Louis C.K. will be performing at Caroline’s in New York all weekend with two shows Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday. I talked to him today for a short time about podcasting, commitment in comedy and his upcoming HBO show “Lucky Louie.”
When you do your jokes about your kids you don’t do a lot of qualifiers on them like “I love my kids” or “My kids are great.” How did you come to that?
I just found that I didn’t need to.
Really? It seems a lot of comics feel like they have to do that.
It depends on what you’re doing on stage. I find that audiences, especially audiences with children, are refreshed by the honesty. I think that if I said something like that, that I love my kids, that it would ruin it. It would make it seem disingenuous and like I’m nervous about what I’m saying. If you think you have to qualify it that means that you find the things that you are saying to be wrong. I think that what people like about what I’m saying on stage is that I clearly mean it. Whether they agree with it or not, the fact that I’m 100 percent (chuckles) committed to it makes it work. You qualify stuff, you de-commit it and you ruin it.
So if you don’t hold up the taboo, they don’t sit there and think about it.
Exactly. Fuck it. What taboo. The kids aren’t there. They’re not in the club. So who gives a shit. And anyway I do enough for my kid. I raise my kid and I keep her from dying. So she can just fucking kiss my ass. (laughs)
Yesterday the California Supreme Court finally heard the case of Amaani Lyle, a former writers’ assistant on “Friends” who has sued Warner Brothers for an environment of sexual harassment. Among the conditions mentioned in the lawsuit were drawings of vaginas, ruminations on the sexual habits of Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston and, my favorite, the character of Joey as a rapist. Smoking Gun has the full complaint. According to this article in the LA Times, the justices seem to be favoring the writers right now.
I’ve been firmly on the writers’ side, allbeit queasily at times, but one fact mentioned in the court makes me absolutely certain that the claim is without merit: she was told she would be working in an environment where sexual explicit talk would occur. Two of the Supreme Court justices noted it during arguments. Warner Brothers lawyer also makes a compelling point that breaking a story can require “going down blind alleys”, making it difficult to know what will finally make an episode work. In fact, one anecdote about sex with a prostitute ultimately created material that found its way into a script. (The case itself perhaps even made fodder for Lisa Kudrow’s ill-fated “The Comeback”) The lawsuit never alleges, to my knowledge, that Amaani was directly sexually harassed, i.e. propositioned or asked to perform sexual favors. Even in a free writing environment like a comedy show, I would expect that form of sexual harassment to still be prosecutable.
Hopefully here’s where the lawsuit will get nipped in the bud. The Supreme Court is only deciding whether a lower courts decision to let the case continue on to a jury is correct. Though I think a jury trial would ultimately fall Warner Brothers way, I imagine it would be hard for a jury to sort out why an uncensored writing environment is necessary. The California Supreme Court has 90 days to decide.
Update: The NY Sun covers the story as well, detailing more of the arguments. In particular, there’s mention that sitcoms stay white and male because this behavior is allowed. I agree with the ideal of more balanced staffs, but the job of comedy writing requires people to say taboo things. I have several comedy writing friends who actively make jokes about each other religions, sex lives, etc. It’s part of the gig. A level of decorum needs to be set, but it can’t be set by the courts. When a joke goes to far afield of the writer process is the head writer’s job, not a lawyer’s. (Also, adjusted post title - the actual lawsuit is getting a poor reception from judges - hence unfriendly.)
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Last night’s episode of Arrested Development “Save Our Bluths” was the most brilliantly self-referential comedy I’ve seen since the last episode of Strangers with Candy (which saw Flatpoint High nearly replaced with a Strip Mall). References included winks to Showtime saving them, to the common complaint that the characters aren’t “sympathetic and relatable” and, of course, to the “Save Our Bluths” campaign, unfortunately ending the url with .org, which is currently unoccupied, rather than the real renewal drive’s .com.
Though the episode played with a ton of gimmicky twists TV shows attempt for viewers, including 3-D, broadcasting live, and teasing a death that later turns out to be one of an inconsequential character, the refutation of such desperate ploys in the coda was so perfect. The Bluths were rescued from their financial troubles because they weren’t desperate, almost a promise from the show writers were not going to compromise in these potentially final episodes. They’ll keep making the wonderfully and playful layered stories they’ve been doing since the beginning. They aren’t going to flail for an audience. They’re going to enjoy the one they got, even if it’s only for the four episodes remaining in their order. “Save Our Bluths” was the perfect argument for why that enjoyment shouldn’t stop now.
Arrested Development airs Mondays at 8PM on Fox, except for the next two weeks, when Fox preempts it for other shows. Sigh.
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Arrested Development seems to be close to finding pay cable salvation, if Fox actually finally decides to cancel the damn thing. Showtime as well as ABC, seem to be very serious about acquiring Arrested. It’s previously been suggested that Showtime would be interested so they could pair it with Weeds, which was just renewed for a second season. ABC is a new name in this (A myspace campaign had targeted NBC along with Showtime). ABC seems to want to expand its drama success into comedy (although I can’t tell which of the upcoming shows they’d imagine would be a good pairing for Arrested Development).
Of course, Fox has not cancelled the show yet, only cut the order for Arrested’s third season to thirteen episodes. With Arrested taking up two spots in the schedule after Kitchen Confidential’s demise along with clips being available via Verizon vCast, the aforementioned myspace campaign actually wonders if Fox is considering renewing the show. Considering how the new video-compatible iPod and iTunes TV store has brought a rash of stories about how shows like Arrested might survive sans networks, I can see Fox actually considering keeping the show. Looking today at the TV Shows section of the iTunes store (which might need a name change soon), half of the top 20 episodes downloaded were of NBC’s The Office - another comedy that doesn’t get the ratings of Lost or Desperate Housewives. Seeing the money NBC is making by taking this leap must make Fox wonder if Arrested could do the same, particularly considering DVD sales of the show for both season 1 and season 2 are consistently strong performers.
My hope is that no matter who has the rights to broadcast the show over TV, they also begin digital distribution of the show. No matter what Arrested’s ratings are, I think internet sales would be the real proof that the show deserves a long life. With The Office and Arrested Development successful TV-on-demand downloads, maybe networks might focus on creating sitcoms for audiences who want funny rather than comfort - you know - “niche” audiences.
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With NBC moving The Office and My Name is Earl to Thursdays, I’m actually hopeful that the networks might start believing that comedy can thrive in primetime once again. The fascinating part of the press release is the mention that The Office has the second highest concentration of viewers with $100,000 plus incomes (behind only Will & Grace). Another reminder that, as always, it’s about the Benjamins people.
The Office, which I think a fair amount of people condemed at first for simply not being Ricky Gervais’ creation, has taken the opportunity with an expanded cast and a longer season to create even more small moments of uncomfortable comedy, even creating hysterical justifications for why the boss, in this case Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), can keep his job. Namely, that a fair amount of the business world still runs by off-color jokes and faux hilarity (see the episode featuring Tim Meadows as a reprensentive for a desirable account). I know the show’s working because I can’t bear to look sometimes. Or because I’m muttering “asshole”, as when Michael humiliates Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) during a fight. It’s an equal to it’s progentor, and simply might pass it, just by the larger sandbox the writers have made for themselves.
The other good news of this is the return of Scrubs (which was almost certain, but still nice to see back) and the continued strength of “Earl,” which I find enjoyable despite it’s sometime saccharine heart. Three funny shows on one network? What is this - 1997?
My Name is Earl and the Office move officially to Thursdays starting January 2, 2006.
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Sunday’s Boston Globe magazine chronicled Louis CK’s attempt to redefine the sitcom on HBO. (use Bugmenot) Much is made of “Lucky Louie” using pay-cable-only words, but the innovation I’m interested in is how the show’s characters are not only not nice to each other, but sometimes don’t even want to try to be nice. The show is continuing the strengths of his recent HBO Special (best stand-up on TV of the year. Reduced my wife and I to tears) where the difficulties of maintaining a marriage while raising a child were pulled off with complete command of the absurd (my favorite being a fight with his wife over hide-and-seek).
Since much of “Lucky Louie” attempts to render a darker, truer version of husband-wife dynamics than any currently airing, it’s affecting even to the creators. After beating out one story, Louis CK has the revelation that his wife harbors similar hatreds of him and how he doesn’t know what to do about that. It’s not a show where the dumb husband can screw up and the wife forgives him 1,000 times (or for five seasons). There’s an attempt to create real marital jeopardy here. Such tension might not be easily funny, but HBO seems extremely confident, raising their order eight scripts, which if all are made, will give the show 21 episodes (including pilot).
I’m very excited about the show in that everything I’ve read about it reminds me of early Roseanne, where the Conners reflected how difficult family life can be. As I’ve been rediscovering that show lately, I’ve been realizing how missed something like it is on TV. And “Lucky Louie” sounds even more brave in rendering married life and finding humor in it. It’s a relief from comedies about Hollywood backstage antics, even well executed ones. “Lucky Louie” is hopefully a real treat.
If you’re in Los Angeles, here’s where you can get tickets to see a taping of Lucky Louie. Anyone who goes, report back in the comment section.
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The PTC has released their annual list of ten best and worst shows for families (though they cheat a little bit and only pick nine best… I guess it isn’t wrong to teach our children to quit before finishing a task). If you count Desperate Housewives, seven comedies litter the worst list (as it should be). I don’t really want to bitch about these to much. The PTC has some weak reasons for hating all of them, including claiming Family Guy and American Dad are pushed as family shows. Fox advises “Viewer Discretion” in every promo for the pair. The only rationale I can see for this PTC complaint is the words “Family” and “Dad” in the titles. But really, I’m just glad someone’s watching Arrested Development (#9 on the Worst list), even if they’re doing it while frantically scrawling what’s offending them.
More fascinating however is the PTC praising Everybody Hates Chris as a good family show. I’m not saying it isn’t, it’s just a far harder edged show that I would expect the PTC to like (maybe they were stretching to find nine). Of course, the PTC loves how in the pilot episode that the children are obediently being quiet so that their father can get some rest. Kids being good and respectful… it’s always comedy gold. It’s possible for a show to be funny and family-friendly, but some of the families the PTC prefers to see aren’t ones I would want to grow up or raise.