Louie C.K. interview, new FX show features a ‘Tough Crowd’

FX latest effort from Louie C.K. airs tonight.  Louis spoke to a group of online reporters including Monsters and Critics on a conference call late last week. 

The M&C review was posted June 24 and can be found HERE

“Louie” is a single camera presentation that premieres Tuesday, June 29th, with two back to back episodes at 11:00 and 11:30 p.m.  The series is a pastiche of actual stand up performance and segments that have Louie in situations that underscore the message of his routine.

Jim Halterman I want to know, what’s the difference been for you in this show and what you did at HBO a couple of years back?

Louis C.K. Well, HBO, Lucky Louie, was an L.A. based studio sitcom.  HBO is a very liberal and creative network, but we still went through a network process and did it on a stage with the traditional run throughs and a studio audience and everything.  But this is shot in New York City by just me and my little crew, and so it feels more like an independent film the way that we run it, and it kind of comes together. 

We shoot pieces without knowing what episode they’re going to belong to.  The network is completely MIA.  They don’t do anything until they watch the episodes when they’re finished being edited.  So it’s just us making a show.  So I think that’s the biggest difference.  Besides that I’m doing a single camera show now instead of multi-cam.

Eclipsemagazine.com  I’ve seen a lot of articles and perhaps some on this call that have actually written articles in which they comment on how your format is very similar to the Seinfeld format in that it opens and closes and is punctuated by bits of your stand up.  But I think the big difference, allowing for networks and everything, is where it was a show about nothing; yours seems to be a show about everything.  Was that the intent?   And how did you move the series organically from your stand up?

Louis C.K. That’s well put.  I would say that’s the biggest difference.  Jerry definitely innovated by putting stand up in with scripted pieces, but we’re as different as night and day as far as what we talk about.   Yes, I think the way that it comes out of the standup is that a lot of the ideas start as stand up ideas of what I end up filming, so I kind of make a decision, what’s the funniest way to execute this?  Is it going to be to just say it on stage, or is it going to be to see it as a film? 

I think part of what makes it different too is I kind of swap back and forth between film and stand up a lot on the show throughout the episodes.  Also, every episode is different.  We don’t have half hour length sitcom stories that have a first act and a second act.  Often there’s something that’s just one scene, because I just wanted to show that one scene.

 In the same way that stand up gives you the freedom to choose how long you talk about something or just drop in one word about something, it’s kind of like a collage, an eclectic kind of a form.  This show, I wanted it to feel like that.  I wanted it to feel almost like a stand up set.  It’s sort of herky-jerky different, different lengths of pieces, different … on things, different reasons and tones for talking about things or showing things.  And, yes, I guess I am trying to make it about everything.   It’s such a simple situation of just, I’m just a guy on the Earth, is what I really feel this show is about.  So I can talk about a lot, a lot of things.

Monsters and Critics:  I appreciate that you had a lot of the Tough Crowd guys, Bobby Collins plays your brother and Nick DiPaolo, who has great scenes with you plays himself; you guys have excellent chemistry.  I wanted to know if we’re going to be seeing more of them as the series spins out?

Louis C.K Yes, definitely.  Robert Kelly, who played my brother, I don’t have a brother, and the way we’ve built this show cast-wise was that there is no cast.  It feels like when you cast a show up front, when you do a series, you’re making a series of bets that you kind of have to stick by. 

You hire eight people, or whatever it is in a cast, and you just have to really hope they stay compelling and interesting, and if they don’t, you still have to service all those people.  That’s actually how you talk about it in the sitcom writers’ rooms, is we have to service these characters, even if we don’t like them. 

So instead, we kind of retro-fitted it.  I don’t think that’s a good word for it, but I’m not that eloquent.  The way we did the show is that it started just with me, and I would hire somebody who I liked to just do one episode and see how it felt with them, and then if they were good, they sort of played their way onto the scene.  If it was a compelling enough character we’d keep that person around. 

I only hired Bobby to play my brother for one episode just because I felt like having him for that one episode, but he was really good and compelling and pathetic, so he’s in two more, I think.   Nick is in three total. 

Nick DiPaolo and I were roommates back when we were both struggling stand ups in the early 90s.  He’s still a struggling stand up, and that’s only because he’s a miserable guy.  He’s never happy in success, either.  But anyway, Nick and I have a very easy rapport. 

So he’ll be around, Bobby is around, but I didn’t want the onus of having to say, “What does this character say about this story?” or “What does this one say?”  Even if they’re not necessary, you feel like when you watch some shows, you just got to check in with everybody.  So there’s whole shows where you don’t see any of these people.  But yes, Nick and Bobby are the main ones, and Bobby doesn’t play himself.   He plays my brother.  Nick does play himself.

Small Screen Scoop If an angry person comes up to you and just says, “Hey, what’s your show about?” and you have 30 seconds to pitch it to them, what do you say?

Louis C.K. I don’t know.  I think I’d do what I’m doing now.  I’d go, “Oh, I don’t know.  It’s just me, and it’s funny.  It’s just comedy.  It’s comedy in many forms.”  That’s all I would say about it, a lot of different kinds of comedy.  I’ve learned how to be funny in about 20 different ways over the last five years.  That’s less than one way a year, which is not that good, and I’m trying to use them all. 

This show is like every idea I ever had all dumped into this show.  This isn’t at all the answer to your question, but it just occurs to me I’ve got all these movie ideas of movies I wanted to write and make over the years, and a lot of them are in this show.  I just hacked them up and made them ten minutes long and put them in the show.

Twocents.com I’d like to thank you and thank FX for putting you into the lineup.  I think it’s a great fit in so many ways.  One of the things that really stands out with this for me is it’s a real sense of place with New York.  How important was it that the city could be almost another character more than just a backdrop?

Louis C.K. Absolutely, I very much wanted that and I’m glad it came across.  I love New York City very much.  I love New York City in the way immigrants love America, like more than the natives.  Well, natives, that’s not fair because they’re all gone now, but meaning that I was rescued from the city of Boston by New York City, so I thank whatever every day for New York City. 

I love it.  I don’t think it gets seen for what it is very often, because the New York that I love are the greasy wall pizza places and the Lower East Side, and places like that.  So I wanted to show that.  You know, Sex in the City, there’s a lot of sort of wet street beauty shots of New York, but you don’t really get to see the New York that everybody inhabits.  You don’t see the subway a lot. 

And to me, part of what I loved about the idea of this project was that, the way I looked at it was, I’m going to California and conning these people out of $3.6 million of Hollywood money that would have just sat there.  That’s the thing about these shows.  If I hadn’t pitched the show and it hadn’t worked, it’s not like the money would have gone elsewhere, it just would have sat there in whoever, Rupert Murdoch’s house, I don’t know where it is or lays.  But I stole this money from them and took it to New York and we’ve injected it into the New York economy, and we’re using a lot of crew people that I’ve worked with for years in New York that I’m really happy to be employing in this.  New York is just infested with great actors that are just laying around, and we paid very little, but we got some of the best actors there are in the city, and they were eager and loving to work with us. 

The personnel we used in the city was great.  And yes, we really wanted to see the city for what it is, and what it’s like to just sort of muddle through it.  You know, a year of life in New York City.  That was a big part of it for me.

CHUD.com  What evolution took place between the pilot and then that first episode?

Louis C.K. It’s a good question.  First of all, it is David Patrick Kelly, who I love from The Warriors and 48 Hours and Dreamscape.  He’s an actor I always connected with.  We did an audition for that therapist part and a lot of people did a really corny, kind of beard stroking Freudian therapists, and he just did this really wild, really freaky character and it made me laugh the instant I saw the audition, so he came in. 

We only had one scene planned for the therapist, and as we started shooting it, he was just so funny I started throwing things at him, saying, “Try saying this,” and he would do it and it was perfect.  So I think we have about eight therapist segments.  I’m not done editing all the shows yet so I don’t know if I’m going to use them all in this season.  I think we’ve used about four. 

There’s actors that you love, that you’ve seen in great movies, and they’re just living in New York City, and they’re so happy to work.   And it’s so much a better process to just call New York actors and pay them just a … check to come in and really work hard for a day.  When you’re in Hollywood, and you have to make agent to agent deals and you have to clear all these hurdles to get one of the seven people who a network will approve to be on a TV show.

As far as the pilot, I think it’s very typical that a pilot is a little disconnected from the rest of the series, because a pilot takes like a year to make, present.  And then by the time you’re doing the series you’re a whole different person.  But this show also, there’s no reliable format to the show, and that’s something that I was always encouraged to do.  John Landgraf said, “I don’t care if any shows looks like any other shows.” 

We both agreed that one thing that makes television hard to watch now and to enjoy for a lot of viewers is the predictability, and that so many formats have been hit so hard that you know what’s coming and it makes it hard to enjoy it.  So this show, I think that people really never know if it’s going to be a whole long story or it’s going to be a couple, a few pieces.  Are you going to watch me do one bit of stand up to punctuate something, or really sit and watch me do my act for like a good ten minutes?  It changes every time. 

And every episode, to me, presents like a different game, a different visual game for the cinematography, and a different comedy game with the actors that I’m with.  The cast is different every episode.  We’ve shot in every borough in New York City.  We’ve had helicopters, we’ve had school busses and all these different crazy props.  We’ve been on boats, airplanes.  There’s been a lot of variety in it.  To me that’s good that you can’t quite peg, from episode to episode.

Telematicdan Blog You are listed as the only writer on IMDB.  I don’t know if I missed some press materials where it lists other writers, but if that’s the case, what exactly is your writing process for writing these episodes?

Louis C.K. I am the only writer.  That was a decision I made because I just wanted to write and make the show.  Writers’ rooms, they kind of gravitate towards a certain place.  There’s a need to perfect things in a writers’ room, and that can take a lot of fun out of a show sometimes.  It’s a struggle.  It depends on your personality. 

Some people love working with a writing staff.  I had a great writing staff on Lucky Louie, but it sometimes felt like Congress or something.  It’s like if you’re the president and you have the ability to just fire Congress, life would get kind of fun all of a sudden.

I remember when I got the green light to do this show, and my daughter was asking me about it.  She was about seven at the time, and asked me, I don’t know why, she said, “Are you going to have writers on the show or are you going to write it all yourself?”  And I said, “I think I might write them all myself.”  And she said, “I think that would be easier because you don’t have to explain to all those people what you want to do.  You can just do it.”  And she was right.  Seven years old, she was very savvy about production.

So it does really make it easier.  And again, like I said before, I can write stuff incomplete and start working on it.  I don’t have to prove it to anybody.  I like doing it that way.  The writing process for me is different according to what I’m writing.  With this show, I usually start with a moment or a scene or a feeling that’s funny to me, like these two people having a conversation. 

I want to see that.  So I’ll write out that conversation that I want to see, or that moment, and sometimes it will just sort of lead into a story.  Sometimes I’ll get interested in the voices I’m writing for and wonder what happens to them and then go find out, or the situation I’m writing about.  Other times I have the conversation on paper and it stops being interesting, so I go, “That’s it.  That’s done.”  So we shoot that as a one off instead of a whole episode, or just one segment instead of a more chronological story. 

Like the Ricky Gervais thing is an example of … doctors who you know personally who are inappropriately boundary-less during an exam.  It was a very simple premise, and I could have done like, let’s flash back to us as kids, let’s see what happens, you know, a bunch of things.  But I got Ricky in my head and wrote that out and it was done, and it just fit perfectly as a one act beginning and end, and then we did sort of a call back to it at the end with the phone call. 

So that got to be just exactly what it was.  If I was working for a sitcom and I had a room full of writers we would all talk about, well, why are we doing this scene?  Is it part of an episode about doctors?   Does he get his comeuppance?  That kind of painful bull ….  And then you’d actually probably throw it out, or you’d soften the scene.  Somebody in the writers’ room would say, “That’s not very believable, so we have to find out why he’s like that,” and the fun starts to unravel.   So what I do on this show is very much like what I do in stand up.  I just throw it up there, work it for as long as it’s good, and then toss it.

Telematicdan Blog   Are you tapping past experiences?

Louis C.K.  I like to think of the show as autobiographical fiction.  It’s me, and it’s what my life feels like, but very few of these things have actually happened to me.  I’ve never worn a suit on a date with a girl who wore a t-shirt, but I wanted to live those moments.  I feel that way sometimes on dates, like I’m wearing a suit and she’s wearing a t-shirt. 

I feel like I make horrible train wreck decisions, like kissing a girl at the front door the way I did on that date.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but I feel that way.  That date definitely encompassed a lot of moments that I feel like I’ve had.  I’ve never had a doctor like Ricky ever.  I’ve definitely had play dates where the kids play and the grownups drink wine and smoke out the window, and let their hair down.  That’s pretty common stuff, and it’s pretty much the only comfort you get in the world when you have kids in grade school, so I wanted to show that.  So some yes, some no.

The people in the show, none of them match my real life.  The girls in the show, my kids aren’t like that.  I’ve got two great kids.  They’re really engaging and they’re very sweet and they’re easy, but that’s not funny.   So the only thing I take from my real daughter and gave to the fictional daughter is that she is reading constantly.  She just shuts the world out and reads books, but that’s great.  But yes, everybody else I make up.  I wanted to be careful not to sort of draw pictures of people in my real life, because I’ve got to live with those people.  So the parents that are like in the PTA scene, I don’t know anybody like that.  Those are all people I made up.

Idiot Boxers  Your stand up is very dark, as is the show, and you said how FX is never really breathing down your neck in terms of the content.  But has there been kind of like, you’re writing something or your shooting something and you’re like, there’s no way in hell the network is going to allow this to go through once they see the final product, and were you kind of like surprised, it’s like maybe, “Oh, yes, that’s fine.  Let this go.”  And along those lines, being that HBO kind of let you do anything and FX , of course, has the obvious restrictions of like you can’t say things like the F word, does it cause trouble when you try to avoid just these certain things that are very prevalent in your stand up?

Louis C.K. Well, HBO, first of all, they let us say any words we wanted to, but HBO is a very thoughtful network.  The people that were working there while I was doing the show were creative people who were very interested in how the show was made.  So we did talk to them quite a bit.  There were things they said they didn’t want to see, and it wasn’t about language.  They just feelings about the show.  I’m saying that as a positive thing; it was a good experience. 

But FX, I feel like there’s no subject I can’t talk about, which is a big one.  I feel like there’s no story I can’t tell.  The tricky thing about my situation is that if you write a script and they flag something as, you can’t do this, you at least save time.  Because they don’t see anything until it’s been shot and cut, I run the risk of shooting things that they will then not approve, because they do have a Standards and Practice department.  But the woman who runs it is an extremely intelligent woman, and she’s great.  I kind of know what her limits are. 

It’s kind of fun to play inside of limits sometimes.  I feel like there’s nothing I can’t say on stage except for the certain words that they don’t like to hear, because they don’t have an FCC thing, it’s just Standards and Practices, which is them thinking about their advertisers and what they want to present as their standards.  You can’t say …, you can’t say …, you can’t say retarded, although since I said that on the Jon Stewart show they came back and said, “Well, not necessarily you can’t.”  So I don’t know where the line is with that one. 

There’s a few buzz words.  And then there’s sort of a general note about if you’re going to describe sexual moments, she calls it tonnage.  That’s the word, there’s tonnage.  Like when I did the thing with Bobby Cannavale before we went on the air of him describing the gay porn that I would have to make to make money, I showed that to her and I said, “What, of this, would you have approved?” just as an exercise. 

And she said, “There’s nothing in there that, on its own, couldn’t have gone through, but it’s a tonnage thing.  I wouldn’t have let you do this whole scene.”  She said, “The only thing I might not be okay with is two guys … in your mouth and laughing.”  And I said, “Really?  … in the mouth, that’s out?”  And she said, “Well, it depends on the context.”  I said, “What if I said something about … in Hitler’s mouth?”  She said, “Maybe.  We haven’t had anybody on this network say … in the mouth, but maybe you’ll find that.”  So there’s a feeling like I could get to whatever I want; and obviously, I don’t have some hell-bent need to say awful things on FX, but I like to know where my limits are. 

They have surprised me with what they’ve let through.  Sure.  There’s been a few things where I’ve been like, when Ricky Gervais said your … looks like a dog was sucking it off, and then he started chewing it because he thought it was a bloody tongue filled shoe, as I was standing there watching him say that I thought, “That’s never going to be on television.”  It’s on television.  So who knew?  I didn’t even get a peep from them from that. 

We had one discussion from the Nick DiPaolo episode because we used the word … and the word …, in that episode.  And that was the first time that she called me and said, “We don’t want you to use those words.”  And I defended the use of them because I felt like, there’s a difference between if I’m doing a scene where I’m buying an ice cream cone and the guy is black and I say, “Thanks for the ice cream, ….” 

There’s a difference between that and doing a story about race and about racial tolerance and about me thinking that I’m being a good liberal when I just didn’t know what I was talking about, and being pulled so heavily by this black woman and she uses this word, so it goes to an extreme, that’s a difference.  And she agreed with that.   She let me keep it.

Boston Comedy blog  When Lucky Louie came out there were several stories that talked about how it would sort of save the sitcom from its current sort of boring state.  Did any of that reach you?  I know you were trying to do something different, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into, “I’m trying to save the sitcom format.”

Louis C.K. That’s definitely not my responsibility, I don’t think.  With Lucky Louie I just wanted to do a good show.  I just wanted the show to be maximum funny, and I was inspired by the older sitcoms, like All in the Family and The Honeymooners, because there was this straight from the mouth to the audience laughter feeling.  There were these great performers on a stage in front of an audience.  To me it’s like, sitcoms had been perfected to this point where they weren’t shot in front of an audience any more, they were putting this little kind of perfectly timed laughs between these kind of Harvard graduate written jokes, and it just didn’t feel like fun anymore. 

So I wanted to go back to kind of a messy, ruckus, a more like—I’m not a good speaker.  You know, you talk, they laugh and the next person talks.  Like they’re feeling more like a performed stage show, which is what sitcoms originally were.

So that’s all.  I just wanted to do it because I wanted to see it again, and because I thought it was my best way of being a funny as possible with the show.

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