Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
Some guy just emailed me asking if I could send him the interview I did with Louis C.K. in 2006. I guess there's a post on maximumfun.org about it that links to the old AST (aka nowhere). So instead of dealing with the awkwardness of emailing a stranger, I figured I would just re-post it here. And someday maybe you can hear the shitty audio of the interview, which was recorded on an iPod with a plastic, plug-in mic.
Anyway, check out the interview after the break.
Ed. note: sorry if some of the links don't work -- Louie's site has gone through a lot of changes since this was published.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
THE AST INTERVIEW: LOUIS CK
On a studio lot like any other, in a bungalow office like any other, two TV producers are discussing a story beat for the sitcom they’re creating. I’m waiting outside the office to interview one of them, so I have a chance to peruse the dry erase board in the writer’s room. The only outward indication that this is not your typical production is the list of B-plot ideas on the board, the first of which is, simply enough: “blowjob.” Welcome to the world of “Lucky Louie.”
After twenty-two years of doing standup, Louis C.K. is about to bring his unique sensibility to the sitcom genre, with the help of executive producer Mike Royce and HBO. He’s taken a long and unusual path to this moment, and when we sat down to talk, Louie reflected on his childhood influences, his time as a TV writer and producer, his directorial work in film and his evolution as a comedian.
PART ONE: BOSTON<img align=right src=http://aspecialthing.com/images/LCK80s.jpg>
isoS: So you grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, right?
LCK: That’s right.
isoS: Do you have early memories of comedy? Seeing it on TV or out in the world even?
LCK: Sure. Well, the earliest stuff I ever laughed at was in Mexico, ‘cause I lived there ‘til I was about seven. There was Cantinflas and all these really funny Mexican comics that made me laugh. My uncles were all funny. My dad wasn’t funny, but my uncles were all funny. Now I go back and I like him better than them, they were manipulative funny.
The earliest standup comedy I was aware of was Bill Cosby. I had a friend named Jeff who had all his records, just had a stack of Cosby records, and as early as third grade I think, I would go to his house and we’d just listen to Cosby records, sit there and listen and laugh at ‘em. And I fuckin’ loved that.
isoS: Were you the kind of kid who snuck downstairs to watch the Tonight Show?
LCK: I watched Saturday Night Live as soon as I was aware of it, and Monty Python used to be on PBS at weird hours, so I used to try to watch that. And I loved George Carlin on SNL, that was the first standup I ever really remember seeing on TV.
And then Steve Martin. I guess I was in fifth or sixth grade when Steve Martin showed up, and he was instantly my idol. And Richard Pryor around the same time too, I sort of became aware of him, though I don’t remember the first time I saw him.
isoS: So at that point did you really start to think, “I want to do this myself?”
LCK: Yeah, when I saw Steve Martin. I mean, listening to Bill Cosby made me think I’d like to do it, I think, and in fifth grade we did a play. Our class did “Free To Be You and Me” -- I don’t know if you remember that -- and my teacher, I was a very disorganized, bad student, I was always behind and in trouble and stuff, and my teacher had this idea to have me recite this poem by myself. This whole thing about, “Don’t put a horse in a nightgown just because you want him to go to bed.” It was a funny poem about, “Don’t impose your will on other people.” So I had to memorize it, and I was supposed to recite it in front of the curtain between acts. Lotta pressure, you know?
And the teacher was one of these harsh teachers who’s like, you know, tough love. She was also, looking back and remembering the details as an grownup, she smoked in the class -- as soon as class was over, she’d light a cigarette. So if you had after school stuff with her, she’d smoke. And she was an alcoholic and she was fuckin’ damaged. She used to burst into tears and stuff. Crazy. She was a really hard, tough, really -- I mean, I think I got a huge benefit from having her as a teacher. But she was the first grownup I remember where we’re dealing with this person’s problems.
But anyway, she would make me stand in front of the class and recite [this poem], and I’d mess up and she’d go, “No! Go back!” It was really hard. She really directed me really harshly, and when we rehearsed in the theater she’d say, “LOUDER!” And she said, “If you don’t do it loud enough during the performance in front of everybody I’m gonna yell ‘Louder.’” I was amazed at the thought that she would actually fuckin’ do that, that she would yell “Louder” while I’m doing it.
So it was a lot of anxiety, and then we did it in the auditorium, this little grade school auditorium. You know, it was all wooden. And I stood in front of this red curtain, and I started to try to recite this poem and I just burst out laughing, just nervous laughter, and the audience laughed. And then I tried to reset, I started again, and I couldn’t get through it. And the fucking place was… it was insane. They were just laughing so hard, I got like fifty applause breaks. I was in hell. And I remember looking at her and she was laughing along with everyone else. But it just brought the house down. And when I went back behind the curtain, all the kids said, “You screwed it up, you messed up the whole play for everybody.”
So that was my first experience performing, standing and performing in front of an audience. I guess I was nine.
isoS: Did you feel like even though it was --
LCK: It was exhilarating to get the laughs, you know, from grownups. And looking back on it, seeing a nine-year-old do that, I’m sure it was hysterical.
But then, sixth grade, there was Steve Martin. Oh, the other thing was “The Gong Show,” with Chuck Barris, and I was addicted to watching that. The Unknown Comic, I loved him. So I really, at that point, sixth grade, I was like, “I want to be a comedian.” So we had a Gong Show, and I learned how to juggle, I juggled with two balls and an apple and I ate the apple and told jokes. And I remember being very confident, like I really pulled that off.
So that’s when I really started thinking, “I want to do that.”
isoS: But you also wanted to be a filmmaker, right?
LCK: Yeah, I wanted to do that at the same time. And that was because I saw… Well, the movies that I saw that inspired me were “Rocky” and “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” Those were the first movies that I loved, and “Blazing Saddles” I think, too. And then I watched “Duel,” you know, the Spielberg movie? We had a guy named Dana Hershey on local Channel 38 who would talk to you about the movies between each thing, so he told me -- and everybody else watching -- that Steven Spielberg, who made “Jaws” and “Close Encounters,” this was a film he made independently with a shoestring budget. And then I saw “Duel,” and I saw how it was a stripped down version of everything else that he does, and that it’s a story that a guy told with a car and a truck on a highway, and not only did I want to be a filmmaker, but I wanted to be an independent filmmaker. That was, I guess, fifth or sixth grade, around the same time. But I wanted to do both really, simultaneously.
isoS: Did you kind of connect those two in your head, or did you want to tell jokes on a stage and also make movies?
LCK: I wanted to do both. Also, Woody Allen… All these things happened at once. I mean, Woody Allen, when I was in grade school, the idea that he was a comedian who made films, he was a huge idol of mine. And at the time I wrote short stories and stuff. I was into writing and making up stories. So I knew I wanted to do something creative. But movies and standup were the two big things.
isoS: Were the short stories you wrote funny?
LCK: I think a little bit, but just weird ideas. I don’t remember them so much.
isoS: So, jumping ahead, when did you finally get on stage and try comedy?
LCK: I was seventeen I think and I was in high school, and it was just the beginning of senior year. I remember ‘cause I asked out a girl and we were going on a date, so I needed money for the date, and my mother -- I always had to work for money in my house in some way or another, I think I even had a job, but I didn’t have any money for the date, so she said if you vacuum and wash the floors in the house you can have twenty bucks.
So I was washing the kitchen floor and listening to WBCN Radio in Boston, and they played a comedian named Chance Lankton, who was a very good, basic Boston comic. And they said, “Chance can be seen at Stitches this weekend, and by the way, if you want to try standup comedy, do an open mike, Sunday night Stitches has an open mike. All you do is come and sign up and you can do five minutes.” The idea that there were comedy clubs in Boston and that they’d let you audition? I couldn’t get there fast enough.
I found out where to go, and I assumed that I would be like the new kid, like there’d be three or four comedians and I’d be the new one. I had no idea what I was getting into… I went and there was a line of people, but I got on. I just went to Stitches, and it was like the last week before the ‘80s went completely nuts. It was ’84. And you could just write your name on a chalkboard and go sit down.
I was underage actually, so they wouldn’t let me in the club, so because of that the only logical thing was for me to go in the back room. So I got to be in the green room with real comics, and there’s a chest of beer, you know, free beer.
I [had] found out when the next open mike was and I [had] started preparing in my head what my five minutes was gonna be, and I thought, “Oh, I have like two hours of material, what five minutes am I gonna do of this?” I thought I had so much shit.
I remember going on stage, and it was all Boston bar-goers, tough crowd. I did about a minute and ten seconds I think, like barely over a minute, and I just, everything I thought of shrank to nothing. I didn’t get a single laugh.
I remember the worst part of it was that there was something I saw Steve Martin do -- I didn’t know you shouldn’t do somebody else’s stuff even. Steve Martin was on Mike Douglas or something, and Mike Douglas asked him, “How are you so funny?”
And he said, “Well before I perform I put bologna in my shoes so that I feel funny.”
So I actually put a slice of bologna in one of my shoes, and part of my act was to say, “I put bologna in my shoes so that I’ll feel funny.”
And I remember just the awful bending over, taking the shoe off and fishing out the bologna with everyone just staring at me, and them not laughing. And I just got off-stage quickly, and the emcee was a guy named Ed Driscoll, who was very funny -- he made fun of me for about ten minutes. “Oh, don’t take up all our time,” ‘cause I had done so short. It was awful. It was just torture.
isoS: What made you do it again?
LCK: Well, I wasn’t gonna. I kind of had an instinct that I’m just too young to relate to people in comedy clubs, I don’t have anything to say to them.
About a year later I guess, right after I graduated from high school, I was working in a video store in Newton, and Kevin Meany, who lived in Newton, used to come in all the time. And I used to give him funny movies and he’d watch ‘em and I kind of formed a half-friendship with him. I told him that I had done an open mike once. And he said, “Oh, well you have to come and do my show.” He had a show Wednesday night at Stitches that was called “Sweeney and Meany Nights,” it was Kevin Meany and Steve Sweeney, who were the two biggest comics in the city. It sold out every night, Mark Parenteau from BCN would be there for the radio, huge show.
[Kevin] said, “You gotta come and be a guest on my show.”
I said, “Well I can’t, I’m not good enough. I’d have to go get better.”
And he said, “I don’t want that, I want you to come on without having gone on, ‘cause it’s comedy tragedy. I want you to come on and see what happens.”
And I went and it was fuckin’ packed, huge night, and I’m backstage with Steve Sweeney and all these comics who were just fucking gods to me. And I did another two minutes of total complete failure, just awful. And that convinced me that I had no ability.
But then a few months later I went to a place in Cambridge called Off the Wall Cinema, which was an art movie house, and there was a sign that said “Comedy, Saturday nights at midnight.” Ron Lynch had a show there called the Comedy Clubhouse, and he had the same comedians every week, just these oddball comics, just weirdos, and he did a really strange show Saturday at midnight in Central Square. I saw that and I was like, “I don’t care about anything else but doing this.”
isoS: Ron once played a tape on-stage that you made that was you doing standup in your living room or something?
LCK: Yeah, because I went to him and said, “Please let me do standup here,” and he said I needed a tape. I didn’t want to go back to Stitches and make a tape, I didn’t know how to… I didn’t want to go through that. It was a chicken and egg problem. So I had this friend who had a mixing board and was a musician, and he was a really nice guy. He said, “I’ll make this tape for you.”
So I went to my friend Ben Brown’s house, and I was so inhibited, like I was so nervous about what I was doing, I didn’t even want to be in the room with people doing it. So I did it alone in a room first, and then we got some friends together and had them laugh and clink glasses together so it sounded like a nightclub, and then he edited the laughs into what I was saying. I gave that to Ron and said, “That’s my tape.”
[It was] just living torture between the Saturdays, [because] it took like three weeks for this to happen. Ron said, “Yeah, if you invite some of your friends to sit in the front row and laugh like on your tape you can do a set. Did you really think I was gonna fall for that?”
I was destroyed. Then he said, “Look, come next week, we’re having sort of our own open mike, we’re having new people.” So I went on, I did I think three or four jokes that got good laughs, and he said, “You can be a regular.”
So that’s when I became a comic, really.
isoS: How long did it take before you were comfortable doing it, where you weren’t freaking out about the idea of performing in front of people?
LCK: Well, the people in Cambridge I related to, they were all fuckin’ wing-nuts, it was a weird alternative crowd. It wasn’t these fuckin’ jello shot party-goers. And once I was doing it at Ron’s place I couldn’t live on just doing -- I just needed to be on stage so much. So I would do his show every Saturday night, and then I started going to Stitches and the Comedy Connection, and I had a hard time in those clubs, but I was getting more confident and I was getting a little better at doing them.
And then Ron announced that they were closing Off the Wall Cinema and his show was gonna end. I remember I was with a comedian named James Lemur who had become my friend, and he said something to me like, “You’re going to have to make a decision if you’re doing this or not. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a fuckin’ hobby.”
So I was standing on B.U. Bridge in Boston and I decided, “I’m gonna be a standup comedian, and nothing else matters.” At the time I was working at a local access cable station in Marblehead, like a real job, trying to get into TV, but I decided to quit.
I had also gone to NYU film school to try to get in there, and an old teacher of mine hooked me up with a guy there who said he could get me in the school, ‘cause I didn’t go to college, I didn’t fill out any applications. But I said, “I’m not going to film school, and I’m not pursuing any other career. I’m gonna get a job as a mechanic and work nights doing comedy.”
So I did that, and I took every gig that I could possibly get, and I did, you know, Mexican restaurants, Chinese restaurants, and after a while I was able to quit fixing cars.
isoS: How long did that take?
LCK: I guess it took about two years or something like that, because back then in Boston there were just so many gigs. The thing was, you could make money, but I was bombing, ‘cause all of a sudden I had to do half an hour a night, for anybody, people that weren’t even… like people are at a restaurant eating and all of a sudden somebody says, “Alright, the show’s starting, we’re gonna do some comedy to ya, everybody shut up.” So I’ve been at a bunch of shows where fights start, comedians got beat up ‘cause they weren’t funny. And the ship had sailed on college or any real career, so then it just became necessity: “I don’t have any other choice but to make this actually work.”
isoS: So how long did you stick it out in Boston before you moved to New York?
LCK: I moved to New York in like 1990, so I was [in Boston] about three-and-a-half, four years, and by that time it had become fun. David Cross, he and I were living together, and we were doing Cross Comedy. There was Catch a Rising Star, there was a whole lot. Then I got really into what I was doing on stage.
isoS: Did you do the road at all when you were still in Boston?
LCK: Oh sure, I used to go on the worst kind of road trips, where you just kind of live in your car. You know, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, just all around. I think St. Louis was the farthest west I ever went.
But I did that, and then the MTV Half Hour Comedy Hour came around trolling for comics and I got chosen to do that. That was the first TV gig I did, so I came to New York City for the first time, did the MTV Half Hour Comedy Hour, bombed --
isoS: [laughs] Did it air?
LCK: Oh sure, yeah. It was awful, it was embarrassing. But I saw the clubs in New York City, so I started heading there.
isoS: So by the time you got there you were pretty well established?
LCK: Yeah, in Boston I was making decent money doing it, clubs in town and out of town, a little on the road and also college gigs -- you could do colleges, that was more money in one night than you’d make in other clubs. But I wasn’t good, I mean I got laughs through survival instinct I think, mostly, but I wasn’t… I look at tapes from back then, it was just really bad shit. Really unfunny.
isoS: Do you remember some of the jokes?
LCK: I can’t repeat them. You know, on my website one of the video clips is me from back then [<a href=http://www.louisck.com/catch87.mov>click here to view</a>] -- that was pretty much the best I got in Boston. I was really confident; I thought, Yeah, I got shit like nobody else, I’m really original and, you know, headed places, but I look back and I’m like, God, that stuff was bad. But New York I think turned me into a real comic.
I also was growing up. And nobody wants to see a kid. Anything younger than 25 I think you’re kind of a jackass on stage. Nobody cares. Even if you’re funny, they’re like, “Get out of here you wiseass.” But if you’re a grown man and you’re funny it just means a lot more to people I think.
isoS: There’s a little more perspective maybe.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
PART TWO: NEW YORK CITY<img align=right src=http://aspecialthing.com/images/lck95.jpg>
isoS: So how did you get into writing for Conan?
LCK: I made short films all throughout that time [in Boston]. Like David Cross’s show, I used to make short films to show on his show, and when I worked for cable in Marblehead I used to take the equipment home and make funny videos. That’s where I sort of started making the film-y stuff. Then I started making them for his show and showing them to audiences and getting laughs with them.
There was a show on A&E called Caroline’s Comedy Hour, and I did all those shows. And Caroline’s wanted to actually do sketches. Colin Quinn was the host, and Jon Stewart was the head writer, and the writers were me and Dave Attell and Susie Essman, from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And so it was just the three of us, and Jon and Colin. Every show had like a little sketch in the beginning and one in the middle between the comics.
So that’s where I learned actual TV production of sketches and stuff, and we did some live sketches too. I mean, it paid like $3,000 for a year or something like that, and it was really hard work, but it was fun.
And actually, we did a thing called “Elevator Fears,” which was a guy in an elevator and weird things happening in the elevator, and that guy was Mike Royce, my [“Lucky Louie” producing] partner. He was this local comic, and he has this sort of unassuming nice guy look, so we just used him. He didn’t even have any lines. He’d just stand there and react to weird stuff happening in the elevator.
So I wrote for them for a year with Colin, and then a second year with Richard Jeni, who took over [as host]. I hated working for him and I quit, I think, halfway through. But I wrote a short film, “Caesar’s Salad,” and I decided, “I want to make a film-film.”
I went to the producers of Caroline’s, the guys who were the line producers, and asked them, “How do you make a movie?”
And they said, “Well, if you get a good [director of photography], he’ll tell you how to do it.”
So they hooked me up with a guy they used to shoot 16mm, just a guy who had a 16mm camera who was an official DP, and his name was Paul Koestner. I gave him the script and it made him laugh.
I said, “Just, I have no idea how to make a movie. I’ve [only] made videos. Let’s make a movie.”
And he said, “Okay.”
I didn’t go to college, so my mom offered to bankroll it. She gave me… we had a budget of I think $10,000, but it ballooned to like $25,000 because I didn’t know how -- I would just get money out of the bank, like cash, and just pay everybody in cash. And over the course of like a week or two we made the film with all comedians that I knew. And I got into this pattern of writing for and thinking of funny people to put in. I had met Rick Shapiro then and I put him in it, and Laura Kightlinger, and Dave Attell was in it, Ray Romano, Caroline Rhea, Nick DiPaolo was in that, Dave “Gruber” Allen, the Naked Trucker guy, is in it, and Chips Cooney… Who else is in that? A couple other people who are now doing shit… Chuck Sklar was in it.
Anyway, I made that film and it was a lot of fun, and I entered it into every festival in the country, got into one: the New Orleans Comedy Festival. Well, the Chicago Film Festival gave me a silver plaque award, but they never even, I don’t think they showed it. They just gave me an award. I never went to Chicago. The New Orleans Film Festival, I actually went down there and they gave me an award and they loved it. Being in a theater, at a film festival, showing my film -- that was fucking huge.
Then I wrote, very quickly, this little film “Ice Cream,” and me and Paul shot that on black and white film for like $3,000, and Laura Kightlinger and Craig Anton were in that.
isoS: These are on your site, right?
LCK: They’re on my DVD, my short films DVD.
isoS: Oh right. But there are clips…
LCK: There are clips on the site.
But somehow “Ice Cream” was simpler and it just hit, and that got into Sundance and it won a Grand Prize at Aspen and it showed in Europe and TV and stuff. That one just fuckin’ worked. So that was the first time I ever really got traction. ‘Cause “Caesar’s Salad” was just a big disaster.
Anyway, to answer your question, when Conan came around I had those credentials, I was a filmmaker a little bit, I had gotten a film into Sundance and had done well with it.
isoS: So it was that more than your standup even?
LCK: Well, they knew about me from standup. Actually, the way that Conan ended up happening was that Saturday Night Live threw everybody off, all the people [in the cast], they had a big overhaul, and so they had a big audition at Catch in New York for every comedian.
At the time, every club in the city was closing. The Improv closed, and there was no work anymore, anywhere. It was ’92, and the ‘80s comedy surge was, I mean, it was gone. At the Comedy Cellar, there would literally be nobody in the audience, and they’d make you do the show, because if somebody happened to wander in there couldn’t be no show, so you’d literally be on stage in an empty room and you had to do the jokes. I mean, it was fuckin’ awful.
So it was like that for a few years, and I was going broke. And SNL was like the last chance, the last boat leaving, so Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger, Sarah Silverman, Jay Mohr and me and a bunch of other people all auditioned. I remember that I was put first on the show, and the SNL people hadn’t shown up, and the guy that ran Catch, Louis Faranda, was trying to put me on anyway. He was like, “Go on.”
“But they’re not gonna see me.”
He said, “I don’t care.”
It was cruel as shit. And I think that Jon Stewart was there and he offered to go on and stall for me, which he did. But finally I had to go on, and as I went on stage they all filed in, and I remember that David Spade was with them, and he had seen me, so he made them sit down, Jim Downey and them, and said, “Watch this guy,” which I’m forever indebted to him for even though I didn’t get on SNL.
It made a difference, because I went on and I had a really solid, good set, and then over the following week Laura Kightlinger got cast, Dave Attell, Sarah, Jay, everybody but me [got cast], like everybody that was on that [showcase] but me.
I was just devastated, like it was just not gonna happen, and I had no more options. I wasn’t making a living. And the rent in New York is crushing. So, I remember calling Marc Maron, who was living in San Francisco -- he had kinda begged off New York to go to San Fracisco -- and I called him and I was asking him what it was like. I was up until dawn talking to him on the phone and deciding, “I’m gonna leave New York, go to San Francisco to do standup, but probably segue into another… I don’t know what.” I was so fucking depressed.
The next morning -- I think I slept for half an hour -- and then I got woken up by a phone call out of nowhere from Robert Smigel, who dug up my number.
He said, “Jim Downey from SNL told me that you’re really funny and that they weren’t sure if they were gonna use you or not, but I’d like to take a chance on you. I’m writing for Conan.”
I didn’t even know what that was.
So, I got some shit to him that I wrote, and my short films, and my standup tape, and it took me about a week to get the job. Thank fucking God. Thank God. I don’t know what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t gotten hired there.
isoS: So what was that experience like, building that show? I know you’ve probably answered this a lot, but you were there from the beginning and sort of helped establish what that show was.
LCK: Oh, it was unbelievably great. I mean, Conan was 30 years old. He had just turned 30. That’s amazing to me now, when I think of that, ‘cause I look at kids that are 30 and I’m like, “Yeah, what are you doin’?” He was 30, and Robert was 29 I think. I was 25, I was the youngest. Andy [Richter] was 26.
And then there was Dino [Stamatopoulos]. I shared an office with Dino -- we were instant friends.
It was amazing, because it was just: “What can you think of? What’s the funniest?” Everybody on the writing staff had equal power on the show, and Robert enabled us incredibly. He really, really amazingly gave me a lot of respect as a filmmaker and let me really direct everything that I wrote. I was a brand new writer, but whenever it was my sketch, I ran the show: you ran the rehearsal, you told Conan what to do, you edited everything, you cast everything, picked the fuckin’ props, everything. So that just became a massive education, not only of like staging stuff, putting things up, watching live sketches that you created or editing stuff, watching the audience and then having it air and getting a response, but also, being part of a show under a huge amount of pressure with Conan, who didn’t know how to do what he was doing, but had just enough drive and sort of Harvard, JFK-type savvy to stay alive.
Yeah, it was exhausting. I mean, we were there ‘til four in the morning often, but I didn’t have anything else. You know, that was my life, and all I had was an apartment to sleep in between shows.
Dino and I would go out and fuck around and spend all of our money, all that money that could’ve been going into a -- Those were the years to invest, and now be rich. And instead, I didn’t even have a bank account, because my license was always getting suspended all the time and I finally left Massachusetts without a driver’s license, and I had never gotten a New York driver’s license. You need I.D. to get a fuckin’ bank account, so I literally didn’t have a bank account, and I would just take my checks downstairs with some kind of -- I don’t know how I did it, but I think I had an expired Massachusetts driver’s license, and I would just take the checks to NBC’s bank downstairs and just cash ‘em. I remember I used to write like twelve deductions on my tax forms so that I didn’t pay any taxes. So I would get the whole check. And I just spent the fuckin’ money on dumb food and fuckin’… I bought a motorcycle. Fuckin’ ridiculous.
Anyway, it was a ball, but I burned out hard after two years of that. I just I couldn’t even think straight anymore.
isoS: You mentioned once onstage that you used to sneak out during the tapings to do standup sets.
LCK: Yeah, I used to do that a lot, ‘cause we’d be there ‘til like three in the morning working something out, so I’d literally try to say, “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” and I’d go downstairs, hop on my motorcycle, run to the Comedy Cellar and do a set, then come back and try and play it off like I took a big shit, you know?
But it was a great time. We did sketches with big stars, and I remember directing Martin Sheen in a sketch that was a knockoff of a scene from “Apocalypse Now,” which had become my favorite movie. Sid Caesar, we did a sketch with him. All kinds of people. So that was huge.
Also, I used to always, every time I went to the commissary -- which was on the seventh floor -- I would take a circuitous route through SNL. You could go through their back door, and I would walk through their stage every time ‘cause I just fucking loved that stage. Being on 8H was a huge thrill. I’d walk through, and I got to know all the guys that worked on that show, and so I watched them rehearse and stuff like that. So I was really steeped in some really cool shit. It was great.
isoS: And did you move onto Letterman after that?
LCK: Well, I left… Robert said he was leaving Conan, and I left… Well, I left first. I think I was the first one of the core group to say, “I gotta stop,” and then Dino left, and then Robert announced he was leaving and they asked me to take his job, and that would’ve been enormous. I was like 26, 27 years old.
I remember having a meeting with Conan where he said, you know, “Take this job, you can’t lose, you’re gonna be the center of a show that is going to be more and more considered a great comic brand, and you are going to go to L.A. and be a millionaire.“
But he also… He’s a really cool guy, and he also -- I was hesitating, and he said, “I think I know why you’re hesitating.” And he described when he worked at “The Simpsons,” he saw his whole future ahead of him: he’s gonna get an SUV, move to Bel Air, create a couple more shows, get a bunch of points, and have a family. And he could see so far ahead that he could see his grave. He didn’t like that anymore. And that’s why he went and decided he’s gonna do this thing that no one thinks he can do.
And that’s how I felt. I didn’t want to stick around, so I quit… and quickly didn’t know what the fuck to do. But at that time Howie Mandel, who I knew ‘cause we had the same manager, he saw my short films and he loved them, and he was doing a show on Showtime called “Sunny Skies.” It was a horrible sketch show. But he very generously said -- He was doing six episodes, so he hired me to make six short films.
He was doing the show out here in L.A., and he said, “Make them.” He read the scripts before I made them but he didn’t care what I did, they just gave me a set amount of money and I made six short films with no strings attached. Those are now on the DVD. And I used all the people I always used, Rick Shapiro and all those guys are all in those films.
I did that in the interim, and then I was trying to get on Letterman as a comic -- it was still like a goal, I had never been on. I had been on Conan, but I had never been on Letterman or The Tonight Show, and it was fuckin’ killing me that I hadn’t been on those, so my manager approached Letterman’s show for like the 50th time, and [a producer] said to him, “Would he write here? ‘Cause that would really make us interested.” And we said only if I could do standup on the show.
So the agreement was, Okay, we’ll give you a date to do standup, but you gotta at least come in and meet to talk about writing on the show. And I said, “Oh-kaaay…” I didn’t wanna write on Letterman.
So I got the date, and then I got a call from the head writers… They called me up and said, “We’re supposed to talk to you about writing on the show.”
And I was like, “Okay.”
And they said, “Well, write a submission.”
And I was like, “I don’t really want to.” But I was afraid they would take the date away, so I wrote a shitty Top 10 list and I just wrote a shitty thing and I sent it to them, and I remember [one of the head writers] calling me and saying, “I don’t really feel like you took the bull by the horns here. I mean, do you want to do this job?”
And I’m like [false enthusiasm], “Yeah I wanna do this job!”
And he goes, “I also feel like [they’re] kinda forcing us to hire you. We’re not interested -- we don’t even need another writer.”
Like, he was annoyed at me. I went there, and I sat with these two guys who were like, “What area you doing here? You don’t seem to want this job, and we don’t understand what’s going on here.”
And I said, “I don’t really either,” and then some woman stuck her head in and said, “Dave wants to see him.”
So next thing I know I’m meeting Dave Letterman -- I hadn’t even been on the show yet. I’m meeting David Letterman. Huge fuckin’ idol of mine. And I’m in his office with these two guys, and he says, “Look I’ve seen the stuff you did on Conan, I saw your reel, you’re really, really great, we really feel like this show needs to go somewhere new. So the idea of having you come here and shaking things up is exciting to me.”
And I’m like, “Uh, sure!”
And he said, “Well, so will you write for me?”
He just asked me point blank. And I just said, “Yeah.” What am I gonna do?
And then he just pointed at the guys and said, “Go ahead and set him up.”
So next thing I know, I’m writing for two guys that have no love of me -- they hated me. And it was a miserable three months. I did the show, I had a great set, but they hated me. I had a rotten time there. And I hated doing talk shows by that point. So I quit.
[click here to see Louie’s first Letterman appearance]
isoS: And then you moved out to L.A. to do “The Dana Carvey Show?”
LCK: I did “The Dana Carvey Show” after that. Somewhere in there also I did the Young Comedians Special and Aspen, and that’s when I started having a relationship with HBO. They gave me a half-hour special, which I did, and I didn’t do a good job of that.
But then Dana Carvey’s show started to go down the tubes. In the middle of “The Dana Carvey Show,” Chris Rock called me. Actually, before “The Dana Carvey Show” started Chris Rock called me and said, “I just got a deal to have my own show on HBO, I want you to run it. I want it to be our show.”
isoS: How did you know him? When did you meet?
LCK: We were in clubs together a lot in New York. I remember the way I really met him was I was watching him do a set, and I had never even really remembered having a conversation with him before. We had been in a lot of the same clubs, he had come off of SNL and everything, and he did a joke and I laughed really hard, and I remember him saying from the stage, “Wow, I made Louie laugh. That makes my day.” Something like that, and I was like, “That’s weird.” Then he came off after his set and we became friends like in this one night.
So he called me right before I went to Dana and I had quit Letterman, and he said, “Don’t do Dana’s show, come work on my show.”
And I said, “I’m doing ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ on ABC and I’m the head writer and producer, this is like… Why would I do your fuckin’ HBO show?”
To me it was no contest. “Dana’s a huge star, you weren’t good on SNL, nobody cares about you.”
And he said, “Alright, well look…” He called me like three or four times, and he said, “You’re gonna have an awful time there, you’re on ABC, they’re gonna hate you. On my show I’m gonna let you do anything you want. I don’t even know what my show’s gonna be, so it’s, you can just create it.”
And I said, “Fuck that.”
And I went to Dana Carvey, had the worst time of my life to date, and then in the rubble of that --
isoS: Was it just dealing with the network?
LCK: Well it was just an awful, misguided piece of shit. We worked too hard, and it was just, you know, it was just a mess. And I mean they had a lot of talent with [Stephen] Colbert and [Steve] Carell there, we had Dino, we had Charlie Kaufman, this amazing pool of talent, and we just couldn’t turn it into anything.
And the network hated us. We got fought on every turn. Just a lot of problems. And I was very inexperienced as a show-runner and I was really running the show. I took a lot of heat. And I came off of that with a reputation of being a very weak, bad show-runner, with no -- I used to hide in my office and sleep sometimes. I was so depressed. I think I pretty much thought my life was over at that point.
I called Chris and I said, “Are you still doing your show?”
And he said, “Yeah, but you know I’ve got guys.”
And I said, “Can I just be a writer, please?”
So he hired me as a writer-producer and I worked there for four years, and it was fuckin’ awesome.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
PART THREE: PILOTS<img align=right src=http://aspecialthing.com/images/lcknyc.jpg>
LCK: [“The Chris Rock Show”] was just fuckin’ great, and it was the first show I worked on ever that was a hit. ‘Cause I was never at Conan when anybody liked it. They hated it the whole time I was there. We just fought to stay on the air, constantly faced with extinction. Every Friday, the word would come, “This is the probably our last week,” and everybody would call their agents. And then Monday Conan would somehow pull the show out of his ass and keep us on the air, through his politic and his persistence.
But it was hard. And then Letterman… actually I read something on a newsgroup once when I Googled myself: a guy said he thought I was responsible for all the failures in TV, because I was on Conan, and as soon as I left it got good, and then I went to Letterman -- the day I arrived was the day that Hugh Grant went on Leno and Leno beat Letterman for the first time and never looked back, and that was like the day I arrived. So he said I was responsible for Letterman sucking, and then “The Dana Carvey Show.”
But then I went to Chris Rock and it was, “Oh my God, we’re on a show that people love!” HBO treated us like gods, and we had shrimp boats at every fuckin’ dinner, and we won Emmys, you know? It was such an orgasm of success. And the audiences were so fucking good. You know, Chris brought me over and said, “Do your weird Conan fuckin’ Harvard alternative comedy for black audiences, ‘cause nobody lets them have that stuff.” They just get fed the worst, broadest comedy. So I did that, I did really weird stuff on Chris Rock, and the crowds went fucking nuts for it.
isoS: Like Pootie Tang, that was created there…
LCK: Yeah, Pootie Tang just exploded. I mean, we did it on Chris’s show, and people were on the radio the next day talking on HITS 107, making shout-outs to Pootie Tang on the radio. It was just infectious.
Great crowd to create ideas for. And Chris is an incredibly enabling guy: there’s no sense of authority, there’s just a competition of who can do the funniest shit.
So, yeah. And then we took a big, fat shot with [the] “Pootie Tang” [movie]. And that bit the dust.
isoS: But you also somewhere in there made your first feature…
LCK: “Tomorrow Night,” yeah. After the first year at Chris Rock I had kind of gotten my feet back, and I saw comics like JB Smoove and Wanda Sykes and a few other people and I started getting excited by people I saw, and I wrote this movie “Tomorrow Night.” Paul Koestner and I sat down again, just like before, and I tried to just make a long version of “Ice Cream”: a small black and white film that’s like a short film in size and scope but just goes on for 80 minutes.
We decided to shoot it with the same equipment package we shot the shorts with, and I wrote this tiny little story based on ideas I’d had and people I saw in clubs, like Rick Shapiro, and we figured out it would cost like $150,000. I had $30,000 of my own, and I figured I’ll make $30,000 worth of it and see, and then if we run out of money I’ll just stop making it.
The idea was to get the movie -- and this is the best way I think to make a film now -- get it in the can, get all the scenes shot. If you only have enough money to do that, you’ve got the movie. It may take you ten years to cut it together and keep raising money, but…
So that’s what I did. And actually I ran out of money in the middle, and I got on the phone I called everybody -- Jon Stewart gave me money, Chris Rock gave me like $10,000 bucks, Denis Leary gave me $10,000… And then Brett Butler, who I used to work with in clubs in New York, she found out through Nick DiPaolo, who was in the film, that Denis Leary had given me $10,000 and she got incensed, like, “Does he think he’s better than me?” And she sent me a check for $12,000. You know, shit like that happened.
I hit up everybody I knew. David Cross gave me money for that movie…
The farthest I reached was Jerry Seinfeld, and he didn’t give me money. I called him, and I think he thought I was asking for a job, and it occurred to me during the phone call, “I could be working for Seinfeld in two minutes.” I used to open for him when I was younger, so I just called the “Seinfeld” show and asked for him. And he called me back, and he said, “What’s up? What can I do for you?” And I could hear in his voice, like, “I could use a writer.”
And I thought: Why don’t I just say I want a job and just go to LA right now? It crossed my mind.
But instead I said, “I’m making a film and I need money,” and he immediately went, “Ugh, God.” He regretted calling me back, and I basically severed my line to Jerry -- my ability to get a call-back from Jerry ended right there. I reached way too far -- I hadn’t talked to the guy in like ten fuckin’ years. Fuckin’ awful.
[ed. note: Louie later added: “Jerry's been really nice to me since that phone call, gave me a lot of encouragement and advice over several phone calls during all of what I've been through. I was the asshole for thinking I could hit the guy for money just because he was rich and I opened for him ten years before.”]
But yeah, so I made the film, and I only had enough money to do an Avid cut of it. I sent that to Sundance, and they accepted it. This was during the off-season between two Chris Rock seasons. And I didn’t have the money to get the film [printed] -- Sundance accepted it, but I didn’t have the money to print it.
So I was actually facing calling Sundance and saying, “I won’t be there,” and I tapped everything out, but Chris was coming back [for another season] and he actually did an amazing thing, which was that he told HBO that he wouldn’t come back if I didn’t come back. And I didn’t want to -- I told him I wasn’t gonna go back. So we told HBO, “If you give me the money to finish the film as an investment, you’ll own that part of the film, then I’ll come back and work for Chris again at the same contract that I did last year.”
And Chris Albrecht amazingly said yes. He had no [reason to do that] -- I had no leverage. But he said yes, and they gave me $50,000 -- the first great thing they ever did [for me]. I called Chris Albrecht and I said, “I know you didn’t have to do that and thank you,” and he said, “Yeah well, good luck, you know?”
I mean, he gave me $50,000! So I finished the film and took it to Sundance, and there were about eight people in the audience. It just got no attention there, so it just died. Never got anywhere.
isoS: So does HBO own the home video rights?
LCK: No, they don’t own anything, they are the same [type of] investor as David Cross is. The deal is like, it was a one-paragraph form letter that my lawyer wrote that says if the film ever turns a profit, I have to give them all a piece of that profit until their money is recouped. If I make a profit, they get their money back, and then like 10% or something. It’s like a loan.
And somewhere in there, Spike Feresten, who wrote for “Seinfeld,” got a development deal at Castle Rock and he and I wrote a pilot for me to star in. Somewhere around the same year -- it was a crazy year. We wrote the pilot and took it to CBS and I read it at a table for Les Moonves, and the wheels came off -- I couldn’t act, and it was embarrassing. So that went away. That was my first pilot back then. [It was like] ’96.
isoS: “Tomorrow Night” is not on DVD though right?
LCK: It’s in my house upstate in a big Tupperware container.
isoS: I know there are people that want to buy a DVD of it.
LCK: Oh, definitely. I have it on digital video actually, but it’s just -- The reason I really hesitate to put it out that way is because the video -- it’s a beautiful film visually, Paul did a great job on it, and all we have are the video dailies cut into a film. So it looks like shit. And it just breaks my heart to let people see it that way.
But I talked to Netflix about it, those people are really cool, and they offered to do a proper transfer and remix it, but they also have to pay off -- I only paid the actors limited exhibition SAG fee. There’s a huge amount of money to pay off to get that film to be legally releasable. So it’s kind of a problem. But I could always just go make a -- I might someday, I’ve always wanted to make a limited exhibition little DVD of it.
isoS: So I want to talk about “Lucky Louie,” but I also want to talk about the CBS pilot “St. Louie” first.
LCK: You went to that right?
isoS: Yeah, I was at the taping. What do you think would’ve happened if they had picked up that show?
LCK: I don’t know, I wonder about that. I was really into that, I was really happy during that. That was a totally different experience though. I had done the Castle Rock pilot, and that didn’t happen, and then I wrote one for Fox. Tracy Katsky was at Fox then, and I wrote another one that was -- The Castle Rock one was me living in New York and being a jagoff with no money, and the one for Fox was me with a wife who’d just gotten pregnant and started to get serious about life. That one I really enjoyed writing, but that went all the way to Sandy Grushaw, who said, “I don’t get this,” and that was the end of that.
And then the CBS one, I had made “Pootie Tang,” and I had kind of fired every bullet in my gun, and all I had left -- which always saves my ass -- was standup. I’ve never stopped doing it; I’ve always done it copiously. That’s all I had left after “Pootie Tang,” and I just hit the road and did a lot of standup.
Then UTA, my agency, brought me out for this showcase here [in L.A.] and they filled the Laugh Factory with industry. There’s no real audience, it’s all industry, and all their young clients went on in suits and ties and did their five tight minutes, and everybody bombed, every single person. And I rolled in off the fuckin’ road unshowered and in a T-shirt and went up there and just fucking lit into the crowd with just swearing, disgusting… And it was the beginning of “My daughter’s an asshole” type stuff. And I just destroyed.
It was a huge opportunity, just this one set. [From that], I got a meeting with Bruce Helford. I’d met with all the networks and everybody was interested, but we hadn’t quite gelled into an offer yet, and then Bruce Helford, who’s a fuckin’ hit-maker, one of his guys had seen [the showcase] and given [Bruce] a tape, so he I met with him.
I remember, he said to me, “I only want to know one thing: do you want to have a show on the air, and do you want it to be successful?”
And we both just knew what that meant when he asked me, which was, “Are you gonna fuck around and try to do some great show, or do you want this to go? Do you want this to really go?”
And I totally said yes. Because I’m balding, I had no fuckin’ options, and I thought, “People are not gonna think about me as this kind of person for long. This is it.”
I envisioned, I’m gonna do a show that’s not gonna be my favorite show, people on my website are gonna say, “Louie, this is not you,” and I’m gonna write back, “I know, sorry, but I got a nice house.”
I had fuckin’ kids -- I had one kid anyway. And I was actually worried about making money, so… I figured somewhere down the line if the show was successful, I could change it and make it more like me, but actually Helford was a pretty funny guy, and I wrote the pilot with him and this other guy Bruce Rasmussen. The pilot that we first wrote, I thought, “This is fuckin’ good, I like this.”
And then the process of casting and changing the script as we went along was very -- it wore away at the edges of the thing and the originality of the thing, and it turned out not to really mean much of anything. It was a fine, well executed pilot.
What I learned was that I could act, that’s the biggest thing I got from that, because my last experience had been that table read for Les Moonves, and that was literally, I couldn’t hear because there was blood in my ears, like I was… My head was moving with my pulse, [that’s] how hard my heart was beating. It was so awful, and I expected that to happen again.
I remember we had to read with one of the [“St. Louie”] actresses for Les Moonves. We were taking her to network. It was Cynthia Watros, who played my wife. We were taking her in, and I found out that Les had not really been aware of the pilot up to that point, and this was really my audition. Even though no one had talked about it, if I didn’t -- this was it, and it was gonna happen in the same fuckin’ room [as the Castle Rock pilot table read]. Same exact set-up.
But I’d lived some years by then, and been through a lot of shit. I’d had a huge failure in fifty different forms [with “Pootie Tang”], and I was sitting outside of that room, and Cynthia Watros -- I remember, I know I’m going off here, but when I did the Les Moonves thing with Spike, I felt really confident, and then the woman who was playing my best friend, whose name I don’t remember, turned to me and said, “Are you nervous?” And I just came apart, it destroyed me. Like, her saying that to me ruined me.
And this time the exact same thing happened with Cynthia, but what prefaced it was that I called my wife right before I left for CBS and said, “I’m about to take a big shit.”
And she said, “You’re an asshole, because that poor woman is trying to get a job. Your job is to make her look good. Stop fuckin’ thinking about yourself. Think about how she’s feeling. You already got paid.”
That snapped me out of it. And also, it put me in the right state of mind to focus on her, which is how -- You don’t want to focus on yourself when you’re acting.
So we’re sitting there, me and Cynthia, and she turns to me and says, “Are you nervous?”
And I realized that she’s asking me ‘cause she was fuckin’ scared, and I said, “Listen, I’ve been in that room. Fuck that guy. That guy is a loser. Those people, they can’t do anything. I’ve been in there, and they fucked with me, and I’m here again, so I know that they don’t have the power to destroy me.”
And she was really grateful for that. And we went in there and fuckin’ adlibbed, and yelled at each other -- it was a fight, the scene -- and Les Moonves was laughing his ass off. And I’ve never been nervous about acting since then. That really broke the curse for me.
I think I would’ve enjoyed that show. They listened to me a lot, and actually Warner Brothers was really smart and they protected us from some network notes that were not as good as others. And even the people at CBS -- I didn’t deal with anybody I didn’t like.
But we all had the same goal, which was to have the show test high, to do well with advertisers -- we all kept talking about, “We wanna be in Carnegie Hall in May.” It was all about, “We wanna get to the up-fronts,” and we all had the same goal. I wasn’t the tortured artist surrounded by greedy people -- I was one of them, and we worked together, and we made what you saw. And Les Moonves rightfully said, “It’s fine, but I don’t -- it’s not interesting.” Which it wasn’t.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
PART FOUR: LUCKY LOUIE<img align=right src=http://aspecialthing.com/images/lckhide.jpg>
isoS: So when HBO came along, did you feel like, “Wow, maybe now I can take a different approach?”
LCK: Well, at that point I was like, “I know exactly what I want.” I felt unstoppable, because I think you hit a point when you get close to forty as a standup, if you stick with it, that things gel and you understand to just be yourself on stage, and it becomes not easy, but simple. I was doing the stuff about my family, and it just felt really great. I was on stage a lot doing that material and I just felt strong, and I wasn’t worried. I had kids too, so I didn’t care as much, I didn’t have anxiety about my career, I just took it seriously. Instead of, “Am I gonna make it someday?” it was like, “It’s my job to make it, I’m gonna be a man and do it.” So it became much clearer what I was supposed to be doing.
And actually, right before we signed the deal with Helford -- we made a deal with Warner Brothers and Helford, and it was good money, it was like “take care of all my debts” type of money. The night before I was supposed to say yes to all the terms, I called Chris Rock, ‘cause this notion woke me up in the middle of the night. I called him up and I said, “I had an idea, and I don’t know if it’s self-sabotage or if it’s a great idea, to do this sitcom that I’m looking at doing: a family, a guy struggling to have a family, on HBO. It’s like Ralph and Alice, but Ralph can say ‘Alice, you’re a cunt.’ With an audience.”
And Chris said, “Jesus Christ, I would watch that every night. Everybody would wanna watch that.”
The next morning, I threw sand in the gears, called up my manager, called everybody and said, “What if we pitch this to HBO?” And I actually called Helford and said, “Would you consider” -- ‘cause we didn’t have a network yet -- “Would you consider selling this to HBO?”
And he said, “Absolutely not.”
“Because we wouldn’t make even a quarter of the money we’d make at CBS. We’ve already spent too much money on you and me to even make that back, so no.”
So I called HBO and I asked for Carolyn Strauss, who I had a tiny relationship with, couldn’t get her on the phone, got somebody else there to call me back, and I pitched it to them, and they said, “I don’t know what that is.” [laughs]
“We’re not doin’ sitcoms. Who,” you know, “who is this?” It was somebody I didn’t really even know. And it became clear to me, I thought, “I’m just trying to fuck up my life, just fuckin’ do this stupid thing.”
But it was perfect, ‘cause I did the CBS [pilot] and I learned how to launch a self-starring vehicle. I went into very, very high pressure rooms, sold the show, acted in the show, went through all those things. [It’s] an unbelievable crucible of pressure to be the creator and star of a show, [it’s] a massive undertaking [and] very, very frightening. I went into all the places and I didn’t make any mistakes, I really did it all right.
So immediately, when we got the “no,” I said, “I’m gonna do this on HBO.”
Then Tracy Katsky moved to HBO, and I saw in the Hollywood Reporter that she was asked to do multi-camera sitcoms, and I thought, “The ship sailed.” ‘Cause when I read that, I assumed that every big show-runner and every big star is already there pitching. So it’s gonna be too late. And I called Tracy and she said, “Eh, not so much. Come on in.”
I went in to Tracy and I said, “I’m a guy with a family and my daughter’s an asshole,” and she said, “Just do it.” She didn’t even let me finish, she just said, “Just do it. Write the thing, I think it’s gonna work out.”
And I kept thinking, “I’m in this huge competition, I’m in a race.” To me the whole thing was to have the first one. The whole thing was to be the only guy ever to do multi-camera on HBO. I couldn’t believe that nobody else tried it! Some people wrote pilots, and I read some of them, but they were very strange and kind of alt. Everybody that comes to HBO wants to do a vanity project, they wanna do something that you can’t do anywhere else, and to me it just seems like such a slam dunk to just do a better version of what you could do anywhere else. Everybody’s was just like, “We’re in outer space, and there’s dream sequences, and people are on drugs. We break the fourth wall,” or, you know, that kind of crap. That’s not what they were looking for. I came there and said, “I got no money and I hate my kid.” Period. So that’s what I wrote.
isoS: We should back-track a little, because your standup changed a lot when you got married and started having kids, and that was really where this idea came from, right? In your act you started talking about this stuff you hadn’t talked about before, because you weren’t experiencing it.
isoS: Did you feel like some big change happened? I mean, obviously it was happening in your life, but did you feel like you turned a corner as a standup?
LCK: Yeah, absolutely. And it wasn’t just the stuff I was talking about. I just started to take standup very seriously. And Chris actually really inspired me, because he took standup seriously as an art form. Isn’t that weird? Like, people always want to kind of do standup in a way that they’re not showing that they care. The idea that you’re just an asshole, like, that’s every comedian: “I’m an ass -- Fuck you! I don’t care if you laugh!”
But I started to go back to the shit that inspired me, and I watched… Well, wait a minute, just to go back to what I started to talk about: I’d been through a lot, and been through enough ebbs and flows in my career I think that I wasn’t on stage to try to get famous anymore. I was really just like, “I’m a comedian, that’s what I do.”
Chris and I used to talk on the phone for hours about standup, and I learned a lot from watching him. Like, every time he did a special, he’d start it a year before, and he would go on the road. He had this method to building the material, the idea [being], “I’m not just on stage jacking off right after talking to Doug Benson or something, and right before talking to Greg Behrendt. I’m here to work.”
I started to follow rules that he helped me have. Like: Don’t listen to the radio in the car on the way to the show, just sit in silence in the car, just think about what you’re gonna [do]. What a weird idea: think about what you’re gonna do. You’re in a business where 99% [are] not gonna make it, and most people don’t even try really hard. And I started to think, “I really have to try to be a great comic. I can’t just be doing standup anymore.” And I started to approach it that way.
The thing that led me to talk about my kids was: “I gotta stop thinking of funny shit, like ‘What would be funny to talk about,’ ‘Here’s a weird idea,’ or ‘Here’s something I haven’t heard before.’” Instead, I have to really think about shit I’m thinking about. I started realizing that whatever thought had been riding in my head a lot was probably my next bit -- about my life, or about shit that’s really really important to me.
So I started to watch old Richard Pryor tapes again, and [I saw] how fucking hard he worked. He was like a virtuoso. It’s like watching fuckin’ Itzhak Perlman or somebody like that. Nobody really approached it that way. Chris did for his first couple of specials -- the last one, you know, not so great, but the first couple, Jesus did he try!
Right before that [Laugh Factory] showcase I did, I went to Montreal and just fuckin’ burned the stages down, I just had so much desire all of a sudden to really really kill. I just was on a mission every time I was on stage, and I felt like there [was] so much to explore that I [had] never explored before.
Even just in thinking about how I perform, thinking about the pace, and other things Chris always told me, like, “Don’t ever look down.” Like, keep your eyes at a hard deck. As soon as you look down, you’ve stopped the show. I watched tapes of myself and saw that I looked down all the time, and the instant you look at your feet, the show’s over. If you watch Chris, his eyes are just constantly -- even when he’s in motion, he never breaks. Never turns the thing off.
So I started thinking more about that kind of stuff. And in my head -- ‘cause no one was hiring me to do anything after the CBS pilot went down -- in my head I said, “I’m going to do an HBO special.” And they weren’t giving [out] any, they didn’t want anybody doing HBO specials, but I thought, “That’s what I’m gonna do.” And I started working. I was like, “I’m gonna build an hour of material about this shit that I’m doing, and I’m gonna be great, and I’m gonna get in shape, and if nobody asks me to do it, I’ll make a DVD of it and then kill myself.”
LCK: “One way or the other, I’m gonna end up with something.” So I started really fuckin’ hammering on stage, and thinking about that as a goal. Which is how Chris does it: he’s like, “I want another special, so let me go spend the next year…” Like writing a book.
I started doing that, and I got “Bill Cosby, Himself,” which is a phenomenal -- The two best pieces of comedy film ever I think are “Bill Cosby, Himself” and “Richard Pryor: Live In Concert” -- not “Sunset Strip.” I learned from those, and I listened to comedy constantly, and I just started obsessing about it. And then I went in to Tracy and I pitched the show, wrote the pilot, and somehow this pilot just hit a perfect note.
But yeah, onstage I just felt like my DNA changed completely, and I had a reason to be saying stuff. I had a point of view instead of just this strung together bunch of funny things.
When I look back at the specials that I did on Comedy Central and HBO before: a bunch of interesting ideas, but who cared? It was like, yeah, joke to joke those are funny, but I’m not that interested in the dude who’s sayin’ ‘em. And he kinda looks like he thinks he’s clever, but I don’t know why I would give a shit.
isoS: Do you think it just came from getting to a point where you trusted your own sense of humor enough to know that whatever comes into your head or whatever you’re dwelling on in your head, you can make it funny?
LCK: Yeah, that instead of having a joke-writing craft, to just feel like… What comedy really is is connecting with a group of people, and just speaking at a heightened level without any barriers and saying things that are raw id, and having people really respond to it. You know, that’s really what it is, and that’s why there are people that I look at as comedy role models that aren’t comedians, like Muhammad Ali. The way he spoke to audiences and crowds and stuff, if you watch some of his preaching to Nation of Islam crowds? Hilarious, and amazing, like he knew who the people were. He said, “You know what the fuck I’m talking about!” and he explained it to them.
And also Malcolm X, watching Malcolm X speeches -- a guy who’s saying to these people, “Nobody’s saying what you want to hear. I’m saying it ‘cause I’m one of you. And I’m one of the worst of you.” That’s just huge. That’s what it is I think to be a comedian.
Bill Clinton, also. Bill Clinton, standing in front of a country that was hurting and saying, “My mother dealt blackjack in Vegas, tell me about it.” You know, “I beat up my fuckin’ stepfather dad, who beat up my mom ‘cause he was a drunk.” Like, you know, goddamn it, that’s the guy. He just voiced a feeling that was in the room.
All the way back to Abraham Lincoln: when he was a lawyer, he used to go to a bar locally and just talk about what was going on. He did standup comedy! And he’d get laughs.
So I started to realize that it’s not just coming up with crafting clever, “I’m smarter than you” jokes, it’s being somebody onstage and tapping into a feeling that everybody shares, and because I had an experience suddenly that other people have, which is having kids, I was able to go on the road in a brand new way. ‘Cause I did the road my whole life, but I always had places that -- I never was afraid to work anywhere and I always got laughs everywhere, but there were places that I got laughs without connecting. I could always go on in Boston, New York, San Francisco and L.A. and do my clever shit, and young kids like it, which is really fun, but then I’d go to a place like Pittsburgh or Atlanta and they would laugh at the ideas but they’d leave feeling like [nothing] interesting happened.
But then this next time on the road, preparing for this special that didn’t exist, I was in Pittsburgh, I was in Peoria, I was in Cincinnati, Tampa fuckin’ Florida… Every town in Florida: Tampa, fuckin’ Miami, Fort Lauderdale -- a couple of Forts. All these awful places, but I had a great time in every club, ‘cause these were parents who barely had the wherewithal to get a babysitter and come out, or single people with no… just guys who live for their black leather chair and DirecTV, that’s all they got, and their shitty girlfriends that they’re starting to realize they’re gonna have to marry, and you know, women with no quality men around them, and all this, just, miserable life.
But I finally understood people in America -- I’d been through enough. Suddenly, there was nowhere I didn’t like working. So by the time I went to pitch for Tracy, I was already in shape for a special. And we got, amazingly, as part of the deal, to do a half-hour. So I trained for the half-hour and the pilot at the same time.
isoS: You mentioned “Bill Cosby, Himself.” At the time were you thinking about how that’s basically the special that led to “The Cosby Show?”
LCK: Yeah it was. It’s funny, ‘cause … I saw “Bill Cosby, Himself” when it came out, and I loved it, but all I remembered…
When we did the half hour special, they gave me a half-hour, and at the same time decided, “You know what, let’s give like ten people half-hours and see what other comedians can come up with a show.” And the people that produced the half-hours were HBO Downtown Productions in New York -- they did “The Chris Rock Show.” They’re all friends of mine. So they actually called me to talk about how to produce the show, and I suggested that they strip it way down, because HBO specials always have huge sets with fuckin’ Stonehenge behind them and stuff, all this crazy shit, and it’s never -- It doesn’t add anything. I wanted to sell to them the idea of having a bare-bones set, and so I rented “Bill Cosby, Himself” and “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert,” which I hadn’t seen in a long time.
[In] “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert,” he’s in a theater with nothin’. And Bill Cosby is in front of a scrim, a white scrim that’s lit different colors, and he’s got a metal chair and that’s it. He sits there with a microphone on his knee and he just talks, this old fuckin’ bitter guy, just talks about the pain in the ass of his life.
Yeah, so when I saw Bill’s, I realized, “Jesus Christ, I’m doing the same thing.” He stopped doing his dentist bit and all that stuff -- he just started talking about his pain, and he made a show. It’s exactly the same thing. So, yeah. That’s what I guess I was doing.
isoS: You were talking about doing all those shows on the road leading up to your HBO special, and the people in Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale or whatever. Do you feel like those are the people that you’re making “Lucky Louie” for?
LCK: Oh definitely, I think so, yeah. My comedy roots are more kind of like crazy people, I’m still not all there, I’m not the same as other people, so I still like to kind of try to get away with stuff, comedy-wise. I like to try to get laughs in places you’re not supposed to. It’s not fun for me to just to get a laugh on something I know is funny.
So the kind of comedy that I do, I definitely share territory with the L.A./New York crowd, but … my goal is to make all the people in Fort Myers laugh at that stuff. That’s what I’ve always done, and that’s why early on I used to just sweat it out with those crowds, because I was trying to reach them with stuff that’s not like them, instead of becoming like them. And I never did become like them. I mean, in Cincinnati, I’m doing my “I understand babies in the garbage” [bit], and the fuckin’ crowd went bananas for it. All of ‘em did. I did that joke on Jimmy Kimmel and it killed, and it’s in one of the episodes.
You know, it’s just territory that everybody shares, I guess.
But yeah, I don’t know who’s gonna like this show. I don’t know if folks here [in L.A.] will like it. I don’t know if the aspecialthing crowd will -- I don’t know if it’ll be their favorite show. Hard to say.
isoS: How do you feel about it? I assume you’re happy with what you’re putting out there.
LCK: Yeah, I think there are a few episodes that are -- you know, we had a lot of growing pains. We’re trying to do something that’s very hard and specific and different, and so I’ve had to try to articulate just what I’m trying to do to a writing staff. We had some misses and some hits. My goal was twelve pilots, twelve perfect shows. Twelve impenetrably perfect, every one straight through is just, you know --
Because I know that whoever watches, a lot of people that watch show 108, that’s gonna be the first time they ever see the show, and if show 108 is okay, that’s a huge failure on my part. I think that the pilot is just about perfect, honestly, and I think that there’s probably six episodes or seven that are fucking great, and I think that there are three that are real good. And there’s probably two that I just hate. I just don’t like [them]. And that’s the way it goes. I mean, I just can’t even look at them. So when those air I’m just gonna hold my breath. And you know, other people might find good in them that I don’t, so…
Also, when you do a show, it’s not just about you – there are a lot of stories in my show that are about other people in the writing staff. And Pamela [Adlon], who plays my wife, she pitched in a lot with stories, she shared a lot of her experience as a mom, ‘cause it’s about a couple, it’s not just about me.
isoS: So how do you think people are going to react to it?
LCK: I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s a very easy show to laugh at, it’s just really basically funny. Our [live] audiences were mostly these freaks from church groups and halfway houses and just regular people, and they really connected with it -- by the end of the run, we had waiting lists for tickets, and people that always wanted to come back to us.
I know a lot of people will really like this show. I don’t know how many of them have HBO. I think a lot of people that would love this show are spending their HBO money on Sony PlayStations right now. And so, somehow, I’m hoping that we’ll reach them and get them to come over to us.
We’re definitely not -- People that love “Arrested Development,” I don’t think they’ll like this show. I don’t think they’ll care about it. I think they might find stuff in it they like, but it’s not an eyebrow-raising, smarter-than-you… It just ain’t. It’s just basically about life. It’s just “The Honeymooners” with fucking in it, that’s all it is. It might be that, [but] written by Seinfeld’s writing staff. Because we do stories that are really surprising and take a lot of fucked up turns.
But you know, some people will be annoyed that there’s an audience laughing. No matter how many times we tell people this is an audience, they go, “Why’d you put a laugh track on it? I’m not stupid, I know when to laugh.” Well, it’s a performed show. To me, not doing our show with an audience would be like standup without an audience, and when you watch a standup special you don’t go, “Why’d he leave a laugh track?” He’s performing. The audience laughter is like a second instrument in the show.
That’s how sitcoms used to be -- that’s what a sitcom is. But the networks have destroyed that trust. At the end, “Friends” wasn’t shooting with an audience at all, they didn’t even have an audience. And most of those shows don’t. “My Wife and Kids,” they don’t have an audience. And even if they did, they’d snip the laughs out, because they edit those shows and compress them. They look like single camera shows, they don’t look like they’re on a stage. So, you know.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
PART FIVE: THE FUTURE<img align=right src=http://aspecialthing.com/images/lckpt5.jpg>
isoS: You’re the kind of guy, you’re probably going to do standup the rest of your life.
LCK: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
isoS: I know you have to promote “Lucky Louie,” and you might be making more episodes, but do you have any ideas about your next standup special?
LCK: Well, that’s what I’m working on now. Because I’ve been on the road for this show, and I think that the best thing I can do to promote it is retail promotion and comedy clubs. They’re actually dropping DVDs of the show in comedy clubs a couple of weeks prior to the launch. They’re just going to send like a thousand DVDs to different clubs and just let people take ‘em home, which I think is great. ‘Cause really, if you want to describe our target audience, it’s whoever goes to comedy clubs, that’s really it. A lot of these clubs [are the ones] I worked at in that last tour.
I just did Dallas, I was in D.C., I’m going to Columbus, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, a bunch of clubs over the next few weeks. I’ll do radio in the morning and promote the show, and then go to the club at night. And you know, if I do a club for a weekend, that’s about a thousand people that see me kill, meet me afterwards and go tell a couple of people. If I can show HBO a little tiny ratings spike in Minneapolis and Columbus, that’s my goal.
‘Cause that’s who I want. They’re spreading posters all over Boston, L.A., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and we’ve got a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, but I don’t give a fuck who watches the show in L.A. I want people in these towns to watch it.
At the same time, I’m building new material. I’m done with everything I did on that special and I’m trying to come up with a new hour. I think I’ve got a good thirty, thirty-five minutes right now towards that.
I’d love to do another special. I’d like to do an hour special. To me that’s the big fat goal.
isoS: Do you think that’ll happen on HBO if the show does well?
LCK: I would assume so, but they don’t put that much of a premium on comedy specials anymore. I heard that Bill Maher, the last one he did, he shot it himself and he gave it to them. Like, literally, they didn’t even pay him, but you know, he got it on HBO and he sold the DVDs. The new model for doing a special is that you get a company to shoot it with you, they bankroll it, and then you own the video rights. Then a place like HBO shows it for a pittance, just to advertise it, and then you sell it on DVD and you make money that way. But you don’t make a special to make money in my eyes.
When I was in D.C. I had a lot of hot shows, and the dude from XM Comedy recorded all of them. I paid him to record them and he just sent me the Pro Tools sessions, so I might edit that into a CD in the interim. I mean I have it, and it’s all stuff that wasn’t on the special. So, yeah, I’ve got a bunch of stuff kicking around.
isoS: Is that something you’d just put out yourself, like you did with the last CD?
LCK: Yeah. I tape a lot of my shows, and I taped a lot of shows during that tour to get ready for the special. I brought my 24p camera and I have a good clip-on mike, and I taped shitloads of shows and did some audio tapes. I combed through them and I realized I have -- it’s a very bad sounding, ‘cause it changes from club to club, but I could put out a CD and a DVD together of just me doing the scraps that I didn’t put on the special but in some ways are better. Really outrageous shit, the kind of stuff I’ve been putting on my podcast. To make a CD and a DVD for the specialthing crowd, I think that was my goal.
But I realized that some of the bits I could do better. So when I went to D.C. I kind of did all that material, so I [would have] a really competent recording of it. But it’s kind of a problem, because if I get offered a special, then I will have burned that stuff. So I’m not sure.
I also have an instinct that I should wait. I feel really good about this material, but in a year from now I might say, “Thank God I didn’t put it out, ‘cause it wasn’t ready.” And I shouldn’t be in a hurry to put out another special right now.
isoS: Since filmmaking was also another first love of yours, do you have ideas about going back to that at some point?
LCK: Yeah, I don’t know when I’ll do that. You know, Chris [Rock] and I wrote another movie together like three years ago.
isoS: Right, “I Think I Love My Wife.”
LCK: Yeah, it’s this movie by Eric Rohmer that Chris and I sat for two weeks in his office and adapted. And then he took it from there and I haven’t really written on it for a while. I think it’s good, I haven’t read it for a long time. But he’s directing it, and I think I probably could’ve directed it if I had the hole in my life. He’s shooting it now.
I don’t know, making a movie, that’s heartbreaking. That’s a bitch, man. They really fuckin’ kill you in that business. I think the way I feel is that I’m not going to make a movie until I know I can make one without getting hurt. I’m not going to go through any more pain for movies.
So this show… Actually, in my fantasy life this show is my last job. If I could just do this show forever…
I think about it being like a soap opera, like instead of doing a ten-year sitcom run, let it be more like “General Hospital,” which has been on since the ‘60s, and just let it keep going. And have it be -- ‘cause it’s HBO, and there’s more of a serial feeling to HBO shows -- have it start to have more of an arc, which is sort of our plan. Like the first twelve episodes are capsules, they’re all just sort of telling you who everybody is and what kind of stuff we’re making fun of, but this year we’re starting to say a little more about what’s gonna happen in their lives. If we kept going with that, then our daughter would grow up, and we could introduce her friends, kind of like how Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm ended up with their own show.
To me, there’s another show at the horizon of this show, which is a show about two parents who had a rough go of it, and their kid is grown up and left the house, and why the fuck stay married at that point. I think that’s a funny show. Plus there’s another show going on with the kid, and everybody else, Laura Kightlinger and her husband and everybody else involved. I could see just doing this forever.
So I fantasize about that sometimes. But there were days on that stage where I thought, “How many episodes?” I’d do math like, “How many does it take to get to syndication? How long does that take to shoot? Get me the fuck out of this.” So you know, you go in and out of it.
But movies… I have a shitload of movie ideas that I want to make, but I do not care about that right now.
isoS: When you were waiting to find out about the “St. Louie” pilot, you drove across the country and you kept a diary on your website, and I remember at that time you were sort of mentally preparing yourself for the possibility of being famous.
LCK: Yeah, we thought we were gonna go, so yeah, I was thinking about that.
isoS: Now, HBO doesn’t reach as many people as a network, but still, you’re three weeks away from --
LCK: A totally different life.
isoS: Yeah. Do you think about that anymore, or are you past that point of angsting over it?
LCK: No, this is definitely a big deal, because I’ve been doing comedy for twenty-one years now -- I’ve been saying twenty years for a couple few years now, so I think it’s been… ’85, so yeah, like twenty-one, coming up on twenty-two years. I’ve gone through a lot of cycles, and you go to these points where you go, “Hey man, I did it, and now it’s all gonna be different,” and then two months later I’m writing on the MTV Movie Awards, trying to get Chris Tucker to read some copy I wrote. Just sad.
I’ve been through that so many fuckin’ times. I mean, “Pootie Tang,” everybody thought that was gonna be an enormous hit. I remember Van Toffler, the president of MTV, came to the set of “Pootie Tang.” As we were shooting a scene -- Missy Elliot was singing with Pootie Tang, it was pretty spectacular -- he turned to me and he said, “Your mother must be very proud of you.” And he meant it.
And I said, “Yes, she is.”
And he said, “You’re the next one. You’re gonna be the next one, everybody’s gonna talk about you.”
And boy did that not fuckin’ happen. I’ve got the president of MTV saying that to me, so I’m there going, “Yeah I’m the next one!”
It’s amazing how you get seduced every time. You think, “This is -- No, this is the one.” Because you get evangelical about your production, especially when you’re in production. Everybody -- the craft service person and the camera people come up to you and say, “Dude, I work on so much crap, and this is the best thing I ever did.” I mean, I’ve been told that by people on everything that I’ve done. And then we’re all looking for jobs in a few months, and I literally have no money, and my wife doesn’t make money, so I’m fuckin’ in serious trouble. I’m going back to people like Joel Gallen, who saved my life every year, saying, “Please let me write on the MTV Movie Awards.”
Every time I wrote on those awards I [was] like, “Dude, why did you think…?” And it’s happened so many times! When Spike and I did our pilot way back then we thought, “We’re doin’ this!” When I got into Sundance with “Tomorrow Night” -- Kevin Smith was there the year before with “Clerks” -- and I’m like, “I’m gonna be a fucking gajillionaire!” No.
Every year that happens, and then you go back to rebuilding the next year. I remember when I came out for this development season that led to “Lucky Louie” -- which is, I don’t know, a year and a half ago -- at the annual meeting with my agents, they said, “Okay, what are we gonna do this year?”
Every year it was, “Get a pilot, do a pilot! You’re gonna write it, you’re gonna star in it.”
I actually remember the year I did one for Fox, I said, “Maybe I shouldn’t ask to star in it, ‘cause that could hurt it. I really just want to get a show on the air.”
And my agent said to me, “No, I’m not gonna let you do that, we’re gonna make you the star.”
So anyway, this year, after “St. Louie” came and went, I came out and my agents said, “So, what young comedians are you thinking of developing for?” And somebody threw Demetri Martin’s name out. I said, “Actually I want to do my own show again.” And they all went, “Oh! No, cool. Yeah, no, no, no, yeah, no, yeah, no. Totally! Totally you!” But it was embarrassing.
Anyway, so I’m used to this cycle, but the thing that’s happening this year that has never happened before is that this show is going on the air, and it’s going to run for twelve episodes. HBO does not pull shit. And it’s a completely unknown quantity on television, no one has ever, ever seen this before, and I got these billboards and posters… This has never happened to me before.
It may not lead anywhere. It may be like “Mr. Rhodes,” Tom’s show, or “Come To Papa” or “Welcome to New York.” It might come and get all kinds of promotion, and then just sort of dwindle. That’s actually the most likely thing -- the odds are that’s gonna happen. But even that version is huge compared to anything that’s happened to me before. And that’s really fucked up.
isoS: But even if you’ve been through it a lot, don’t you have to believe in it?
LCK: Yeah, it’s the only way. That experience is necessary. You have to bet all horses on it, you have to sell the house and do everything, and you have to believe it’s gonna happen. That feeling of horrible… the hangover? It’s just part of your job. You can’t protect against it. If you’re in a project and you’re preparing yourself psychologically for failure, then your failure’s gonna be easier, but what the fuck kind of goal is that? I mean, you have to assume it’s gonna work, and not just because there’s some kind of magic to that, but because that’s the kind of energy it takes to make the thing happen. Everyone you deal with has to see in you that the show’s gonna happen, you have to have more faith in it than anybody else.
And also, you have to prepare for success, ‘cause when you get it? The worst nightmare in your life is getting the call: “Go do twelve of those.” That’s a fucking crazy moment, and if you were spending the whole time going, “Well, let’s not sell the house…”
You know, I was getting offered stuff after we shot the pilot, or while we were shooting the pilot I was getting offers to write movies and stuff. I had three things lined up: I was gonna write a movie and some other pilot, and Chris Rock told me, “Don’t. What the fuck are you doing? Don’t do anything! Just do this.“
“Well what if it doesn’t work?”
“Then you’ll be broke. But you’re not gonna -- You’re crazy to do that.”
So I stuck to this one thing, and just said to myself, “It has to happen.” So when I got that call to make twelve of them, I had been very proactive. I already had a lot of people lined up for writers, we had come out here and scouted the studio -- we were acting like we were making the show. You have to. But yeah, now that this is actually happening, it’s fucked up. It’s very weird.
I mean, I have to be prepared for [the fact that] a lot of people aren’t gonna like me. Even if the show’s a huge hit, there’s just that collateral damage. You know, right now, if you want to see me, you have to look for me. You have to come out to a comedy club, or look through TiVo and find, in the middle of the night, maybe something’s showing. Nobody’s watching me that doesn’t want to, basically.
So now? Everybody that drives to work on Sunset Boulevard sees my fuckin’ face, and that’s gonna be the new experience. Everybody that walks down Bleecker and Thompson in New York sees my face, and not everybody wants to see my fuckin’ face. So there’s gonna be a lot of people in the world who are like, “I just fuckin’ hate that guy. I’m sick of him. Why do I have to look at that guy?”
If the show is a runaway hit and a critical success, that still means that at least one of the big TV writers, either Bill Carter, or Tom Shales, or fuckin’ whoever else, one of them is gonna hate me. Nobody gets ‘em all. So I’m going to be reading a hateful, personally shredding review by one of those guys, it just has to be. And I don’t wanna be insulted in the newspapers.
isoS: As we’ve been talking, it seems like a theme in your career is that you do what you do, and you don’t compromise it at all, but beneath that, you really do want to convert everyone.
LCK: Well I want the audience, yeah, ‘cause that’s the goal: making people laugh.
isoS: But you want them to like you.
LCK: Well, I don’t care if they like me, I want to connect with them. The art form that I’m in is making people laugh, so that means having an empathy with them and connecting with them. I like when people like me, sure.
isoS: Then you want them to relate to you.
LCK: Yeah, absolutely. I want reviewers to love the show so that people read the reviews and watch it. I really don’t give a fuck what they think. But you know, it would be great to have them all say the show’s really good, sure.
But it’s a weird thing because I don’t have a feeling I want to be famous. That sounds awful to me. I’m too old to get off on that. It’s not cool anymore.
Pamela and I are both in a really weird situation, because she gets recognized occasionally in the store, and they say, “You’re Pamela Segall from the ‘80s.” That’s what they call her, because she was in “Say Anything.” When she was a kid she was in a sitcom with Redd Foxx, on the same stage … that we now shoot “Lucky Louie” on. And then she grew into a young woman and did a bunch of kinda cool ‘80s films, but she didn’t grow tits, and nobody cared. So she started thinking practically, she had kids, and she became a voice-over actress. She’s supposed to fade out.
And she’s grown past any point of like, “I’m gonna make it, man!” That kind of evangelical, in-their-20s young people [attitude], the way I remember feeling. “Somebody’s gonna know who I am! I’ll be like that dude in ‘Entourage’ on the red carpet.” I mean, the red carpet events I’ve been to, the Emmys and stuff, I’m happy to go around the back of the press, get my statue and go home to my kids. I’m not interested in that shit.
And I had a similar thing: I came up in the ‘80s, and people were like, “This guy maybe will do something,” but my hair started falling out, I hit the ‘90s and they went, “No, go write for the real guys. Go write for the characters that people really want to see.”
So Pamela and I have had that behind the scenes thing. Neither of us are supposed to be here right now. We went yesterday and took our picture in front of -- we went and celebrated our billboard. And we’re just standing there going, “This is just fuckin’ weird. We don’t belong up there.” We’re not Kate Hudson and Brad Pitt. So, it’s just fucked up, you know? Our lives aren’t built for that. I ain’t goin’ to those clubs, and I’m not going to events. And I don’t know that that’s where this will lead. I have no idea.
I don’t think about that a lot, really. Right now I’m steeped in writing these eight shows. It’s one of the funnest things I ever did. This has actually been almost the highlight of the whole thing to me, is having the twelve in the can and to be in this calm before the storm, because once we’re on the air we actually have a reaction to the show. We’re in the dark right now. Nobody has seen it. So it’s just me and Mike and our writers --
isoS: It’s what you guys think is funny.
LCK: Yeah. We sit, and we’re methodically going through these eight scripts, imagining stories, talking about them, and having this idyllic hope for the future of the show. It just feels so fuckin’ good.
But yeah, the show goin’ on the air… I hope that I can resist Googling it, and finding out what people are saying -- I don’t want to read any of that crap, I don’t want to know what anybody thinks of it, ‘cause that shit just drives you crazy.
But yeah, there’s no way, it makes no sense to me that I’m on Sunday nights on HBO. That makes no sense to me. Because it is the only gig I ever wanted. I mean, it’s like, I remember watching “The Sopranos” and Larry David’s show -- I was living in New York and working on some crap. I think I was working on the MTV Movie Awards, and I had just come home from that, to New York, and I’m watching Sunday night on HBO and I realized: that is the absolute purest, best gig in the world, and I have no shot. I’m fat, nobody cares what I do in standup anymore -- I wasn’t even getting on Conan that often. Letterman had stopped using me. The Tonight Show also -- I did two Tonight Shows and they just stopped asking me. [I’m thinking] I’ll never do an HBO show again, they don’t return my calls anymore, and I realized somewhere along the line I blew that. If I was on the front lines of my career, I’d be one of the guys they’d be talking about doing Sunday night on HBO. Never gonna happen. But that’s when I started building that fake special that didn’t exist.
Yeah, I can’t believe it sometimes. I watch still, same as always. I watch Sunday night. I watch “The Sopranos,” and I watch -- whatever they put on, I’ll watch it. I fuckin love it… “Deadwood.” Even “Entourage,” which, I hate the people on it, but I get caught up in it! It’s well done. So I watch “Entourage,” and then they go down, and then there’s a “Lucky Louie” promo, and I’m like: “This is fuckin’ nuts. This makes -- This doesn’t fit in to my understanding of the world at all.”
So I don’t know man. I don’t know. I don’t know what this is gonna feel like.
isoS: Well, you always have standup, right?
LCK: Yep. That’s right. That’s why I’m really glad I’ve been doing these clubs. It’s yin and yang, ‘cause in D.C. I had an amazing time, and I walked out of there thinking, “I’ve got another album, I’ve got it on tape.” And I called my manager and said, “We should book the Orpheum Theatre in Boston right now, for September, and by the time I get there I’m gonna have a sick hour, and we’ll shoot it.”
And he said, “Yeah.”
The following week I went to Dallas, and by the end of it I [was] like, “I got nuthin’. I hate myself.” All the new material I was doing evaporated. I went back to my bank bit, I went way the fuck back, like five fuckin’ things ago, and I’m trying to get over with these Texan crowds. I didn’t draw shit, nobody came to see me. We canceled a couple of shows ‘cause nobody came. And I’m fuckin’ in my hotel room without my kids, jerkin’ off to the point that when the phone rang in the hotel I thought it was them complaining that I’m jacking off too much. It was such a depressing week, and I came home like, “I’m not a standup comedian anymore. I played all the shows I’m gonna do, just do ‘Lucky Louie,’ let them tell you how to do it.”
Sometimes it all collapses and you think, “How bad could it be? I’m an actor in a TV show. I could walk away from the writing and from everything, let everyone else run it and just show up and act. Enjoy the company of my friends on the show.” You know, stop looking at my website after a while, ‘cause they’ll be saying, “Louie, what are you doing over there?” And then just retire. I got two children. I don’t need any of this shit. And that’s the way Pamela and I both feel, like, “What the fuck is this shit?” We’re supposed to be dwindling into our goodnight, not beginning fucking TV star careers.
isoS: But it seems like all the really great comics, like Cosby, all these people who were great for years really found success around the same time. I mean Cosby had other TV shows before that --
LCK: Yeah, but they didn’t matter like his show mattered.
isoS: Yeah, I mean it seems like for a standup comic, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
LCK: Yes. That’s true. That’s exactly right. It takes fifteen, twenty years to create a really great standup. It takes five years to show that a standup has some potential and segue that into an excellent career, but to make a standup comedian that becomes like… There [are] always three or four comedians that are like, those are the guys who can do an hour and keep an audience, and who are saying one of the four or five things that America’s thinking. America’s only ever thinking about four or five things at the same time. Right now I’m talking about family. There really [aren’t] any other comedians talking about their family right now. The blue collar guys are talking about being American, and Chris Rock is talking about being black, and George Lopez is talking about being Hispanic, which is becoming more important every day. He’s fucking great as a standup, I think. He’s awesome. His show, I don’t care. But him as a comedian is great. I wish that George Lopez didn’t have a show so that I could convince him to come on after me on HBO.
So there’s only a few at a time. And to really have that kind of resonance with that many people you have to go live a life and experience being a human being so that people know that you’re coming from some place.
There [are] always a few absurdists, and that’s where I thought I was gonna be. I thought I would be a guy who’s like, “This guy’s crazy, this guy’s ideas are nuts.”
isoS: Like the Steven Wright.
LCK: Yeah. “This guy thinks of shit that nobody else has thought of.” That’s always what excited me. I didn’t think I was gonna be one of those guys [who was] talking about shit. I had no idea I was headed there.
I loved Steven Wright when I started doing standup. I fuckin’ loved him. So those are the kind of guys -- like Zach. To me Zach Galifianakis is one of the best of those guys. And then you get the social guys like Maron and Patton, you know, guys who are like, critics of society -- that’s a whole other thing. There [are] a lot of great standups right now.
But to me as far as those guys that are just being nuts, Zach is fuckin’ startlingly funny to me. I don’t know that he gives a shit… I did a show with Zach once and he turned to me and he said, “Don’t you resent that you have to make these people laugh? Doesn’t it bother you that they’re sitting there, like, what am I, like I have to make them laugh? Why the fuck should I?” He thought it was like them pressing him into service.
I’m like, “What do you mean? That’s an opportunity to reach people, they’re there for you, that’s so great.”
But he’s like, “I just resent it.” So that’s, you know, I really wish that Zach didn’t feel that way, because that dude just fuckin’ kills me he’s so funny.
isoS: Weird place to end, but…
LCK: Yeah. “Zach Galifianakis is great” -- good place to end.
isoS: Cool. Hey, well thanks for doing this.
LCK: Yeah, thanks a lot man. I went a lot longer than I said I would, but uh, I have a big mouth.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
Thanks for posting this, great interview.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
Amazing interview. Reading Louis CK talk about his career and comedy, it builds you up and brings you down.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
i read it.
im glad i read it.
Re: Flashback: The '06 Louis C.K. Interview
Just read it again, this really is a valuable thing and feel lucky to live in a time where I could find it so easily. thank you for posting it.