Louie Season Three launched last night on FX with a great show as, lets be honest, we all knew it would. It’s gotten great reviews and is poised to be one of the most popular shows this summer by far. I was ever so fortunate to sit down and have a little phone chat with Louis C.K. himself this week in anticipation of the new season. The comedian, writer, director, producer, father, actor shared what it’s like wearing so many different hats, where the idea for Louie came from and his affinity for supporting comedians and comedy in general (not to mention all the guest stars we can expect this season).
Interviewer: I realized you kind of make an effort to put a lot of younger, especially New York, comics on your show, and last year in Chicago you had a couple of sold-out shows with some of the older comics who influenced you when you were starting. Can you talk about why it’s important for you to do stuff like that?
LCK: Well, I do love standup. I love comedians. They’re my community. And also, I guess, because I know so many of them, I know the value of them. I know what they can do. Comedians work great as actors because they’re good under pressure. A lot of actors you have to sort of make them feel like everything’s going really well to get a good performance out of them. But if you have a comedian on the set, you can tell them, “Hey, you really are screwing this up,” and then they just get better. So they’re valuable that way. And I loved, yeah, I loved bringing Steven Wright and Richard Lewis to my show in Chicago. That was really fun to do. They paid me a lot for the show, so I figured, “I don’t need all this money. I’d rather have a great, great bunch of opening acts.
Interviewer: Can you talk about how the show started in the very beginning—how it came to be?
LCK: Well, I was doing just my standup, and I was in L.A. and taking some meetings about doing a T.V. show, and FX approached me about doing a show cheaply and with a lot of freedom. So we tried the pilot that way. I told them if they could just give me the money and let me try to do the pilot my way, it would be worth it. So they gave me a very small amount of money, and I made a show with it that they liked. So that’s it. That was the model we’ve been working on since then.
Interviewer: Are there any guest stars in particular that you’re looking forward to that we’ll see this season?
LCK: I got a lot of great people this year. I won’t tell you all of them, but Melissa Leo is in the second episode. Hold on one second. Sorry. Hi, sorry about that. I’m trying to get breakfast, and it’s taking me all day. Okay, so Melissa Leo—F. Murray Abraham comes back; he’s one of my favorite guys ever. Robin Williams does a thing on the show later in the season. Jerry Seinfeld is on the show. There are a lot of guest stars that are piling up, and I’m excited about it.
Interviewer: You put in scenes with your ex-wife now who was kind of a silent character in the past. Can you talk about that choice to bring her out into the show now?
LCK: Well, the show needs to keep going, and so I’m introducing new elements each year. I try to do something new that’s new to the show. The stories that I wrote really led me to her. The show has really broken off into fiction much more in the last year and this year, and so it’s really not drawing from my life so much anymore. This ex-wife character is completely not anything like my real ex-wife. When I was drawing from my own life, I didn’t want to have the story be about an ex-husband and ex-wife. That relationship wasn’t what I wanted to write about. But I arrived at a version of it for this character that I thought was really good, this woman who’s well put together and kind of an added pressure to his life. And the actress was so good.
A lot of the stuff that we do on the show, I’m not sure I’m going to do it until I see who’s playing it. It’s part of having the freedom without a network, that you don’t have to run all the scripts and casting by people. I wrote a script with her in it, and I had the casting people go look for someone, and I told them open it way up and just bring anybody. And I really liked what this woman did, so I decided to stick with the character.
Interviewer: There’s a romantic wistfulness about this season. We really sense kind of like you’re ready for—you’re ready to reclaim your family and have peace, you know? I just got a sense of watching the five episodes that you’re just ready—your character is ready to commit to something. Am I wrong?
LCK: No, that’s a really good observation. I think that’s what I felt like writing this one was that this guy—let him try, let’s say, take a little bit bigger swings at being with somebody is kind of like what I feel like was going on too. I never have, like, a defining sense of it exactly, but I’d say that that’s definitely true of this year, and it gets to be more so. Yeah, I’m definitely trying to—it’s more about family and missing being in a family and being in a relationship and that kind of stuff. That keeps happening.
Interviewer: Tell me how Melissa Leo got cast; she’s not well known for comic parts.
LCK: I love Melissa Leo very much as an actor, and so she was in my head. When I wrote the thing that she’s in, I wrote it in my head for the kind of women I knew in Boston growing up, and then it just hit me Melissa Leo would be amazing. It was very simple: we sent it to her reps, and in a few days she said yes. She just really responded to the material, and she showed up and took it very seriously. She really approached it the way I wanted her to as an actress, you know?
On my show, there’s not really a comedy muscle you have to use. We play most of the scenes kind of real or to—we play them straight for comedy rather than—you know, our eyebrows don’t all go up like they do on most sitcoms, so somebody like her is perfect for my show.
Interviewer: And she (Melissa Leo) didn’t have any hesitation at all about the material itself? Was all that scripted, or was some of it improvised?
LCK: It’s all strictly scripted. We don’t really improvise on my show. I guess if she would’ve had any problems, she wouldn’t have shown up. But she was eager to—I mean, it was hard for her to get into our set. She was shooting something in New Orleans, so we flew her in for a quick two days, and we had to sort of jam everything into two days. But that’s how much she wanted it. She really wanted to do it.
Interviewer: I also wanted to ask you about the joke your daughter tells in the second episode where you mention that you get this feeling where you love it because you don’t know where it’s going to go already when she starts it. I feel that way when I watch your show, but the scenes—and I mean this in the most kiss-ass way possible—is that a feeling that you’re trying to get out of your viewers, where they don’t know where the scene is going to go, and they just trust you that it’s going to be funny?
LCK: Yeah, I think that’s a great thing to be able to do if you can is take people down a road that they’re really unsure of, and have something down that road happen that they like what they saw. There’s definitely well-worn paths to laughter, and everybody knows where they are, and one way to do it is just to walk down those paths cheerfully and everybody laughs. But it’s really fun to go into territory where they’re not sure how to—that’s what I enjoy. It’s just what I like. I like when I’m watching something and I kind of feel like I’m in a wilderness. I don’t know where it’s headed, and then I get somewhere and I go, “Wow, that’s what he was doing.
Interviewer: My question was more about this DIY concept that you’ve had for a lot of your standup, whether it’s the tour, or last time it was your release. This time you just announced you’re selling tickets directly to your—to your tour directly through your site. Just tell me how difficult that was to pull off, what was involved, and kind of, I guess, your motivation for going that route?
LCK: It was really hard, but it was really fun. I’m a very curious person, and so whenever I get into a new facet of what I do, I like to learn about it, and then when I learn about it, I start asking questions, like, “Why does it have to be this way,” you know? So as I’ve toured over the last couple of years in the big theaters and found out how it works, and I get angry e-mails from fans of how much they’re paying that’s not even part of the ticket price, and I start to understand the economics of promotion and ticket sales and all that stuff, I got really curious about could we do what I did with Live at the Beacon on the Road.
So my agent, Mike Berkowitz, and I started to go around the country with—it was a lot of work. But something I learned from the show, from Louie, is that whenever we’re going to do something that’s really difficult, we do it much later in the season, and we just spend a lot of deliberate, careful time preparing it.
So in this case with the theaters, we had to go to every city, and any city that we couldn’t play the usual venue because of how the ticket companies have it set up—they sort of have these places locked down or they own a lot of them—we had to find places that were willing to do it our way. And it was kind of a risk. I felt like it was a bigger risk than Live at the Beacon because if that didn’t work out, it was just going to be this pile sitting there that nobody wanted. But in this case, these are shows in 25 or so cities that it would’ve been empty.
Anyway, it worked. I mean, as of today we’ve sold 92,000 tickets, and the tour has grossed $4.1 million. That’s not all money that I get, but that’s how much is in our box office. We’ve sold out, I think, 20 shows now, added the show in about 10 cities. So it worked. That’s really fun when you do something like that and it works. It’s worth the hard work.
Interviewer: Just real quickly, can you talk any about what Jerry Seinfeld will be doing on the show? Will he be playing himself, or?
LCK: Jerry is in—not the last three, but the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth episodes of this season are going to be a whole story of their own. It’s going to be basically a three-part story, and it’s kind of the biggest—it’s what we put the most effort into, and Jerry is in that. I don’t want to say anything about any of it because it’s got a lot of guest stars, and a lot happens. It’s a big turn for the character and for the—it’s a cool, fun story. I just don’t want to talk about it. But Jerry did a part in that, and what he did was very different than what you’re used to seeing Jerry do. Jerry turned in a really, really great performance. I was really happy.
Interviewer: I’m constantly trying to get across to my friends who don’t have kids how much funnier you are when you do have kids. I think I’m trying to encourage people to have kids just so they get it.
LCK: That’s a bad reason to have a kid. (Laughing)
That being said, I know you talked about this just a little bit, but have your daughters ever come across a scene maybe you don’t want them to see in relation to them or, you know, how do they react to stuff like that? Or do you keep them pretty shielded from some of the (scenes)?
LCK: Well, you know, there’s nothing—I don’t think there’s any scenes with my kids in them in the show that I wouldn’t want my kids not to see. I mean, there’s nothing that I would film with actual children in it that—
Well, no. I guess what I’m thinking of particularly is maybe like the scene where you’re, like, flipping off your daughter behind her back.
LCK: Oh. Well yeah, they don’t know what that means yet, but I don’t think that they’re far from understanding it. I mean, we’re all friends, me and my kids. They’re my best friends, and therefore I talk to—I spend more time with them than anybody else in the world, and so we all know each other, and we laugh about the same stuff.
My show is an adult version of the same humor that I share with my children. They know whenever they see me on the show or onstage acting really angry, they just think it’s hilarious because I’m not really like that. If I was an angry, detached, jerk of a father, then my show would probably be some kind of a nightmare for my kids, but they just think it’s funny because Daddy’s not like that.
I mean, I get mad like anybody else does, but being able to laugh about getting mad is very healthy, and my kids know that. We share a lot. And really, I can only speak for them to a limit. They are my kids, but when they turn 18, you can ask them.
Interviewer: You said that FX was really good about letting you do whatever you wanted on the show pretty much. Are they still really hands-off like that?
LCK: Oh yeah. I mean, I get nice e-mails from these guys. They’re really nice people. I mean, they’re my friends now, the FX people, but just personally. Like, I get a nice e-mail from John Landgraf or Eric Schrier or John Solberg—you know, “Happy Father’s Day, hope your kids are good.” That’s my contact with FX. Occasionally they’re curious how the show is going, but, yeah, we stay away from each other mostly. I’m over here; we live 3,000 miles apart.
When they come to town, if the FX executives come to town, I always invite them to the set. I’m not afraid of them. They come sometimes, and they’ll eat up our cut-up cantaloupe and hang out for a while, and then they go. But I think they like—they enjoy that they get to be viewers of the shows. I think it can be very tedious as a network executive that you read a—you get a script pitched to you as an idea, and then you read it, then you read a second and third draft, and then you watch a run-through and you watch a rehearsal, you see dailies. By the time it’s cut together, there’s no enjoyment in it.
But these guys, they get to be the first people to watch my show, and they have no idea what they’re going to see. So I think as long as I’m doing good shows, I’m going to keep this. If I turn in four stinkers next season, they’re going to come calling. I’m aware of that.
Those closing remarks didn’t seem to just be lip service either. There seemed to be some genuine love going on between the FX exec on the call and Louis C.K. Definitely both showed mutual respect and appreciation for their respective roles contributing to the success of Louie. After the Dan Harmon debacle earlier this year, that was a refreshing change of pace.
Louie airs Thursdays at 10:30PM E/P on FX.
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