The Many Experiences Behind Louis C.K. And Chris Rock’s Longtime Friendship

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The fifth season of Louie premieres tonight on FX at 10:30 p.m. EST. This is wonderful, especially because the 47-year-old stand-up comedian’s phenomenal success came much later than it did for others of his generation. He deserves it all and more.

Louis C.K. owes much of it to his intelligent humor, dark-ish demeanor, and incessant work ethic, but his longtime friend and collaborator Chris Rock is just as responsible. If fact, if Rock had never pressured Louis to stop writing for others (including Rock) and work for himself, tonight’s new episode of Louie wouldn’t be happening. And that would suck.

“Wow, I Made Louis Laugh!”

The two met on the New York comedy club circuit in the ’90s. Rock was already famous because of Saturday Night Live. Louis, however, had mostly worked behind the scenes on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman‘s late night talk shows.

Despite the disconnect, Rock surprised Louis during a set. Louis told the story at length during a 2006 interview with the comedy blog A Special Thing:

I remember the way I really met him was I was watching him do a set, and I had never even really remembered having a conversation with him before. We had been in a lot of the same clubs, he had come off of SNL and everything, and he did a joke and I laughed really hard, and I remember him saying from the stage, “Wow, I made Louie laugh. That makes my day.” Something like that, and I was like, “That’s weird.” Then he came off after his set and we became friends like in this one night.

They soon became friends, professional and otherwise. The two comedians had come together as a similar point in each others’ lives (Rock is only three years older than Louis), and their varied professional experiences meshed well.

That’s probably why Rock called Louis first when HBO offered him his own show in 1996. Rock wanted him to serve as the head writer and producer of The Chris Rock Show, but Louis had other plans:

So he called me right before I went to Dana and I had quit Letterman, and he said, “Don’t do Dana’s show, come work on my show.”

And I said, “I’m doing ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ on ABC and I’m the head writer and producer, this is like… Why would I do your f*ckin’ HBO show?”

So, Louis joined Carvey and a slew of other talented writers at ABC to help run The Dana Carvey Show. Considering the two show’s respective episode counts (seven for Carvey, 55 for Rock), you can already see where this is going.

From Cancellation To The Emmys

Louis might have torpedoed Jimmy Fallon’s audition for The Dana Carvey Show, but the tables were turned when ABC cancelled it after seven episodes. Sure, his resume included some big names, but now he had nothing.

That’s when Louis remembered Rock’s initial offer the year before. Hopeful that his friend could help him, Louis decided to give him a call:

I said, “Can I just be a writer, please?”

So he hired me as a writer-producer and I worked there for four years, and it was f*ckin’ awesome.

And f*ckin’ awesome it was. For five highly successful seasons, The Chris Rock Show killed over at HBO. Louis was only there for 23 episodes, but it was long enough to garner him his first Emmy Award nomination and win in 1998 and 1999, respectively.

It also helped to solidify his working relationship with Rock. Not only were they two fellow stand-up comedians, writers, and performers, but they were also very good teammates. So good, in fact, that their time together on The Chris Rock Show inspired one of their first forays into feature films.

“He Is The Blackest White Guy I F*cking Know!”

Fun fact: Although Louis was born in Washington, D.C., he lived in Mexico City until the age of seven. English isn’t even his first language. He told Rolling Stone all about his complex racial heritage back in 2013, calling himself “an accidental white person.”

Second (and related) fun fact: To date, Louis has three feature-length writing credits to his name. The first is Down to Earth, a 2001 comedy remake of 1978’s Heaven Can Wait, the second is Pootie Tang, and the third is 2007’s I Think I Love My Wife. All three films involve Rock and primarily African-American casts.

Consider the above clip from HBO’s Talking Funny. Not only does Rock call Louis “the blackest white guy,” but he repeated the same sentiment (and more) to Rolling Stone: “Chris Rock calls C.K. ‘the blackest white guy I know. I called him a nigger a couple of days ago.'” This isn’t to say that Louis’s not white, per se, but rather to highlight how unimportant stereotyped racial delineations are in his work.

Hence Pootie Tang, which was based on a popular sketch from The Chris Rock Show. The film it inspired didn’t work out so well, but according to Louis’s 2006 interview, it came during a very productive time for Louis and Rock:

Yeah, Pootie Tang just exploded. I mean, we did it on Chris’s show, and people were on the radio the next day talking on HITS 107, making shout-outs to Pootie Tang on the radio. It was just infectious….And then we took a big, fat shot with [the] “Pootie Tang” [movie]. And that bit the dust.

Despite the failure, the friends pressed on. The Chris Rock Show was already over by then, leaving plenty of time for them to try new things. Rock starred in a few more films, and Louis found sitcom success with the wonderful (yet disappointingly canceled) Lucky Louie.

They kept in touch, which is why Louis has a gifted watch from Rock with, “Thanks for your help, motherf*cker,” engraved inside for helping out with a script rewrite. Both he and Tina Fey, who was also a part of the rewrite, told the story to Jerry Seinfeld on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Grumpy Old Men

Both of these guys are getting old. Rock turned 50 in February, and while Top Five didn’t work out so well, his guest spot on Broad City was stellar. As for Louis, things are fantastic. Just about every major newspaper and magazine has featured interviews and profiles of these guys, and in almost every single one, they’ve mentioned each other.

Lately, these thankful references have been replete with the nostalgia of old friends. When the New York Times asked Rock about Louis’s “ascent” later in life, he responded in kind:

He used to write for so many people. “I’m going to L.A. and take some pitch meetings, write some shows.” Dude, write for yourself, I would constantly tell him. And some people are funny older than they are younger. Rodney Dangerfield was that. Redd Foxx was that — had careers as young people but when they got older, it was, like, this guy’s hysterical. And Louie, at 44, it’s the sweet spot for him.

“Dude, write for yourself.” Rock, who’d helped Louis out when he needed it, was telling him to stop writing for others all the time and work for himself. Sure, the 2000s are filled with his stand-up specials, but just about everything else he did was for someone else. His old friend was pushing him out for the better.

It worked because Louis has had a phenomenal stretch of hits with his HilariousLive at the Beacon Theater, and Oh My God stand-up specials. Live at the Comedy Store will be released soon, and he famously sold out several Madison Square Garden shows. And don’t forget about the additional Emmys he’s won for Louie.

It makes perfect sense that, when asked about how far he’d come in a recent Q&A with Esquire, Louis made reference to his friendship with Rock:

So we go down, and I’m watching Carmelo, and I hear the song “Louie Louie” and I look up and I see my own face on the Jumbotron. And Chris says, “You know what, man, you’ve got your own show, and I’m on Broadway, and we’re on the floor at Madison Square Garden. How f*cking great is this?” And we high-fived and we just felt so good. Both of us, we’re in our 40s — this sh*t could disappear instantly, never to return. And it will.

Bottom line? Louis wouldn’t be who he is today without his longtime friendship with Chris Rock. Too bad he didn’t help a buddy out with Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2.