Louis CK is one of the funniest men on the planet.
This is not an opinion. It’s a scientific fact. I could bore you with all the research and graphs and charts and statistics, but the bottom line is Louis CK is gut-wrenchingly, tears-down-your-face funny, and his stand-up show is one of the most consistently brilliant by anyone working right now.
He’s also a filmmaker in his own right. After all, this is the man who directed “Pootie Tang,” which has been named The Greatest American Movie Of All Time by the AFI every year since it was released.
When I heard that he was playing a major role in “The Invention Of Lying,” I told the unit publicist that I really wanted to have a few minutes with Louis to chat if at all possible. They ended up dropping me off in his trailer for almost an hour, and the resulting conversation was loose, informal, and tremendous fun. Keep in mind, this took place in May of last year, and at the end of the piece, I’ll update you regarding a few of the things Louis says in the article.
Louis CK: Hey, I’m Louis. How you doing?
Drew McWeeny: I’m Drew. Very nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you. Have a seat.
How’s it going out there? Haven’t been on set yet today.
Great. It’s fascinating to watch Ricky and Matt work together.
[more after the jump]
It’s so rare that you see co-directors who aren’t brothers, or…
Right? They don’t even know each other, really.
But it’s a hivemind, watching them sort of put the scenes together. When did they approach you about this?
Um… jeez, um… long time ago.
Yeah, I mean… I think I was the first person they cast. And I’m just gonna look to see if I have, um… I’m just searching “Gervais” on my e-mail, since his was the first one I ever got. But the first time I met Ricky, I was at the last HBO Emmy party that I showed my face at. [Laughs]
By the way, I gotta say, I’m a big fan of “Lucky Louie.”
Thank you very much.
I think you guys got shafted.
Thank you. Well, we didn’t… we got twelve episodes in. That’s definitely not the shaft in my book, but thank you. Let’s see… “Gervais”… all of these are just e-mails saying “Isn’t that a great show?” That’s definitely not what I’m looking for right now. [Laughs] Um… “Gervais”… here we go. Okay, so I had just gotten the script. This is an e-mail from me to my manager saying, “This script is the funniest goddamn thing I’ve ever read. I’m dying to do this.” That’s from me to my manager on September 22nd of ’07.
So yeah, the Emmy party before that, whenever that was… like probably a year before, actually, not right before, because the Emmys are in September, so it had to have been like September of ’06 that I met Ricky. I saw him at this Emmy party, and I asked somebody to introduce us, and he was, you know, kind of having a drink at the time, and he said, “Ah, hey, how you doing?” Like he barely said hi to me and I was kind of really regretful that I met him. I shouldn’t have met him. And then I got a call from my manager saying, “You know that you’re Ricky Gervais’ favorite comedian? He wants to put you in his new movie, playing his best friend.” And I was just like, “Just shut up, I don’t even want to hear about this.” Because that kind of thing never happens, you know what I mean? So I said, “Don’t contact me about this again until it’s real.” And then he sent me the script, which was so funny, and so good. Like I would have been in the movie even if it was shitty, ’cause I think Ricky’s great. [Laughs] So this was way back then, but they weren’t casting, so they said, “We want you to do the part, but we’re not casting it yet.” And I kind of waited on pins and needles for a long time to see if I would get it. And then they started signing up all these huge people, so I was like, “I’m not gonna get it.” I mean, I’m the lowest-ranked star in the whole movie, easily. But they hung in there with me, so… I mean, they must have gotten pressure from the studio to get somebody bigger than me. They must have.
Well, it seems like they ended up going independent for the actual money, like how they put everything together.
Which I think you have to on a project like this, ’cause it’s… when I read the script the first time, my reaction was, “I can’t believe somebody’s saying yes.” Because it’s so original, and it’s so out there as a concept. Normally you can describe a movie using other movies.
I couldn’t even begin to tell you what reference to use for this.
Yeah that whole… I remember when I was at Sundance for my first feature that never got distributed, and my manager at the time said, “Oh, you know, we’ll just tell the distributors that this is John Waters meets…” and he didn’t even add a second person. [Laughs] Like that’s how cliché that’s become, the “meets” thing. “It’s John Waters meets!” Meets who? “Just whoever!” So… gee, ya know? So yeah, I thought the same thing, I was pretty surprised. It’s not a wish fulfillment movie. It’s not “Liar, Liar.”
Yeah. I mean, really, it’s damn close to science-fiction in terms of the way it sets up a world, and its rules, and every single piece of it, you have to think about.
So, is this right? For you guys, there’s no slang.
Everything’s very literal in terms of… as an actor, how did you approach sort of getting your head into that world and that tone?
Well, I really thought more about my guy. And the whole thing about the guy I play in the movie is that he’s very limited, you know? So that kind of makes it easier, like I didn’t even have to think about the whole world, ’cause… I don’t think this guy does. About the only thing they ever told me, Matt said, “This guy just sleeps, literally all day, lives with his mother or something, doesn’t work, just waits for his one hour to meet Ricky for a beer. That’s pretty much all he has.” So that’s kind of easy for me to play. [Laughs] It’s not far from my whole life, which is pretty much a struggle to kick up enough dust just to not be like that. But that’s my natural… that’s what I would be. Like if there was an apocalypse, I would be the kind of guy they find in a 7-11 with just wrappers all over the floor, and I’m sitting in the corner. So this guy isn’t that far from me. [Laughs] But I was really happy with it, and the guy changed from what they wrote to what I ended up playing. ‘Cause when I got here, we did a couple of scenes together, and then Ricky and Matt re-wrote a bunch of my stuff.
That’s what they were saying, is they wanted to establish how you cared for Ricky.
Yeah, they focused on the fact that he’s my friend, or I’m his friend, even though I think the comedic function of my guy is to show how awful his life is. ‘Cause this movie also does something else courageous that films don’t do much now, which is to invest for a real long time in what a loser the guy is. It’s like ROCKY. The first sixty minutes of ROCKY is, “Look what a loser this dude is.” Like the little girl he tries to help says, “Screw you, creep.” It’s just like an onslaught of, you know… the fuckin’ woman who owns the pet shop saying, “Go clean the cages.” Like it’s just so mean, that movie, and you couldn’t really do that anymore, because they want everything to be upbeat now.
The note that kills me in anything is “He should be more likable.”
Likable, and it goes beyond that. Likable and successful.
They want you to be really good at what you do, and successful at it, and likable. I don’t like anybody who is those three things. [Laughs] I don’t like people who are successful, I don’t like people who are good at their job, and I certainly don’t like people who are likable. So this guy, the comedic point of my character is to show he’s such a loser by basically being his best friend and being so much worse than him. Like just by proximity to me, he’s supposed to look bad. But then they added, “Yeah, he’s also really your best friend.” And added other lines, and that was… nice, so we’ll see. It’s also making it harder for me to be cut out. When I was just comedy, I was probably cut-able.
Well it’s a really remarkable cast, and a lot of people are playing fairly small roles, like they’re in there for just a bit. And I think it’s a testament to not just Ricky, but the film itself, in drawing people in who want to come and play these roles.
Have you worked primarily with Ricky, or have you had scenes with a lot of the…?
Mostly it’s me and Ricky, but also Jennifer, because I’m playing her cousin. There are scenes where I’m sitting right next to her, and just saying nothing, like we don’t say anything to each other, but… [Laughs] The only interaction I’ve had with her is my cell phone was in my pocket, and it vibrated during one of her lines, and I felt horrible cause she’s so… she’s a real purebred. But the caveman stuff that we did, that was everybody. That was fun. That was me, Rob Lowe, and Jeffrey Tambor. And Jonah Hill and I have a couple of scenes where it’s the two of us together.
Jonah just left, right?
Yeah, he left a couple days ago. Last week, I guess. And also, I forgot I did a scene where it’s one of the secret, big cameos, which I don’t know if I’m even supposed to tell people.
I’m not gonna pry, cause I think I know so much about it that there are things I’d like to be surprised by.
Yeah, sure. Well, he was… he is one of my favorites that’s in movies right now, and I was thrilled to see that I’m gonna be in the scene with him. And then we ended up doing a comedy bit together, like an involved, crazy fucked-up comedy bit. That was really cool. That was my first day on the movie, and I was very intimidated, but it turned out to be so fun.
I think it’s interesting because I love when comics get excited about other comics or comic actors. Like, I’m friends with Patton Oswalt, and he cannot sing your praises highly enough. If anybody asks him what’s going on in comedy, your name is always at the top of the list.
It always makes me happy to hear that. What Patton says about me always gets back to me through many channels.
It seems to me that, like, Ricky kind of inspires that. Because everybody loves Ricky.
And if they don’t, I don’t want to talk to them about comedy. I just feel like if you don’t get that…
No, he’s sublimely good. He’s also a really decent guy, and he’s very conscientious, but he’s also very silly. He’s like a child. The first day, I was really… I just got scared. This is not my wheelhouse, being a movie isn’t something I’m very new at, and I’ve had good and bad experiences with it, but I’ve had no reason to think I’d do well, and the wheels really came off the first day. I was like, “I don’t know my lines, I have no thoughts, I mean… I don’t think I’m gonna be composed, let alone go beyond that and actually be really good.” And then we sat down to do the first scene with this huge star there, and Ricky here, who’s distracted and not looking me in the eye, and I’m like, “Oh, fuck.” And I also thought he was mad at me, ’cause that’s just something I do. [Laughs] And I had no reason to think it, you know? I just decided, “He’s really mad at me.” And you know what it was? They put wardrobe on me to start and they said, “Is this okay with you?” They asked me, “Is this wardrobe okay with you?” And I said, “It’s not up to me. I mean, you should ask the directors. I don’t have anything to, you know… I can’t approve this.” And so all of a sudden they brought Ricky over and he said, “What?” And they pointed to me and said, “Is this wardrobe okay?” and he said, “Yeah. Fine.” And he walked away. I imagined that they told him, “Uh, Louis wants you to approve his wardrobe, and he won’t work until you do.” Like that’s what I thought. And so then we were on the set, where he was not looking at me, and what I’m not even thinking of is that this is his first day as the director and star of a feature film. So I said, “They didn’t make you come over to wardrobe for me, did they?” And he said, “What?” And I was like, “Nothing.” I was just panicking. And then we start the scene and he fucks up his lines right away, and he starts laughing. And he won’t do the scene right. And I know my lines, and he’s fucking his up. And I suddenly feel completely great.
And he wrote it, so… [Laughs]
He wrote it and it’s all his responsibility and he’s just goofing around, making jokes and not landing his lines, and I felt so relaxed and confident and happy, and I haven’t stopped feeling that way since we got here. He’s also very complimentary, like he’s very generous with telling you he loved a take, and he laughs right in front of you if you’re funny and ruins the movie. Like he laughs in the middle of the thing.
I saw him doing it this morning, yeah.
Yeah, because he won’t, he’s gonna enjoy himself, he doesn’t care. That’s the first thing for him, is he’s gonna have a good time, and that inspires a great feeling on this set.
That’s basically what the driver on the way over here was saying. “They get out of here by like 4:30!”
Yeah, we get out early every day.
And we get everything done. You never feel like, “Ugh, they could have used another one of that.” They’re very thorough, how they shoot it and how many takes they do, but they get it done. He’s not gonna put himself through misery for the movie, but somehow that’s translated to getting a good movie out of it. He’s very thorough. If somebody squeaks their chair during rehearsal, he gets really annoyed. And he has every right to be, like you totally buy it from him. He’s not being a prima donna, he just cares that much. Anyway, so, yeah, it’s been great. I mean there’s nothing better than getting to see how “The Office” got made. To me, “The Office” is like Beatles albums, like I mourn that there’s no more.
Although isn’t it kind of perfect that it is what it is?
Of course it is. I wouldn’t want more episodes. But it still makes me sad. That’s how important a part of the culture it is for me. And I’m getting to hang around with the engine of that.
And it’s such a big touchstone. Like talking to Jennifer, she was saying that for her, it was working on “Alias,” but it was because JJ was obsessed with “The Office” right when it came out, and it was always on around that set.
I think for a lot of people, that was the beginning of sort of this renaissance of really uncomfortable comedy, ‘comedy of the awkward.’ Like I love early Albert Brooks films, where Albert made himself just so miserable. MODERN ROMANCE to me is just watching him deal with Bob Einstein in the pill store.
Or everything, yeah.
It was just miserable. But there wasn’t a lot of that for a long time. Like comedy became very set-up and jokey. God, in the ’80s, everything was high concept.
And it is again now. Like right now, there’s not a lot of sincere comedy based on human behavior, or severe human fault, which is the funniest thing in the world.
Absolutely, and I think that’s why this cast, when it came together, it’s kind of a shock looking at it on paper.
But then, of course, why wouldn’t this be the magnet that everybody’s-
No, I know. I was talking to Chris Rock on the phone the other day, and he said, “You do know that you’re at the center of comedy in the world right now?” [Laughs] “It’s like you’re at the absolute pinnacle center of all comedy right now. It’s that movie on that set.” And I think he’s right. I mean, it’s an experiment, and we’ll see how it goes. Every movie has the ability to do well, but…
No, this is risky. It is not an obvious, easy choice.
Well, I’m really hoping that they’re smart how they release this. I hope they take this on an unconventional route, have a release that they go to festivals kind of thing.
That’s what I would hope. I think this is a great movie for like a Toronto or something, where people can come out of it and go, “That’s not what I thought I was getting.”
Well, ’cause the thing is, too, because of the star power and because of Ricky’s cache and stuff, and because they do have a little bit of money, it will rule the festivals. It’ll be royalty at a festival. And it’ll be pretty critically well-received, I think. The thing that’s scary about a wide release for these kind of movies to me, because I’ve been through it, is the testing for the post-production for a wide release. It completely changes how you cut it, because they show it to a certain kind of audience. There’s a lot of scenes I’ve witnessed shooting in this movie where my old studio-time reflexes go, “Yeah, this is getting crossed right the fuck out.” ‘Cause it’s not pushing the story, and the people in the scene are really uncomfortable. In a hilarious way, but dumb test audiences will just say, “That made me uncomfortable,” and they’ll take it out.
Well, one of the things that we built Ain’t It Cool on is that I hated the test screening process so much, while we were first building the site, that we did our best to sabotage it from the inside. We wrote about it mercilessly, we wrote about scores, anything we could do to undermine it.
Because I hate what they do to artists, and I hate what they do to films.
Well, they’re doing it to the audience, to me, because… I mean, I think anybody who makes a movie in Hollywood signs a contract that says… like they make it very clear to you, the studio. They tell you everything really explicitly. There’s no small print. You actually meet, or I met with the head of the bonding company when I directed “Pootie Tang,” and this woman made me sign a document saying that I had had the conversation. Which basically stated that if I start to seem to go over budget or outside of the bounds of what seemed a reasonable film economically, that they’d replace me, and they already had the director picked. They already had a guy on hold so that they can take my job without interrupting production.
Yeah, and nobody cares what I think. Like they tell you all this stuff.
Talk about sword of Damocles, man, that’s, uh…
Yeah, you serve at the pleasure of the studio. And you know that from the beginning. And it’s their money, it’s their facilities, and you’re using them constantly to attract a cast, everything, so…
But when it all comes down to some 15-year-old in Burbank who’s distracted and playing with his text messaging during the movie, that’s…
Well, they also don’t know how to ask questions. I remember, and this is sort of a weird way around to make this point, but I was watching “The West Wing” once. Did you ever watch that show?
Remember the deaf pollster? There was a woman who was deaf?
Yeah. Marlee Matlin. She was on a lot.
They were polling people, “How would you feel if the president was sick,” something like that. And everyone said they’d be upset or something, and then she said, “But you’re asking the question wrong. You have to ask the following question, which is, ‘are you going to vote differently because of it?'” You know what I mean? Like they ask people, “What do you feel about this issue?” Well, I feel this way. “Yeah, but is it gonna bother you to the point that…”
…you would tell somebody not to see the movie.
Yeah, and it’s like, “No, of course I wouldn’t.” I remember being in the back of the theater for a “Pootie Tang” test screening, and they go, “What bothered you?” “Well, I didn’t understand what the guy was saying.” Like every hand went up. So they literally asked me if we should re-shoot his scenes and make him speak English. [Laughs] And what I do though is if they said, “Yeah, but did it upset you?” “Would you rather have understood?” They would have said, “Well, no.” That’s what the woman was saying, that they just stop at that question. “Anything negative?” “Yeah, that girl was ugly.” “Okay, so should we make her pretty?” “Well no, since she was supposed to be that way, wasn’t she?” You know that’s how they think. The set-up to any good story is bad. The set-up to any good story is upsetting, people are depressed, or have bad qualities and faults. And they want to take that part out too. They want to make Lex Luthor, “Well, he’s not a bad guy. He just made a mistake by… killing Superman, or whatever.” Anyway, I should stop there with all that stuff. But, so, yeah, I think if they take this movie out and they’re creative about how they release it, it could be really great. People will really enjoy it.
So, now, I have to ask because I talked to Matt and Ricky about it, when they came to you and they said “Louis, we want this [referring to Louis’s trademark goatee] gone…”
Yeah, they called me. They called me at home together and they said, “Louis, we want you to shave the goatee, ’cause you have to look like a caveman.” And I was like, “…what?” [Laughs] “Well, Ricky doesn’t want to have a beard put on, he doesn’t want you to go through make-up with a beard, so nobody can have beards. ‘Cause if one guy doesn’t have a beard…” I actually fought them for a couple of minutes. I was like, “I’ve had that since I was twenty, and people know me as this guy with the goatee,” and Ricky just made fun of me. I forget the millions of things he said in that call that just made me feel like an asshole. “Well, we could have a little beard that you could just wear between takes.” So I realized of course that I gotta shave it, and I called Pamela who played my wife in “Lucky Louie,” and is my friend and told her, “I don’t know if I should fight this or what,” and she said, “Get your daughters in the bathroom with you and let them watch you shave. Make it a fun thing.” And that’s exactly what I did. And I also shaved long before I got to the set, because it will take some power away from you.
And it did. I felt really shitty the day I shaved. I felt awful. But it’s totally right for the part. A goatee means that you are at least trying to have some confidence. It’s very deliberate.
Yeah, they were explaining that the goatee is a choice, and you have to shave, and it’s a constant sort of grooming thing.
It’s grooming, yeah. See, I would never do it. But I think that it’s a really interesting version of honesty that the movie has, that trying to… to better yourself, it’s a pretense. It’s a lie. I have some favorite lines in this movie that are buried little lines, and he’s talking to his mom and they’re just talking about how no one in their family has ever done very well, and one of them, either him or his mom, says very simply, “Well, it’s very hard to make enough money in one lifetime to move up a class.” And it really depressed me because I realized that’s true, and it’s probably true for me. Like I’m probably not gonna do that much better than my parents, just because a lifetime’s not that long, and you probably won’t make enough money to enjoy a better life than the one you were born into. How fucking depressing is that? But that’s how close to the skin everybody lives in this world. And so the idea of, “But I’m gonna be a star,” it’s like you have to lie to yourself to do that, and so this guy, even though he has a special moment that makes him lie, he already has the germ, which is that he aspires to something better than he has. He wants to be more than he is. So he’s already weird to the whole world; he already doesn’t fit. I would fit perfectly. I’m like a pig in shit in this world.
I asked Jennifer this: how much of the thought process becomes internal where you can’t say certain things, you can’t use the slang, there’s no subtext, no metaphor, simile, all of that becomes against the rules. Because you really have to think about that, like if you improvise at all, you’ve fucked up the rules.
Yeah, I don’t. I mean, it’s all written, very well, so…
Does it make you think then about that in daily life after? Have you thought about that when you’re putting it all back on?
I don’t know. It’s so… I mean these guys wrote it so well and so simple, and so much they get from me is about him, my friend who I admire so much in the movie. So I just think about him, and the times we have improvised, where we’ve done extra takes of just fucking around, you just continue on the same stream of thought. You don’t just think of jokes and stuff that’s from your other life, your real life. But yeah, I don’t know. I do think about this movie sometimes in my regular life.
‘Cause the more I really thought about it, the more I thought there’s stuff in this that I can’t help but think has gotta re-wire you a little bit.
Yeah. At one point they were correcting me, because there’s this scene where I was talking about imagining. Like I was thinking about swimming pools for my mansion in the sky, and I said, “Three swimming pools… can you imagine that?” And they said, “You can’t say imagine. Imagine is too on-the-cusp, like people imagining things, that’s a form of lying. That wouldn’t happen in this world.” And so I had to say, “Just think of that, think of three swimming pools.” Like “just think of it” and “imagine it” were too… yeah, I mean it’s fun, the science of it, splitting those hairs. It’s pretty cool.
Now after this, do you have another film you’re going to do?
No, just back on the road. I just did a special in March, here in Boston. Another hour, which is gonna be on Showtime.
I thought the last one killed, man, the HBO one.
Thanks, thank you. Well, as soon as I finished that one, I decided I wanted to do one just like this in a year. And I had this big goal, and I wiped the slate clean. All that material went out the window, and I just started from scratch. I was on tour all of last year basically building an hour, and then I just shot it. So now that’s gone, and I’m basically just doing that again. That’s where my main income is, on the road I do theaters. The summer is about writing material, like I’m gonna be doing clubs in the summer, and I think I’m going to Denver right after this, and then I’m in New York, and then just all over the south, Nashville, Mobile, places like that, testing out new material that I’m doing in clubs in Boston right now, little open mics and stuff.
That must be nice to be able to work out.
Oh, it’s great. I mean, we get out of here so early, and I go to the Comedy Connection or the Comedy Studio and do like twenty minutes of new material. I’m stockpiling that, and then when the summer starts in earnest I’ll do the clubs. Starting in the fall, I’ve got a big Nashville tour, and hopefully I’ll have another special next year.
Cool. I like that Chris [Rock] has started doing that, like he does the special, and just burns the material down, then does the special, then burns the material down.
It’s very motivating. I’ve been doing stand-up for 25 years now, and I think I worked the first hour I wrote for about twenty years, and then it occurred to me, this is just stale.
Well, it’s like bands when they make their first record. They’ve been revving up to that forever, and then they have nothing for the second album.
Exactly. Because they’re on a twenty-year pace, but you can’t… and I remember listening to George Carlin in an interview, and he was saying that when he’s working, he’s always writing an hour. It’s like writing a book, he’s always actively developing something specific. So I started thinking in those terms. It also happened from necessity, like I did a half-hour for HBO right before “Lucky Louie,” and also the “Lucky Louie” pilot drained a lot of material out of my act. I basically took the best stuff I’d just been doing. When I started writing about my kids, I basically threw away all the old observational shit material and started a new act, and then the pilot and the half-hour killed it. I couldn’t do it anymore. So when we finished filming “Lucky Louie” and we didn’t know if we were gonna get picked up yet, I had a very smart epiphany, which is I’d better be ready to do an hour in a year. ‘Cause either I’m gonna get picked up, which means I’ll never have another chance to do an hour ’cause I’ll be on set for years, or I’m gonna need a job really badly cause we’re gonna get cancelled. And it turned out to be the second one. They cancelled “Lucky Louie” in October and I did the second special, which was “Shameless,” in November. I wasn’t waiting to find out about “Lucky Louie.” I was working really hard on that hour, and I’m doing another deal with CBS… me and Pamela are writing a pilot to do a show together again, but for CBS this time.
It’s funny, cause my wife is Argentinean, very proper, raised very Catholic. And live comedy’s not her thing. Like I’ve taken her to see Patton and I’ve taken her to see some other people, and it’s just not really her thing. Your act kills her, though, and I think what it is, is now that we’re parents and we’re starting to go through it, she completely gets that and it hits so close to home for her.
Yeah, I think that I’m probably closer to like a flawed Catholic, or like a bad person that moral people can relate to, you know? Because they really are as bad as I am, rather than someone like Patton, who’s just a bloody atheist. [Laughs] I mean Patton is just a fucking anarchist, atheist…
Well, she doesn’t get any of the “geek” stuff, she doesn’t get any of the…
No, he’s a countercultural, total off-the-grid, horn-rimmed glasses motherfucker. And I love him, he’s hilarious, but he’s totally in another realm. I’m like regular people, but I’m awful. I’m just at the extremities of their worst thinking, I think.
The first time she ever made me turn something off because she had to catch up, she was laughing so hard? “Saddest Handjob in the World.”
Oh, wow. That’s great.
And it’s like, “That makes me really sad that you’re laughing that hard at this.” [Laughs] That’s the thing. I think the show and the stand-up, when you watch it with your spouse, says a lot. You learn a lot about each other by what you’re laughing at.
That’s what I get all the time. I mean, when I do my shows on the road now, like I do 1000-1500 seat theaters and then I always go to the lobbies afterwards and meet the audience, because people like to come up and tell me that they watch it together as couples. There’s always pregnant women in the audience, always, lot of married couples, and I just like to hear them, it’s nice. I mean, that’s why we want to go back on the air. I was really sad when “Lucky Louie” got cancelled, ’cause I knew the show meant a lot to a lot of people, and I was really bummed when people targeted the show meanly, like certain reviewers went after it and I thought, “Fine, you didn’t like it.” But when people wrote follow-up articles on, like, “Take this show off the air”… it’s like, “You hated this, but it means something to somebody else.” Do you know what I mean? It’s one thing when a show is just shitty.
Well, I love it when something makes critics that angry…
No, I do, too.
… because obviously it hit them somewhere. It wasn’t just something that they could ignore.
Right. There’s stuff like Tyler Perry… like, to me, I relate to him, or relate to that, more than anybody else out there, even though I can’t really understand his shows. But the thing is that he has millions of people that just love what he does.
So to me, that just takes him out of the picture of judging him. It’s like, “Well, this is for somebody else, and it really means a lot to them, so whatever.” Even Dane Cook. I just can’t laugh at Dane Cook, but there are people who’ve got posters of him on their walls, so I’m like, “Okay, that’s…” It’s like going by an Indian video store, and there’s some lady on the poster, and I’m like, “I am light years away from knowing what that’s all about, but she’s clearly a huge star.”
You know, I love international cinema, love the world of cinema, and Indian films, Bollywood… I don’t get at all. I’ve tried over and over, and I just don’t get it.
I actually saw one that is one of the best movies I ever saw. I saw it in Taos, New Mexico at the film festival. It was called “Gudia,” I think. It’s about a guy who’s a ventriloquist, and he has a total life-sized woman doll, and they do a funny act. It was passed on to him by his father, ’cause his family has the ability to do like a female ventriloquist’s voice, which is a very specific ability. So his father teaches him how to do this, and he gives him the doll. But he also tells him, “You have to be very careful of her, she will get you into trouble,” and he doesn’t really pay attention. Then he’s doing a show, and all of a sudden she says something really incendiary and progressive about men and women, and it gets him into huge political trouble. Like the Anthony Hopkins movie. The doll takes over and starts saying things about women, and women and equality and stuff, and he’s screaming at her, saying, “You’re gonna get me killed!” [Laughs] But then he becomes a political tool, and the left wing starts trying to make him a part of their world, and he’s just trying to make money. And it’s all music, or it’s a musical. Beautiful movie. I never saw it again. I’ve looked for it online, and I can’t find it.
And obviously it’s the biggest film culture on the planet. So it makes the point, you know, that maybe you don’t have the cultural reference, or maybe you can’t connect to something about it, but…
That’s the way I felt about “Lucky Louie.” It’s like, “Hey c’mon, leave us alone, you know? I mean, people are getting off on this.” So I hope, and I actually think, we might have more luck on CBS. Even though they have a big filter and a lot of economic pressure to do things a certain way, I think we might be able to cut through that bullshit with honesty. HBO isn’t a place that hits home runs with what we were doing… really gritty, working-class… that’s not their wheelhouse, that’s not really their thing. So we were in the wrong place. We were in the right place as far as the language, but look, I showed my dick, I said gentleman, I did it. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t mind dropping all that shit and just letting the show be awful based on its content.
I love that it looked like it cost $1.32 an episode.
Yeah, it was supposed to. One of the last conversations I had with Chris Albrecht, cause he liked the show and wanted to pick it up, he called me all summer to say, “I’m trying, I’m really trying to get this picked up.” I think there was all kinds of pressure to make him drop it. But he said to me that he thought it was funny when he read reviews about how the set was cheap. He’s like, “Do you think that we’re that stupid? Do you think that I’m just crazy? We made THE SOPRANOS. Our shows have the highest production value ever. Do you think that we just forgot how to do that?” [Laughs] “That we just went ‘Oops! Should have gotten a better set designer.’? I mean just think for a second.” And then there were other people that picked up on it. I’ve had so many people say to me, “That show reminds me of ‘The Honeymooners.'” Yeah, that’s because I went and fucking researched and found the blueprint of the ‘Honeymooners’ set. And me and the set designer went over it, fucking with the dimensions. We knew exactly the size of that set and how it was built, and we actually built the exact dimensions as the ‘Honeymooners’ set at first, and it was huge. It was way too big, I think cause he was so fat. So we had half the size a set that he did. Also on modern cameras, I think everything looked bigger. We had wider lenses and all that, but that’s what we started with. We went through this huge, expensive film test. We tested fifteen different kinds of film. Not fifteen, but a lot. We did rehearsal film, we tested a bunch of different kinds of videotape, 24p. We ended up with this hi-def interlace tape, and it was a big decision, you know? I called Bruce Halford, who I did a pilot with the year before, ’cause he worked on “Roseanne,” and I knew Roseanne was the last one to shoot on videotape. She was the last sitcom to make that conscious choice. And he told me that he remembered she said, “Whatever they shoot the news on, that’s what I want it shot on.” That was her thinking. Which was a brilliant way to look at it. She didn’t want it to be an artsy production, she just wanted it to be like turn on a camera and here’s what’s going on, that it almost would look live. That’s what videotape looks like, like you’re looking through a camera. Film looks like you’re looking at an impression shot on film through a lens, and that’s a sort of removal from the performance.
When we had our first kid, we were still living in the apartment that I’d been in for ten years, and it was cramped and we knew right away, “Oh my god, we can’t do this.”
That’s what it’s like.
And TV doesn’t do that. TV’s always about people living in houses they can’t afford, and they live in apartments that don’t exist.
And everything in the “Friends” apartment absorbs comedy, it doesn’t reflect it. Like there’s just these big, beautiful throw pillows, and all these little nooks and crannies and skylights and stuff, and it’s just, there’s nothing funny about that. It’s awfully pretty, but I mean it’s like the set designers were trying to win set awards on every square inch of the place. That doesn’t make a show better, and film doesn’t make a show funnier, it really doesn’t. When I pitched to HBO to do it on videotape, Chris Albrecht said, “Well, I never thought you guys should have been shooting on film. I think that was a showrunner vanity thing. I think all sitcoms should be shot on video, whatever’s available. It should just feel like you just turned on a camera and started making a show.” So that’s why we made it look like that. And it was really funny when people were like, “Whoa, looks like shit.”
So do you want to direct film again as well?
Yeah, definitely, but I’ve got two kids and I’m forty. Right now the performing is really working. Another series would be really nice. I would love to have another series, because that’s a really fun job, shooting a different show every week. I would love to make another movie someday, but that’s the hardest job in the world, to get to. To do that is just work, it’s fun. But getting that job takes a huge amount of work. Like if I budget my time, which I have to, because I can’t really fuck around anymore, I could spend six months trying to get a film made. Just trying to get to the starting point of making a film. And at the end of those six months, I actually may not have succeeded. Or I could spend six months doing a million shows and writing stand-up, and doing an actual television show. So it’s kind of hard for me to go down that route. I’m a little gun shy of it. But I still think about it a lot.
I’ve come to the same place. I’m 38 now, and this is what I do full-time, and then I’m lucky enough that I do get to write occasionally. But even then, for network or for Showtime or for things like that, where it’s quicker, I can turn around and actually see the end of it. But I’ve been trapped in development hell at studios, and it’s a nightmare, man.
Yeah, it’s no fun.
And it’s a gamble every time, because you’re gambling on, “Are we gonna get in front of a camera, where I can actually get my bonus that gives me a living wage? Or, you know, do I do a network show and at least then I know it’s gonna get shot, and it’ll be fast, and it’ll be fun?”
Yeah, TV has lower self-esteem and they’re nicer. Film people are really fucking high-strung, and they’re very full of themselves. And they’re very careful, and they’re very scared. Because a bad TV show will not get anyone fired, ever. You just go on to the next day. But with a bad film, people get fired. “Pootie Tang” changed people’s lives. I mean, I saw that happen. So I understand now, the stakes. And I was pitching on a movie last year. They pitched me an idea, and I actually loved it and came up with a whole huge take on it, and I worked so hard on that pitch. I pitched it all the way up the chain at Warner Bros, and then the woman who was producing it hated me for some reason. She’s the last person I talked to, and I was pitching on the phone, and I kept hearing her go “Ew!” [Laughs] Like literally going “Ew!” I forget who she was. She’s like Barbara Streisand’s best friend, I think. That’s what they kept telling me, but I forget what her name was. But so she killed me and they went with somebody else, and then I just got a call yesterday that the guy just finished his script after like a year and a half and they hated it.
So they’re coming back to me. And I’m like, “No, I don’t think so.” Not unless she’s gone! And she may not be, I don’t know. But what is this, animation? This is like fucking two years later, ’cause I know before they even came to me they bought the book from a guy who wrote it in 2003, and now finally they have a finished script, and they hate it. They won’t even show it to me. They’re like, “Don’t even use it as a reference, we just want to start again.” And I’m not even sure I really want to do it anymore. I might do it. I told them I’m not pitching anymore. Just go ahead and hire me or don’t. So that whole world stinks. The first movie I made though, I think IFC’s picking it up.
Oh that’s cool.
So that might give me a tiny foothold into film again, so, we’ll see. That would be cool, though. Maybe they’ll show it in a couple little theaters, since I have an actual ticket draw, so I can actually make them a little money in theaters, or enough to print at least two copies of it. [Laughs] And then get it on DVD finally.
And IFC’s good about after-market. They’re good about getting it in stores, and they have good deals with Blockbuster and places like that, so they’ll get it seen, eventually.
I think it’s worth putting out now. I mean, that movie I made ten years ago, and I’ve been sitting on it because nobody’s given me a good deal, but now I’m like what the fuck, at least have it exist. Steve Carrell is in it, somebody’ll want to watch it. It’s got a bunch of weird name people, like Conan’s in it.
There ya go.
Yeah, so, we’ll see.
Since this interview, Louis CK has managed to set up a new series with FX called “Louie,” which does not appear to be the same pilot that he mentioned developing with Pamela Adlon in the interview. I’m glad to see he’s going to be back on TV on a regular basis soon, because this is a guy we need to see more of, not less of.
My thanks to the great Louis CK for sitting with me for so long, and to AICN talkbacker Ribbons, who transcribed this interview for me back in June of last year.
Tomorrow, I come face to face with Rob Lowe and am hit with the stunning realization that I am a horribly ugly man. Also, we discuss which superhero Rob Lowe could play, and the notion that comedy is not pretty.
See you then.
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