Interview: Louis C.K., “Chewed Up”
This is an incomplete transcript. More to come later today. Also later today, the premiere of Louis C.K.‘s new comedy special “Chewed Up” at 11PM on Showtime.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about the economy lately. You’ve kind of cultivated an audience of parents with kids who are probably worried about this as well. Does this put a little bit more pressure on you to give the people who come to the theater a good show because this is probably a big night out for them?
There’s no doubt about that. I feel way more pressure when they pay that kind of money. And in a theater, the pressure is all on you. There’s no alternate. If they go to a club, they’ve drank. They’ve probably ate.
You’re a part of the show, but when they come to a theater they’re just sitting in these chairs facing you. It’s a whole lot more pressure. You really got to make them feel like that was their night for them. You are their evening.
People come out to see you. It’s one thing if they come out to see whoever’s at the club that night. Then they’re just happy if it worked out. If not, they’re like, “that guy wasn’t as good as other times we’ve been there.”
It’s very disappointing to see somebody who you’re a fan of and have the show be mediocre.
I heard you talk about Shameless and how you look back at the guy differently. Have you already had that experience with Chewed Up?
My life has changed a lot since “Chewed Up” and yes, I have looked back on it and gone, “Ugh, that’s what he was like.”
So each is like a chapter in your life.
In a way. Each one has a different stage in maturity. And each one has a different stage in how I look at things in the world too. I’m obviously I’m still the same person. So there’s continuity there.
I used to see a therapist. And I thought about seeing one again, but then I think, “What am I not saying to my audience?” The process of clearing out my brain of the most upsetting and most real thoughts is how I come up with material. So what would I need to do that with a therapist for?
I’m probably going to get into a sensitive subject. So if this is bullshit, just tell me to stop. When I heard about your divorce, I kind of had a sort of callous thought about how this would affect your comedy. I sort of thought that when I heard the same about Howard Stern?
Well, “Chewed Up” has almost nothing about marriage in it. I don’t really talk about my wife until the last bit where I say that I miss her sexually and I get why she doesn’t fuck me. That’s the last thing I said about her.
The majority of the bits are about me and the kids and my age. And “Shameless” had the famously horrible handjob bit. The first half hour I did had a lot of arguing with her and then that started weeding out.
But to me the real engine of what’s really important in my life is my kids. Being a father is the driving force in my life. And that stays the same. In fact, I’m more of a dad that I was before because it’s just me and my kids. I share custody of them. I haven’t left my family. We’re just split up the two of us.
My life is even more intensely the same in being a dad. Because it’s not two on one with the kids and I. And that’s what informs the new tour I do “Hilarious.” I don’t talk about marriage any more. I don’t talk about divorce in terms of what she and I are going through – that’s private. I feel like her private life is hers now. It’s not ours. I don’t talk about it anymore.
But what divorce has done to me as a person and a father it’s a huge. It’s another avenue that’s unexplored. And in a good way. I tried to say this on stage once but it didn’t come out funny. But these are all doors that you can’t look through before you walk through them. There’s no peephole on the children door and on the divorce door.
I think just like when I was on the other side with other parents and saying how it feels for real for parents who are raising their kids and putting the work in. That was a cathartic thing for me and for my audience. And I think the same can be the same thing here, because, Jesus, more than half the people are divorced now.
It’s not death. People treat it like it’s death. And it’s not. It’s another life.
I heard you say on Sound of Young America that “No good marriages end in divorce.”
It’s true that divorce is always improvement. It’s never… it would be truly sad if a couple was happy and desperately in love and then they got divorced.
It just reminds me not just how closely stand-up comedians lives can be to their performances, but how direct that connection is. Everything else – musicians can use metaphor, novelists use characters – but there’s really nothing separating it here. They’re no hiding.
That’s exactly right. Well, some people do hide behind their material. Their material is like a smokescreen. It’s not what they’re really living.
A lot of people’s acts are just huge exercises in denial. And once in a while they’ll let down their guard and say something real and you go, “Oh, there he is. That’s interesting.”
Can you hear that? Is that something you get an ear for?
Yeah, definitively. I can tell when there’s part of an act that they’re just saying. When they’re saying “Fuck” a lot and getting angry. It’s something they thought it would be funny to get angry about. I’ve done it.
Bob (Robert) Kelly is a pal of mine. He does a lot of bits where his face turns red and he does “women this” and “fucking this” and “women fucking this.” But then he tells this story about his mom saying I love you to him all his life and it was a nuisance. “I love you. I love you.” “Yeah, ma. I love you too. Whatever.” And that never meant anything to him. And when he graduated high school, and his father for the first time said, “I love you.” And he’s like, “Oh my God, daddy!” He starts crying. (Laughs) “Why’d you do this to me?” He was just destroyed.
It made me like him for the first time. I used to watch him and be like, “Yeech.” And then I saw that and was like, “Oh, shit. That dude is funny.” Because he revealed something real.
[Louis just wanted to make this clear: “My initial experience with Bob’s material not withstanding, he’s my good friend and I think he is great and very very funny.”]
It’s interesting because people talking about being naked on stage. So the first impulse is to put on the metaphorical clothes.
Yes it is.
And then you learn how to take them off. It’s like being a stripper.
Yeah, it is. You have to be really comfortable to finally go, “Fuck it. I’m just going to stand here.” There’s a sort of over the top level that you reach that once you spill over it, you’re done with it. I don’t have any worries on stage now except “Is this funny enough? Is this good enough?” It’s made me much more able to concentrate on how I’m saying stuff. The technique. The art of it.
The social aspect of, “are people going to be OK with this?” I don’t even have that thought any more. It’s not even a consideration. It’s like an organ that’s got removed.
And you had that organ before.
Oh yeah, for years. “Oh that’s so funny. Too bad I can never say it.”