Amid the critical and commercial success of Beef, disturbing comments made by one of its actors in 2014 have resurfaced and derailed what had previously been a positive discussion of the show.
David Choe, the artist and multi-hyphenate who plays Isaac, cousin to Steven Yeun’s Danny (and Yeun’s friend in real life), jokingly referred to himself as “a successful rapist” on an episode of his DVDASA podcast. In that episode, he tells a story about forcing a massage therapist to perform oral sex on him.
While Choe called the remarks a joke and “a complete extension of my art” at the time, noting in an extended statement that it was “not a representation of my reality,”, the comments have received renewed attention following the success of Beef.
While Choe is mostly known as an artist (his paintings appear as title cards in nine Beef episodes), his larger pop culture presence includes works across multiple mediums of expression. In 2013, for example, he appeared in an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series that focused on the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. And in 2020, he made a short appearance in an episode of The Mandalorian’s second season.
More recently, he released the interview-focused The Choe Show series via FX and Hulu. As an artist, Choe first drew mainstream attention more than a decade ago after it was revealed that Facebook stock options he had received as payments for mural work were worth a reported $200 million.
Below, we take a closer look at the controversy, from the original delivery of the comments to their performance art-focused explanation to the current pushback from Beef fans.
Content warning: This post contains content some may find objectionable.
What did David Choe say?
During a 2014 episode of the DVDASA podcast featuring Choe and adult performer Asa Akira, among others, Choe at one point speaks about what he said at the time was an encounter he had with a massage therapist.
Per a partial transcript shared by ARTnews, “I’m at a place and there’s potential for a lawsuit… and she has given me no signs that she’s into me or that this is appropriate behavior,” Choe says in the clip, a portion of which can be seen below. “In my head, I go, ‘Do you care if I jerk off right now?’ And it sounds so creepy in my head that I go, ‘I can’t say that out loud.’ … So I go back to the chill method of you never ask first, you just do it, get in trouble, and then pay the price later.”
Choe provides additional details from that point forward, including a description of forced oral sex. Complex reached out to Akira for comment but have yet to hear back.
How did David Choe initially respond?
In the March 2014 episode itself, Choe concedes the story as an example of what he said was “rapey behavior.” However, he says he is “not a rapist.”
In a lengthier statement shared to his website a little over a month later, which Choe released in response to the initial backlash, the artist elaborated further, including an explanation of what he said was the intention of the DVDASA project. The story was mere performance art, Choe said, suggesting the tale at the center of the remarks was made up with the intention of provoking a specific response.
“I never thought I’d wake up one late afternoon and hear myself called a rapist. It sucks,” Choe said in 2014. “Especially because I am not one. I am not a rapist. I hate rapists. I think rapists should be raped and murdered.”
In the same statement, Choe apologized if podcast listeners had “believed that the stories were fact” because “they were not.”
Has he responded more recently?
When: June 2021
Choe spoke with the New York Times in June 2021 ahead of his well-received Hulu project The Choe Show, which brought the artist together with a number of familiar faces (including, again, Asa Akira plus those new to Choe’s orbit like The Office’s Rainn Wilson) for an experimental series that ended each episode with a new painting.
During the interview, the 2014 podcast episode was brought up, prompting another response from Choe: He said the story as part of a desire to experience “an external response” to his internal shame. Notably, Choe has frequently spoken about sex addiction and other personal issues.
“At that time in my life, I was done with life and chasing a bottom. I wanted out,” Choe told the Times in 2021. “I never raped anyone.”
Choe and ‘Beef’ find major success on Netflix
When: April 2023
Choe stars in the Lee Sung Jin-created miniseries for Netflix alongside Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, who are also executive producers on the show. Choe plays the main character Danny’s sketchy cousin, Issac, who was recently released from jail. The show is about two strangers, Amy and Danny, whose lives unravel when they can’t seem to let go of their need for revenge after a road rage incident with a complete stranger.
The show was well-received until the conversation regarding Choe’s past comments resurfaced on social media. Viewers and social media users began to question the choice of the creators to cast him for the role.
Has Choe been removing videos from the podcast from Twitter?
When: April 2023
A key aspect of the current fueling of the renewed controversy has been the takedown efforts aimed at reshared clips of the original 2014 podcast episode. Per Variety, writers including Aura Bogado and Meecham Whitson Meriweather had clips they shared removed after being met with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices. These notices, the publication reported, had been filed by Choe on behalf of the David Young Choe Foundation. The notices are reported to have argued that the clips are comprised of copyrighted material. An email obtained by NBC News, sent from Twitter and addressed to Meriweather, listed Choe as the copyright holder and party who had requested the takedown.
‘Beef’ creator and stars break their silence about Choe’s controversy
When: April 21
Beef’s executive producers and stars Ali Wong and Steven Yeun and its creator, Lee Sung Jin, released a statement to Vanity Fair addressing the controversy. “The story David Choe fabricated nine years ago is undeniably hurtful and extremely disturbing. We do not condone this story in any way, and we understand why this has been so upsetting and triggering,” they said. “We’re aware David has apologized in the past for making up this horrific story, and we’ve seen him put in the work to get the mental health support he needed over the last decade to better himself and learn from his mistakes.”