Interview: Louis C.K., Stand-Up and Star “Lucky Louie”

Filed Under Interview, Sitcom, Stand-Up Comedy

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)

The only person who I can think of who does something similar to you is Bernie Mac where he talks about hitting his kids.

That’s the thing I don’t hit my kids. I call them assholes. So I think my kids are better off than his. (laughs)

That’s true. Who do you want to be raised by Louis or Bernie? C’mon.

Bernie’s hilarious. I love watching him talk about hitting his kids.

When did you come to focusing more on your own stand-up? I know you’ve done a lot of writing for other comedian’s shows and directing films, but it seems at a certain point you went fuck it, I’m focusing on my own stand-up for a while. How did that come to be?

I’ve never stopped doing stand-up. It’s always been important to me to keep it going because of that reason. To me the goal was always to do my own personal-type projects. But I think I grew slower as a stand-up than other thing. I think I got good at writing and directing a lot quicker. Which makes sense because stand-up is about building a whole personality. It’s just harder.

So all the time I kept doing stand-up, which I never really slowed down, I was honing skills on other shows. But I never thought I’m doing this for Chris Rock instead of for me. Because that was a great show to work on. Now I’m doing the same thing but I’m the guy. So it’s just bringing together two things I’ve always done that were parallel and now they’re on the same track.

Being a comedy writer and a stand-up are almost two different things, one you’re constantly generating material and the second, you’re working on making the material you have as perfect as possible. I know you’ve been writing for a long time, so do you ever get bored working with the same material?

No, not at all. I love it. It’s just two entirely different muscles so it’s great to be able to do both. For me, the fact that I was writing and directing and making a living at that and succeeding at that, let me continue to do stand-up without depending on it. So I never had to take a single stand-up I didn’t want to take. I didn’t have to do a shitty sitcom.

I’ve been doing stand-up for 21 years. So what I’m bringing to people now – this year more people will see me do stand-up and see me do my show than have ever seen me before. And they’re seeing somebody who’s been doing it for 21 years which can only possibly be better than somebody who’s been doing it for five or ten. You get more practice. You’re just better that’s all.

If I was only a comedian I don’t think I could have taken 21 years of being at the level I’ve been at for so long.

If you were only a stand-up?

I don’t think I could have taken this career as only the stand-up part, because it’s been very up and down and shaky. I’ve had a few streaks and a whole bunch of skids. It is what it is. I’m glad I did it all. But if it was the only thing I was doing, I probably would have committed suicide.

But every single time I would sort of languish as a stand-up and people would fade on interest and I wouldn’t get much going, I would be winning an Emmy over at Chris’ show. So not so bad.

Is it just a phase when someone languishes as a stand-up? How does that happen?

It’s just natural. Like everyone’s life, it just ebbs and flows. It’s like my mom said to be once: life is like football. Because in football, when you score a touchdown, it’s the best thing you can do in the game. First thing that happens when you score a touchdown is they take the ball away from you And they give the ball to somebody else and you’re told to sit down. And now somebody else who running the ball from almost nothing - from the fuckin’ ten-yard line - is the focus of the game. And you’re sitting there, just shut up. Go suck some oxygen and get ready. And hopefully the next time you get the ball, you have new wind and you start from scratch again.

You build, you build, you build, You score and then you wait. And then you build, you build, you build. You score and you wait. And that’s the way anything goes. That’s the way it’s been in everything that I’ve done. And actually doing stand-up that way has been great. And hopefully at some point you amass enough yardage and records that somebody takes a look at you, puts you in the pros.

You started a podcast of your stand-up. What’s that been like for you?

It’s really fun. Because what I do is I tape almost every show that I do. And when I do something that was really fun that I’m not likely to repeat. Like when something happens that’s kind of fucked-up and singular, I clip it out and put it on my podcast. That was the original idea but a lot of those things have turned into real material.

So it’s actually been a helpful way to write. Watch my sets and edit them into these little clips on the podcast and get response to them. I give that material more consideration that I would have if I had just done it on a set and forgotten about it. That podcast is probably collecting into material that will be another special when I’m ready to do one.

For people who have the podcast, when they see the next special that I do they’ll have seen it on the podcast. Some of it. It’s been a fun way to write and a fun way to share that material. I have no idea who’s subscribing to the podcast but it’s fun to know that when you post something to the podcast that automatically all these people computers are just absorbing the material and it’s going into people’s ipods and shit. That’s a real cool system to be a part of.

The Apple store had be up on the “New & Notables” for a while. And I was getting major subscriptions for a while. But they took me off of that and they haven’t put me in the comedy section or the video section.

It’s very strange. I looked today and if I type your name, I find you but…

You find both of them. But if you look on comedy… and there’s fuckin’ real weirdos in the comedy section, there’s people who have no… not to toot my own horn, but people know who I am. So you’d think they’d want to throw me up that. But I don’t know what it’s based on.

And you’re also the first person – the first big person I’m aware of – to do this. You’re very digitally aware, for a lack of a better bullshit term. How do you think that’ll affect your comedy in the future? and have exactly the same bandwidth. They have exactly the same power. And it’s not like maybe on television, I could set up maybe my own local access. But on websites it’s all equal. It’s all about who wants to come see your stuff.

My website has the same amount of stable people in it every week and it never really changes. It depends on when I do TV, it spikes. As long as I’ve had it up there and I update it as often as I can, it’s still just a little group of people.

And it keeps changing what people go to on the Internet. Like websites aren’t even cool anymore. A website is considered a marketing tool and it’s considered kinda queer. They’re too slick. And for while it was newsgroups. Nobody goes to newsgroups now. And now it’s like blogs and myspace, and those things are so unformed and people just throw shit up. And now youtube and all that crap. So now somebody’s personal vanity website is like the least interesting, least cool thing that you can go do on the Internet.

I like having a web site. It’s like having you own little thing that you curate. And occasionally I get really into it, like when I went with my dog and wrote all those stories and stuff.

You’ve certainly been very accessible, with your postings on newgroups and sites like aspecialthing. How do you think that might change with your own show coming up?

Well, I don’t know how that’s going to go. Right now, the only people that reach me are the people who like me. I’m at a low level of fame where the only reason someone would make the effort to make a contact would be because they like me. “Oh that guys cool. I’ll look for him on the web. I see that he posts here. I’m gonna say hi.”

That’s because my shit is out there in a select… you have to come to a club to see me. You have to watch a certain show to see me. But once my show is on the air and once it just becomes part of what’s on TV. And once they’re forced to see my fucking fat head on the side of a bus, then it changes. How many times do I have to look at that motherfucker. And I will start to get contacted by people because they don’t like me. And they’ll say, “I’m fucking sick of you. Please get off my television.”

So, I don’t know what that’s going to be like. That doesn’t bother me. When I run into people who don’t like me, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. I don’t care. If people don’t like me and they want to let me they know, they should. I’ve felt that impulse. I watched stuff and thought “I hate this guy. I want to tell him.” So I understand it. I have to pay some price if this show is a success.

The thing is if the show is a failure, I’ll take a lot of that shit, but for a short time. Because then it’ll go down the tubes and people will forget. If it’s success, I’ll be the target of that hatred for a long time to come. And I’ll deserve it because I’m getting to be on TV and having my own show. And if you want to have something out there with huge exposure, you have to accept you’re forcing it on some people who didn’t want it. The way it goes.

I’m looking forward to the show. It’s seems like your changing up a lot of what modern sitcoms have become – particularly on HBO which has a lot of sitcoms around Hollywood or glamour. “Lucky Louie” is almost the opposite take. How important are working class origins to making something funny to you?

The kind of humor that I share with my friends is having a pain-in-the-ass life. Not having quite enough money to do what you want and having tension in your life because of it. And I haven’t seen that on television since “All in the Family” or “Good Times.”

HBO does the showbiz stuff but on “Friends” you’re forced to look at people who are… I don’t even know where it exists. TV doesn’t like misery so they make everybody look very comfortable, responsible and happy. Which means the only conflict and comedy that can be in their lives is weird interpersonal pointless shit.

But if you just put people in the real world and make them act like actual people, it’s funny. It’s easy. It’s actually easy.

The thing that gets me about sitcoms is a lot of time the characters will say something nasty to one another but it won’t have any consequence. It sounds like your show will be different. There’ll be real anger and resentment there.

Yeah, no kidding around. There’s an episode where I call my wife a cunt. And she doesn’t talk to me for the rest of the episode. And it’s all me trying to recover from calling her a cunt. And that’s a real moment in a marriage. You call your wife a cunt, you might have just ended your marriage.

I think it’s refreshing to see characters on a sitcom having a real effect on each other with what they say.

And then recovering from it and finding a way. And I think in the end, you’re happy that we survive it. But it’s only gratifying that we survive it because you’re afraid it might have done us in.

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Posted by Frank on 03/19  at  09:49 PM

Great stuff, Louie’s the best.

I assume he said “an Emmy over at Chris’ show” and not an enemy…

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 03/20  at  12:42 PM

Right you are. This was a quick transcript… did it the day off, so it’s likely there’s a few mistakes. Thanks for the correction.

Posted by REYREY on 03/21  at  12:19 PM

I like reading your page.  I know it’s hard editing and having to post all the time.
I don’t think I’ve ever met Louis here in Houston.  Keep up the good work…

Posted by Jack on 03/27  at  12:57 AM

This is a fantastic interview with Louis C.K.  And I’m happy that there are now some great comedy sites—like this one—that can focus on aspects of modern comedy that often get ignored.

Posted by Archie Merwin on 10/20  at  05:37 PM

Dear Deadfrog:

  It’s October and I haven’t seen Luck Louis come back on the air. Bummer. I really enjoyed it. Is it gone for good?

  Also, he’s funnier in person. Like his joke about his daughter asking why to every comment—it was hilarious on stage. With an actual daughter it didn’t work as well. I didn’t get the same frustration from Louis nor the same miniature-tyrant-daughter effect as I did when Louis plays her on stage. It’s Louis letting her be a tyrant, or dropping down to a bratty kid’s level that makes him so funny. An example of that was on The Daily Show, when Louis says of his daughter, “Fuck her. I can take her in a fight.” No one has had the creativity to talk about kids that way. WC Fields doesn’t count since he really did hate kids.
I wish I knew if Louis CK toured—I’d like to go see him.

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