acanthus Café on East Avenue in 2013 and knew Battaglia from the comedy open mic he hosted there.

She offered the blog a screenshot of what she said was a private message between her and Battaglia, in which Battaglia wrote that he would need to see her breasts before she left town.

“If you look at the context, there’s nothing that prompted anything about anything sexual,” Champion said in a phone interview. “Nothing gave him the OK to make a comment like that.”

Another of the private messages, which appeared to be a text from an unidentified alleged victim to an unknown recipient, tells a story of Battaglia allegedly sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman who slept over at his apartment.

Battaglia denied such an interaction took place.

The allegations and the fallout from them are extraordinary given Battaglia’s standing in the local comedy scene. 
A CITY advertisement for a stand-up comedy open mic show hosted by Woody Battaglia. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • A CITY advertisement for a stand-up comedy open mic show hosted by Woody Battaglia.

Battaglia has twice been recognized as the “Best Local Comedian” in CITY’s annual “Best of Rochester” readers’ poll and has established himself as a champion of safe spaces for female comedians and comedians from marginalized groups.

He hosted and produced multiple open mic shows, including the Brunchtown Comedy Collective series, the radio show “Almost Tuesday” on WAYO 104.3 FM, and the podcast “Two Date Minimum.” He also taught stand-up comedy classes and was a co-administrator of the Rochester Comedy Facebook page, a platform to inform and promote local comedians.

The  blog called for Battaglia's removal from positions of leadership in the comedy scene, that men in the scene speak out in solidarity with the women accusers, and that Battaglia reconcile with his alleged victims.

Vinnie Paulino, a co-administrator of the Rochester Comedy Facebook page, told CITY that Battaglia has been removed as an administrator in light of the allegations against him and that he has been blocked from promoting his work there.

“We in the Rochester comedy community are standing behind these women,” Paulino said.

Madelein Smith, a New York City-based comedian who co-hosted “Two Date Minimum” with Battaglia, told CITY she believed the accusations and that she would not be working with Battaglia in the future. 

In a phone interview, Battaglia denied the allegations and suggested they were the result of his quitting his role as producer of the “Loosen the Bible Belt” podcast. He said he ghosted the podcast and that concerns voiced online over his perceived unprofessionalism for ceasing contact with the show snowballed into accusations of sexual harassment and abuse.

Battaglia acknowledged his involvement in some of the private message exchanges on the blog, but explained that they had been “decontextualized.”

“There are screenshots in those accusations which are real screenshots from my actual Facebook messages, and they’ve been decontextualized,” he said. “My main statement is that I’ve never ever had non-consensual sexual experiences with women or anybody else in my life.”

He said he was responding to the allegations “from a place of ‘we should believe women’” and that establishing a culture of believing the stories of alleged sexual harassment and sexual abuse victims helps bring abusers to justice.

At the same time, he acknowledged that such a culture would lead people to assume the allegations against him are true.

Ali said she began reaching out to accusers and listening to their stories after seeing allegations on Facebook that Battaglia had been behaving like a predator.

The allegations hurt her, Ali said, because it was Battaglia who supported her when she brought sexual assault charges against another comedian in the local scene. She said Battaglia sat in the front row at her trial and publicly called for the comedian to be banned from performing in Rochester.

“I was blinded by my own assault and how he helped me,” Ali said. “I thought somebody who could be there for me and help me ‘out’ my abuser could never be an abuser.”

Pressed on the screenshots in the blog of private messages that appeared to be between him and individual women, Battaglia said the conversations were consensual and that he stopped any sexual advances when the receiver indicated the attention was unwanted.

“I will say this about having conversations like that,” Battaglia said, “about pursuing people for dating or sex in the comedy community, which I have been a part of for the past almost-eight years: Generally, those things are wrong to do, for me personally, because I was in a position of authority, minor though it might be, in that community.”

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.