TV Junkie Interview: Louis C.K., Mastermind Of FX's 'Louie'
Louie C.K. is the man behind FX's "Louie" - one of our Top Ten picks for 2010. The show will return this summer but it's currently in production in NYC.
Louie C.K. is an ambitious man. While he has excelled in standup comedy for almost two decades, his desire to do more on both the small and big screen is ever-present. A long-time TV writer for other people's shows (David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, etc.), C.K.'s short-lived but critically acclaimed "Lucky Louie" (HBO) that lasted one season in 2006 was a revelation of his ability to create a world as he saw it.After the demise of "Lucky Louie," C.K. helped write Chris Rock's movie, I Think I Love My Wife, had a multi-episode arc on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," and released three stand up comedy DVDs, most recently the excellent Hilarious, which we highly recommend.
Then came "Louie" on FX in 2010. The story of how this series came about is quickly becoming Hollywood legend and C.K.'s position as showrunner of a show where he has complete control is becoming the envy of both established showrunners and aspiring comedians everywhere. FX network president John Landgraf has given a brief summary of the negotiation that resulted in the creation of "Louie," essentially a presentation of the amount of money he was willing to spend on a series from C.K. that would be reduced as the network lost control: the ability to participate in script preparation and production, notes and suggestions, etc. The end result was a budget where C.K. could create each episode without network interference or "input" until they saw the final cut. Landgraf essentially told C.K. "do what you want as long as there isn't certain kinds of nudity and you avoid a specific set of profane vocabulary.
The product of this arrangement is "Louie," which took everybody by surprise last summer with its freshness, fearlessness, and unfiltered humor, making it one of our top 10 picks of the year. On the final day of the Television Critics Association winter meeting in January, C.K., the show's writer, director, principal actor, producer, and editor gave us some insight on how the show would be different this year, which, for C.K., literally means the show will look different as he plans on using vintage lenses for his cameras, thus getting away from how "beautiful and perfect" his footage looked from the high-end video cameras he used in season one. At the end of his TCA presentation we had the chance to ask C.K. the following questions. "Louie" is currently in production in New York City, and will return to television this summer.
The TV Junkie: How does an episode of "Louie" get created?
Louis C.K.: The way I put the show together is that I write and shoot bits and then assemble them. There are things that I've shot that will never appear in the show because I couldn't find a spot for them. But it's a great retrofitting way to run a show - you just keep creating compelling material and find a way to put it together. It's kind of the way my stand-up evolves, I come up with a bit here and a bit there and they start to grow into comedy.
The TV Junkie: You seem so much happier in person.
Louis C.K.: Who? Me?
The TV Junkie: Are you a happy person.
Louis C.K.: [Laughs] Yes, I am, but I don't think the happy things about my life are funny or interesting.
The TV Junkie: Do you think life is over at 42?
Louis C.K.: Oh, no. I'm 43 and I have a whole bunch of challenges. [Laughs]
The TV Junkie: Do you worry?
Louis C.K.: Yes, I do, and you should too. Worrying is an engaging and compelling feeling. So if you are worrying about something I think that's positive.
The TV Junkie: You were on Conan, talking about the miracle of flying, and yet people are complaining about it. The kind of entitled attitude about it. Are you are grateful kind of guy?
Louis C.K.: Yes, I am, I am grateful all the time and I'm more aware now than I used to be, of the contrast of my life with other peoples lives. All of us here, we're warm and well-fed. but that stuff never escapes me. There are people here in America that can't walk into certain places. Like in New York, you'll see a homeless guy walk into a Barnes & Noble and they just go "Get the fuck out of here!" He can't even walk in and I can walk into anywhere. When I walk into a Ritz, they say "Welcome back, sir." They just look at me and just go, "Well, he's probably been to a Ritz. Let's say 'Welcome back'." Because there's no downside to being wrong in that statement.
The TV Junkie: What kind of home environment were you raised in?
Louis C.K.: I think my Mom would say lower to lower-middle class. Raised by a single mom where we rented a floor of the house. There were 4 of us kids. I used to say "I'm hungry." And she would say "Go make a baloney sandwich." And I would say "But I don't want that." And then she would say "Then you're not hungry." She was a very economic shopper.
I did pretty well in stand-up but I had a lot of struggling years, on my own. Not my family. But my first few years in New York I was really struggling, but it was fun struggling.
The TV Junkie: What's your experience with New York street crime? Have you really had to deal with a bullying or mugging?
Louis C.K.: Yeah! Well, I had a couple of guys that threw rocks at me. Big rocks like this [motions to size of a brick] , I don't even know where they got them. These guys were walking behind me and they starting heaving big rocks at me. So I ran away and I found two cops sitting in a cruiser, and I said "Two guys are chasing me and throwing rocks at me." And they just went [shrugs].
In New York stuff like that happens to you and you just keep moving on with your day. It isn't a big trauma where your friend makes you tea and gives you a blanket and takes you to a crisis center. You just get on with your day. It's been a while since anything happened to me. I live in Manhattan and you can't stand on the island of Manhattan if you aren't wealthy. You won't get through the gauntlet that it takes to get there. It costs like eighty bucks just to get through Manhattan.
The TV Junkie: Do you have a love/hate relationship with New York?
Louis C.K.: Yeah, I do. I whine but I just love it, really though. I love the dirty parts, I love all the awful things better than I thought I would. You could be in a park and it's a beautiful day and then there's a guy over there masturbating, and your kids are there, but you gotta love it though, it keeps you on your toes.
The TV Junkie: In that long string of credits next to your name in "Louie": writing/directing/producing/acting/editing/etc. what is the discipline that you felt that you had to work the most on?
Louis C.K.: Well, the editing is the hardest thing because I'm doing that while I'm doing everything else. But I can't get around that I need to edit the show. Editing is the interpretation of all the work, it's how you finish the show, and that's hard. Because I'm usually shooting and writing while I'm editing. And the writing is terrifying too because it may never come again. Once something is written, you can do a shitty version of it, you can direct and act a shitty version of it. But the scary thing is that I'll never come up with another idea. I'm always convinced, even right now, that I've written the last thing I'm ever going to write. And I've just been hired to write a bunch more of these. I'm in a lot of trouble, I feel like I'm always in a lot of trouble. I lose sleep over the writing.
The TV Junkie: So Oprah has her own network, if you had your own network, what would be on it?
Louis C.K.: That's funny because I used to think about that, if I took over a network. I would approach it the way John [Landgraf - Prez of FX] does which is to start with the people, and then you just give them the opportunity. If you find really talented people and you say, "Here's a little bit of money, do anything you want." John said to me once, that he wanted to do that when he was at NBC. He said that if he would have $10 million to do pilots with, rather than do just one pilot with all the obvious bets with talent, and pedigreed writers, why not do ten $1 million pilots and tell them to do whatever they want. You'll come up with probably 3 great shows with that formula.