David Choe
David Choe Image Credit: IMdB

The creator and stars of the critically acclaimed Netflix show “Beef” are defending their colleague David Choe over an old podcast episode in which he bragged about assaulting a masseuse - a story the actor now claims he made up.

“The story David Choe fabricated nine years ago is undeniably hurtful and extremely disturbing,” Steven Yeun, Ali Wong and Lee Sung Jin said in a statement released to news outlets on Friday, which Netflix confirmed was authentic to The Washington Post. “We’re aware David has apologised 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.”

Choe, who plays the ethically challenged cousin Isaac to Yeun’s rage-filled Danny in “Beef,” has spent years apologising for a March 2014 podcast in which he explicitly described forcing a masseuse to perform inappropriate tasks, according to a write-up of the episode by BuzzFeed News. (Variety reported that Choe filed copyright complaints to remove clips of the podcast from the internet after it began attracting renewed attention this month.)

Initially, Choe claimed that the rape story was an “extension of my art,” and pure fiction. “It’s a dark, tasteless, completely irreverent show,” he wrote on his podcast’s website the month after the episode aired. “We create stories and tell tales. . . . I’m sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact.”

No one appears to have come forward to dispute Choe’s contention that he invented his victim, but the episode continued to dog him. In 2017, he released a statement on Instagram blaming mental illness for the story. “I have spent the last three years in mental health facilities healing myself and dedicating my life to helping and healing others through love and action,” he wrote. “I do not believe in the things I have said although I take full ownership of saying them.”

Choe described himself as a “recovering liar” in a New York Times interview three years later, as he prepared to make his major TV debut with a limited Hulu series in which he painted portraits of Will Arnett, Denzel Curry, Rainn Wilson and other celebrities.

After years of obscure podcasts and art projects, Choe may finally be in reach of Hollywood’s upper echelon with his supporting role in “Beef.” Created by Lee and starring Wong and Yeun as antagonists in a road rage incident who carry their feud to depraved extremes, the dark comedy has garnered sterling reviews and will reportedly contend for the Emmys.

But Choe’s reputation has somewhat overshadowed the show’s acclaim, despite his character’s relatively minor role. “Beef” has a 98 percent critic’s score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, but a notably lower audience score, brought down in part by viewers unhappy over a single casting decision.

“I watched a few episodes before learning about the David Choe controversy,” reads a one-star review. “It soured everything for me.”

Netflix declined to comment on the matter. Attempts to reach Choe directly were not successful.