The Louis CK Interview

December 12, 2003

Today is the day to throw down.


Oh my god. I'm so excited to welcome today's interviewee, who has contributed some of the funniest shows and written some of the pants-peeingist jokes I've ever experienced. He's written for "The Late Show with David Letterman, " "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "The Dana Carvey Show," the "Chris Rock Show," as well as showcased his standup on tons of stages and talk shows. And he also wrote "Pootie Tang." Pootie Tang!

The Louis CK Interview: Slightly Less Than Twenty Questions

You describe 'struggling and humiliating failure' in the beginnings of your standup career. What were some of these experiences?
That would be going on stage and having people not only refuse to laugh but occasionally making "buzzer" noises or saying "next". Things like that. Also being treated meanly by club owners.

What did you do prior to standup comedy and filmmaking?
I started standup, in earnest, a year after high school. Between high school and stand up I was an auto mechanic for a while, I worked at a video store, I was an assistant to a photographer and I worked at a local access cable TV station as a technical director.

I once went to the 'graduation' of a standup comedy class and from my view, it seemed like the teacher taught the students two things: Pick one subject and run it into the ground, and write notes on your hand. If you were to teach a standup class, what are some rules you would impart upon your students?

I would like to teach a very simple course that is designed specifically to be taken directly after the one you describe above. I would only teach them three things. Don't write notes on your hand. Don't have any particular rule on how much time or energy you spend on one subject and forget everything that retard told you.

Your first film was called "Caesar's Salad." You describe it as 'pretty bad but it did okay on the festival circuit.' How did you get the film on said circuit?

I really just sent it in to a bunch of festivals. My goals were actually lofty for that film because I didn't realize how bad it was till about three years ago. At the time, I actually thought I had a shot to win the short film Oscar. I called the Academy of motion picture arts and sciences and asked them how to go about it. They said that, to qualify, I had to win a festival that they recognize. They sent me a list of those festivals by fax and I sent "Caesar's Salad" to all of them. Then through other channels I found out about other festivals and sent it in there too. Mostly it got rejected but it did get a couple of awards See, this was all before the Internet so I couldn't just google "Film festivals" and download all the entry forms, which anyone can do now. It was much harder for me, which makes me better than you. Anyway, I have to say that even when I said "it did okay on the festival circuit" I was being kind to myself.

How did your career as a standup comic and filmmaker lead you to become a television writer?

Any standup comedian who is doing fairly well has a pretty good in-road to television writing because there is palpable evidence that you are funny. I was working in New York a lot and doing well so a lot of people in the New York TV industry knew I was a funny person. That reputation got me the interview and the short films (which were funny) was what I had to show that I could be funny other than in night clubs.

You've written and produced for some seriously dearly departed shows. Is it very disappointing when a show you're working on ends, or does it come with the territory?
It is disappointing, and it does come with the territory, but you may be surprised to know that it is also always a relief. No show goes off the air for no reason. In most case, the actual death comes at the end of a long and terrible struggle. By the time a show goes off the air, there have been many sleepless nights, shouting matches and feelings of self-hate. When it finally ends, you usually feel a cool mist on your face and the weight of a dead fat man lifted from your shoulders.

You're from Boston but work in New York. What are some differences between what audiences like in different cities?
It is a bit hard to generalize because there are many kinds of audiences in both cities. But I would say that they are both good in their own way, and both bad in their own way. When Boston crowds are good, they are very receptive and eager to laugh. I sometimes prefer them to New York crowds because you can be more theatrical or absurd and more presentational. People want to hear your material. They don't need to be pandered to as an audience. When I first moved to New York and saw all these comics asking people in the audience what they do for a living I couldn't believe how boring that was. That never happened in Boston when I was there. So that's what I like about Boston crowds. But when Boston crowds are bad, it's kind of scary because the possibility is always hanging in the air that, not only will you bomb, but someone might beat the shit out of you. I think that had a positive effect on my act in some ways, but not in others. New York crowds are up for anything and they are insanely diverse. On a typical night at the comedy Cellar there might be 8 people who live in America against 92 who are from other countries. In new York, you can't really do an "act" you kind of have to drop the bullshit and talk to them. In general New York audiences are just tough in a very big way that is hard to describe but once you get used to it and start doing well, it's very exhilarating. When New York crowds are bad they are just noisy and distracted and most clubs won't eject them because they are paying lots of money.

What's the best joke you've heard lately?
Um… I heard something really funny last night. I'm trying to remember it… Um…. No, sorry. I can't think of anything.

What's the best joke you've written lately?

My favorite new joke is one where I'm talking about rape. I say that I don't think rape is always wrong. You could have a good reason for doing it. Like if you want to fuck someone and they won't let you. What else are you supposed to do? If I didn't rape, I'd never get laid.

On the FAQ's question of your site, I checked to see if you explain the "CK," but you don't. In fact, you don't on purpose. So can you, or is it a secret?
I don't feel like it. No offense.

You pretty much know how you will deliver your own material, but is there any sort of nervousness attached with writing jokes for other people to perform?
I love watching other people do stuff I wrote. It makes me feel powerful and less bald.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing a pilot with another couple of guys, which is going to star me and is going to be shot for CBS this spring. If they like it, they will let us do more. It's about me and my wife raising a baby and about how hard that is to do.

Do you bounce your new material off your wife, or do you keep your work separate from home?
I tell her new jokes occasionally but not often.

You've done work that millions of writers would be jealous of, but from your blog, it still sounds like there's an air of uncertainty and hope for more for the future. Do writers and performers always feel this way or have you gotten to a point where you pretty much know that things will work out for you?
I could be living under a bridge any day. There is always the chance that I'll bottom out. It's a rather unkind business. SO far I've been very lucky. Also, I think every writer/performer is haunted by the possibility that your skills and ideas will not show up one day and never come back. Mostly though, I'm pretty optimistic.

On that note, what are you still hoping to achieve, work on, or work with?
I would love to get this show on the air for a few years and build a larger audience to play to as a comedian. I would like to play bigger rooms and develop more as a comic. I would like to direct several motion pictures before I die on a rock somewhere.

Have you ever written humor for print other than on your website? Or are you more of a performance guy?
I like the idea of doing that kind of work but I never have. Except that I was a writer on one of Dave Letterman's top ten books.

You confess a love of "Paradise Hotel" on your site. What are some other guilty pleasures on TV, film or music?

When Cher's song "Believe" came out, I bought the CD immediately and probably listened to it a million times. There are more recent bad songs that I've gotten into but I don't have the courage to tell you what they are. The most recent piece of shit song I will cop to knowing all the lyrics to is "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia. As far as TV, I don't like really anything anymore. Even the shitty stuff is just shitty. There are certain horrible movies I have a compulsion to watch whenever they're on. There's movie where Dudley Moore switches bodies with Kirk Cameron. It's intensely bad but any time I flip across it, I MUST stop and watch the whole thing. I have no idea why.

Say the Red Sox had played the Cubs for the World Series. Which fan base has a bigger "But it's our turn to win" syndrome?
I would desperately wish for the Red Sox to win but I think the Cubs deserve it more because I think Boston earned its curse, not by trading the Babe, but by shutting out black players for so long and then mistreating the ones they finally signed.

How does it feel to be the 84th person interviewed for
I've actually been shitting my pants through the entire interview, that's how great it is. Thanks a lot.