Cards Against Humanity was always about crossing boundaries into the taboo — the company’s popular game dares players to pair cards with the most absurd combination of off-color jokes. But according to a lengthy Polygon investigation, that inflammatory brand extended to a toxic work environment, where former employees say sexism and racism ran rampant. The company’s co-founder Max Temkin resigned last month for his role in fostering a hostile work culture. He also faces allegations of sexual assault, which former employees say were an open secret in the office.
One of those former employees, improv comedian Nico Carter, wrote a Medium post about his experiences at Cards Against Humanity and how he felt sidelined after speaking out against a proposed card that read “Saying the N-word.” In his story, Carter opens up about the “well-meaning white liberals” in his office and how their actions ultimately contributed to him being institutionalized and fired.
GEN: How did you feel after the N-word card incident? And what did you make of Cards Against Humanity’s response to it?
Nico Carter: When we were told that the card was in the final stages and that the owners wanted to have the card in the game, I felt incredibly disturbed. I felt betrayed personally. It seemed self-explanatory that the N-word shouldn’t be used as a joke in a game, or a joke anywhere. I started to question what my presence was being used for.
When I talked to Max [Temkin] about it, his answers were completely insufficient and off-putting and dismissive. And if you read the Slacks I sent him — that was after we had our conversation — I said, damn, I would like to talk some more, because he hadn’t listened to me and kept shutting me down. And he still shut me down. And then he says, “Well, you know, there’s a process for this,” as if there’s some kind of process that didn’t involve him. He’s the ultimate gatekeeper for this.
Cards Against Humanity is also under fire for fostering a sexist work culture. Did you ever hear stories from your female co-workers about what they experienced?
I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I wish that I had. I wish that I had been more aware.
We tried multiple times to put cards into the game directly addressing the [sexual assault] allegations against Max, because we felt like our obligation as comedians in the room was to speak truth to power. They were never printed or in contention, because we all got to see the cards that were potentials to be printed. Nobody ever made a joke at [Tempkin’s accuser’s] expense at all. It was our way of dealing with the reality that we were powerless to do anything at all. [Editor’s Note: A spokesperson for Cards Against Humanity told Polygon they would not comment on allegations against Tempkin, but they believe “all claims of sexual violence must be taken seriously.”]
The jokes kind of served the function of allowing us to pretend that something tragic and horrific wasn’t happening to us every time we walk into that place as a result.
You mention in your story that your co-workers reached out to your family saying they were concerned about your mental health, and that because of this, your parents had you committed into a mental hospital. Cards Against Humanity says that none of its employees were formally involved in the process. But do you hold them responsible?
Of course they’re responsible for that. My boss, the head writer [Jo Feldman], was the one who was concerned. Andy Kushnir — Jo’s husband — is the one who reached out [to my parents]. It’s obvious that leadership at Cards was responsible for leading my parents into the belief that I was going to lose my job because of my behavior. My parents would never have done this without them. [Update: A spokesperson for Cards Against Humanity reiterated that Kushnir, who was a contract writer at the company, was “acting completely independently of the company” as a long-time friend of Carter’s.]
Any parent who gave a shit about their kid would do the same and would do anything to get the help they need if they thought they were in danger. My parents were unaware of the process of what would have happened at the hospital. So, my parents aren’t to blame for this. It will live with me forever. And it’s hard, because I love my parents. You know, I want to love them, and I just want to just have an effortless relationship with them, like we all do.
And after your experience, do you ever feel you can trust so-called white allies in the workplace again?
That’s a complicated question to answer and one that changes for me based on where I’m at. I think right now I feel optimistic that I can. But let me put it this way: I will never trust a white progressive ally who won’t put their money where their mouth is. And anybody who is a millionaire or a billionaire should not be trusted unless they’re putting their money where their mouth is.
Beyond just money, what work needs to be done to combat toxic work environments?
I think we need to listen to women. That’s really overall what we need to do. Listen to Black women. Listen to queer women. Listen to trans women of color. Listen to trans Black women. Listen to women, period. It’s feminist scholars who have been saying all of the things that I’m saying right now. If we could just listen to women, I think we would already have been over all this shit.
Do you think Cards Against Humanity will change?
I don’t know. I didn’t think any of this would happen, but I know that the same people who were in charge are still in charge. And I know that the same people in the company are still in the company. And I know that’s unlikely to change. So, if you’re asking me do I think anything’s going to happen? I’m not very hopeful. I’m hopeful that it won’t happen to someone else, because if we don’t give these people a fucking inch, then we might have a chance.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. It has been updated with a statement from Cards Against Humanity.