For years, Louis C.K. enjoyed a decidedly mixed reputation as a brilliant stand-up comic and idiosyncratic comedy writer whose best-known work—The Dana Carvey Show, the tumultuous first years of Late Night With Conan O’Brien, the surreal blaxploitation homage Pootie Tang, and the ambitious Norman Lear-styled working-class sitcom Lucky Louie—all happen to be high-profile commercial failures. In the past few years, however, he’s ascended to a new level of respect and acclaim. Through talent, focus, and a work ethic that is the envy of his peers, C.K.’s profile has skyrocketed, landing him in the rarified realm of icons like George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Bill Hicks, and his friend and old collaborator Chris Rock. He’s earned respect not just as a comedian, but also as an important social critic and homespun philosopher.
C.K.’s stand-up comedy forms the core of his FX show Louie. C.K. stars as a version of himself, a single dad navigating an often absurd and unknowable world. He also writes, directs, and edits every episode of the cinematic comedy, which radically changes tones and forms from week to week and features a few recurring faces, but no regular supporting cast to share the weight. That might seem like a recipe for disaster, self-indulgence, or a nervous breakdown, but Louie’s second season, which just began, is getting even better reviews and more attention than its first. The A.V. Club recently spoke with the workaholic comedian and television auteur about his exhausting schedule, training with Mickey Ward of The Fighter, and feeling a little overexposed discussing his family on a much-talked-about episode of WTF With Marc Maron.
The A.V. Club: How exhausted are you at this point?
Louis C.K.: Oh man. Very. I was a lot worse about a week ago. I really crashed because we wrapped production. The last episode that we shot was extremely difficult. It was a massive challenge. When it was over, I really collapsed. [Laughs.] I’m regenerated, I’m okay, I’m promoting the show this weekend and stuff.
AVC: Extremely difficult from a technical standpoint?
LCK: It’s a huge amount of work, and it’s also a lot of stress. It’s a lot of details and decisions and pressure. I have all these different roles, and everyone who interacts with me in different roles doesn’t give a shit about any of the other things I need to do, nor should they. So when I’m being asked to approve locations, those people really need their answers. They don’t give a shit that I’m not done writing the season or whatever. Also, the network is thankfully really trying to promote the show and get it out there. So they have a lot of demands from me, too. I was out here in L.A. a couple weeks ago shooting the last episode, which takes place in the desert, and there are helicopters doing military maneuvers that I’m directing. Then at night, I’m running into Hollywood to do these panels for, like, the Academy. They showed the first episode, and I had to do Q&As and all the stuff to promote the show. It was a lot. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are you able to have a personal life at this point, or is it just about work?
LCK: What I do is I cram it all into half the week. I still keep my time with my kids. So when I have my kids, I’m not working. We don’t shoot on my kid days, I have my kids four days, three nights a week, and we have to shoot the other three and half days. When I have the kids, I edit at night when they’re asleep, but when I’m with them, it’s just them. You know what: It actually benefits both sides, because that’s the only way I can actually do this. If I had this job five days a week, I wouldn’t get through it.
AVC: It seems like having children can be empowering and also maybe limiting, because it gives you power to turn down things that you don’t want to do.
LCK: That’s absolutely true. There’s some old thing about every child was born with a loaf of bread under their arms. Like they bring incentive with them, to take care of them and to live life. That’s how I regenerate. I spend time with my kids, and the stuff that I do that is very huge seems very little when I’m with them. It doesn’t really matter.
AVC: It also seems like you now have the power to say no to things you don’t want to do. I read that you turned down increasing the budget of the show because you’d have to sacrifice some level of creative control.
LCK: That’s exactly right. The show exists in a perfect pocket right now. We were supposed to be on at 10 p.m. this year, and they went to the ad sales people, and it’s a lot more expensive to buy an ad at 10 p.m. and so that’s the other place that’s changed on the show. That’s how we get more money, to go on earlier and sell ads for more. But none of those people want to buy ads on the show, and so the show would have to change.
AVC: Is making Louie as emotionally satisfying as doing stand-up?
LCK: Yeah, it is. It’s amazingly that satisfying in a totally different way. It’s essentially a gift. It’s like if you were a golfer, like Tiger Woods, and you’re just obsessed with golf, and you just get off on it, and then you find out, “Oh, I can also play major-league baseball and play in the World Series every year,” you know what I mean? It is, to me, at that level. I would be very lucky to have a stand-up career my whole life, but now I have this thing, which is I’m getting to be a filmmaker. I’m getting off at a lot of levels.
AVC: As someone whose core is stand-up, do you have to fight the impulse to always go for laughs when you’re putting together the show? Like the “God” episode, where you go a long time without anything resembling a joke.
LCK: No, because to me, I feel the audience. When I’m making these things, I’ve got them in my blood. I feel like I’m watching along with them. To me, as long as it’s compelling, as long it’s something worth watching, it’s okay if we’re not getting laughs. There are spikes in the show with no laughs that feel like laughs to me. They replace the laughter with another sort of high-registering reaction of some kind that is as good as a laugh. Also to me, in the “God” episode, even though there aren’t jokes, it’s funny to me. Everything that’s happening to me is funny. This long, horrible, medical speech is overall a fucked-up and funny energy, so I think that jokes are little insecurities inside a comedy. They’re there to test, “Are we all still here? Are we all still watching? Are we all laughing?” But in fact, jokes are stoppers. When you have a stream of funny, and it’s building and it’s building, a joke releases it, and it stops, and you have to reset.
AVC: There’s a structure to it that can be very inorganic.
LCK: And then it explodes, literally like a sneeze. When you sneeze you have to look around, like, “Wait, wait a minute, what were we doing? I just sneezed,” so a joke does that too, like, “Hah! Okay what’s the story again?” It takes people out of the comedy sometimes. I’d rather build, build, build, and “kabam!” Or sometimes you’ve got rapid-fire, like, “this is funny, this is funny, this is funny, this is funny.” I never feel like, “Oh I better not be funny here,” or, “Oh, I better be funny here.” As long as it’s good, good, good, I’m not pissing people off. I hope. I got angry emails from the “God” episode, and none of them were religious. All of them were, “Why wasn’t this funny?” They were outraged, like, “Go ahead and say these fucked-up things about religion, but be funny, you jerk.”
AVC: It seems like that episode broadened the parameters of, not necessarily what you can do because you have complete autonomy, but what the audience will accept. Because you established this precedent, it seems like it’s given you more leeway to go down an avenue that dark in the future. Was that part of the thinking behind that?
LCK: That’s exactly how I felt after I did it. I created it because I thought it was going to be a really compelling and cool episode, but the experience that it gave me was this stake in new territory. Losing the faith of whoever wrote me to say that they didn’t like it, I didn’t see that as a loss. I viewed that as a changing of direction. There was way more goodwill for that episode than negative. Those were all people that may not have watched the show. It staked out the territory that people who watch the show are willing to go there with me, but also, some people get irritated by comedy that’s funny all the time. I don’t like comedy. I like funny things. I don’t like comedy. Like, comedy movies are just, “Oh Jesus.” But if you get laughs from a drama, that’s a source you go back to again.
AVC: Marc Maron just taped a pilot for a show based off his life. What advice would you give him?
LCK: Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. If someone’s telling you, “This is going to work,” and it just doesn’t feel right to you, but people go, “We really need you to do this for the health of the show,” just don’t do it. Once you’re our age—maybe when you’re in your 20s and learning from people, but just say, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t.” Every part of the process for me making this show where the network and I were feeling each other out, and they would make a case for it, I would just say, “Well let’s not do the show then.”
AVC: Is part of it that you’ve gotten to an age and a place in your career where the idea of always wanting to be more successful isn’t necessarily something that’s at the front of your mind?
LCK: Well, you know what, that level of how much you can not have to compromise, and say, “Let’s do this it way,” it sort of goes up and down with age. Because when you’re younger, you can actually be a little bit more arrogant, but when you’re older you only get so many… I probably have a few more times around. If I can hitch on to some kind of stable success with this show, that can help me. But if this show goes away quicker than I’m expecting it to, I maybe I have one more chance, maybe, to have a show.
AVC: But is that something you inherently want? Are you comfortable with the level of success you have right now?
LCK: I’m very happy with what I have right now. I just want to sustain it, because it’s all very temporary, this business. It’s not like if you get a job at Goldman-Sachs, you’re probably set for some portion of your life. But I do feel comfortable because I’ve learned a lot of skills on how to make a living. So I don’t need to be bigger than this at all. I’d just like to sustain it. I’d like to keep the show on the air, and I’d like to be able to continue doing stand-up. I wouldn’t even mind going down a little. I’d like to do bigger theaters for fun one time around, but I’m at 2,000-seat theaters around the country. And I love that, I really love it. But if I go down, that’s a really high level of people to be drawing in a city every year. If I take it down to 750 or 1,200-seat theaters, and I’m able to maintain that for 20 years or something, that would be very positive. That would be very okay with me.
AVC: That figures fairly prominently into the upcoming episode of Louie where Joan Rivers guests as herself. Can you see yourself doing stand-up 32 years from now, still plugging away at it with the same kind of ferocity that Joan Rivers does?
LCK: I sure hope so. Seeing her movie, the Piece Of Work movie, was a huge inspiration. That’s why she’s in the show. She’s not hanging on, she’s thriving. Part of the episode is her playing onstage, and she’s playing at Atlantic City, so we went down there with a small crew just to shoot some footage of her separate from the episode. We just went to see her, and I went in there, and I love Joan Rivers, I always have. But when I saw her onstage, I couldn’t believe it. She darts around, she’s got so much energy. She just kills. She’s better than me, and I’m literally close to half her age, and I can’t run around like she does. It made me want to go back to the gym before I tour again. I would love that, when all this melts away, and I’ve just got my loyal following in casinos around the country like Joan, boy, that would be a gift, just to have that.
AVC: You seem to have an incredibly strong work ethic. Where do you think that drive comes from?
LCK: I love making the stuff, that’s sort of the core of it. I love creating the stuff. It’s so satisfying to get from the beginning to the end, from a shaky nothing idea to something that’s well formed and the audience really likes. It’s like a drug: You keep trying to do it again and again and again. I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work. I remember seeing this thing, a documentary about a Los Angeles coach [John Wooden], the guy who coached UCLA to huge wins, so they couldn’t be beat for three seasons. He’s a very legendary coach, but a very unassuming guy with thick glasses. They just won and won and won. They talked about the difference between him and, like, Bobby Knight and Vince Lombardi. He didn’t make winning speeches. He never made speeches about being winners and being the best, like, “This is our house,” that kind of horseshit. Never said it. He said that to focus on that, to win, win, win, is worthless. It just has no value. He’d address all his players in his little voice, “If you just listen to me, and you work on your fundamentals and you apply yourself to working on these skills, you’re probably going to be happy with the results.” I think about that all the time.
AVC: So the work is its own reward.
LCK: Oh yeah. It’s so fun! It’s so fun, and when we’re shooting the show, and we’re out in the middle of New York somewhere, and there’s someone screaming at us to stop filming, or whatever, we’re being yelled at by a local, and the lenses are all fogged up and everything’s all fucked up, it’s fun. [Laughs.] I love the group of people I work with; it’s really worth it.
AVC: There’s also a level of, “I’ve worked really hard my entire life to be able to do this right now.”
LCK: Yeah, it’s been a long road to get here, but I’m working harder now. I mean I’m doing more. I’ve had other shows and jobs that were really hard. Conan was a really hard job, writing there, but it was very fun. But if you let up once you got the gig that’s really tough—I mean, everything I’ve done up until now has been like an audition for this job. Everything’s been a training ground or a stepping stone to get to this, or a learning experience.
AVC: When you got picked up for the second season, was there at any moment the existential panic of, “How am I going to do this all over again, and all by myself?”
LCK: When I first found out I got a second season, I just absolutely cried. It was one of the corniest moments of my life, because I didn’t see it coming. I was already starting to have the feeling of, “Okay, well we’ll do the one… You know. It’s okay.” And when they gave me the second season, I was just very shaken. I couldn’t believe it, that I got a second one. And then it started to creep in that I had enormous amount of work to do. They actually wanted me to go on the air in April, and I had to say no, and I was scared to say no because I didn’t want to defy them. They give me everything I want, you know?
There was just no way I was going to be able to turn the show around that fast. I was very bummed to say no to them, but I had to. I had to say, “We have to wait until June.” No, but it is horrible, the amount of anxiety this causes, because if I fail at anything, the whole thing collapses. It’s the writing that’s the hardest one, because as long as some form of the script gets written, some form of the show will get done. I can show up and direct the show tired and badly, but it’ll get done. I can act despondently and have a sore throat, but there’ll be a version of the show. But if there’s nothing written, there’s nothing. There’s nothing the fuck to do, and I can’t rely on the source of the writing. It’s nothing I can rely on. I don’t have a room full of writers pitching ideas. It’s just me out of my head. This month we built a month into the schedule because of last year, because we got caught. We had to create a month for me last year to write in the middle of the season, but we had to do it on the fly. We had to cancel stuff to make that happen. But this year we said, “Let’s get smart. Let’s build a month. Let’s take a month off in the middle to program so it won’t cost us any money this way. It’ll be smooth. And during that month I’ll write the first half, shoot, write the second half and shoot.” But when that month came up, I was tired from shooting and I wasn’t inspired. I just sat on my ass for a month going crazy, wishing I was coming up with ideas, and I came up with none. It was unbearable. I think I wrote five scripts on the last day of the month, just to have something the fuck to do, and had to write while I was shooting for the second half. It was very hard.
AVC: At some point, did you think, “Why am I doing this by myself? Nobody in the history of television has written, directed, edited and starred a show by themselves. Why am I the first person to be doing this?”
LCK: Well, unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any other way to do this show. It’s kind of like if you’re a tennis player, you’re Pete Sampras or somebody, it’s like, “Oh God, it’s really hard, I’m the only guy on this side of the court. Maybe I should invite some guys over to help me.” [Laughs.] It’s just the nature of it, that it’s a single brain. Writer-staffed shows are just very different. I’ve been on them before, and been with a very talented staff, but it just was different. There’s a group effort, there’s a perfecting, there’s structural sort of decisions that get made, and it’s a culmination of a lot of different voices. It just feels very different than one person going to these very strange places in their head. You know, I don’t really rewrite this stuff. I’ll write one draft and I’m done. All else that I would do to it was cut, usually on the set. If I write a script, and I have a feeling it’s going to work, I just email it to Blair [Breard], my producer, and she goes and starts producing it. While I’m working on something else, that thing is building and developing.
I’ll start getting casting stuff, and sometimes it changes in the process. Like, they’ll send casting tapes, or online clips of people who auditioned, and I’ll watch someone audition, and I’ll realize, “Oh God, they’ve totally changed the voice,” and I’ll rewrite it according to them. That happened a few times. But mostly, I write the script and I’m done with it, except I have to make all the decisions that are put in front of me about it. And then the day we shoot it, I show up on the set, I have to learn the words I never studied. So I show up on set, and they give me sides, and I squint at them, I go, “Oh fuck, I’m saying all this?” and I just start making cuts. Or change something on the fly. That’s extremely, dramatically different than what you’re going to get than from something that’s been on a large monitor in a writer’s room, gone over by 12 people very carefully, and then proofed by one, and then sent to a network for approval, and then got notes, went back. All that stuff.
AVC: Do you see this as being more similar to filmmaking than conventional television?
LCK: Yeah it feels more like moviemaking. And by the way, the more people working on something, the more they create. If it takes 10 people to write something, you’re going to have 10 points of view, and there’s going to be at least four different ones in there. And so you’re going to spend time arguing down three out of four to get to the one that wins. That’s an enormous effort, and I’ve done it, and it’s harder than this. With this, I just sit down at the computer, and it’s like it’s just a keyboard, like a piano. The shit just comes out, and I press send and I get on with my life. [Laughs.]
AVC: You can live in the moment.
LCK: Yes, I think it does give it that quality, and also I end up putting a lot of the emphasis and perfection into how it’s shot. A lot of the times, the things that are really, really important to me in the script—I just know to preserve certain moments, visually and dialogue-wise. I think that’s what people remember about the show, like, “When this guy said this one thing,” or, “When that guy threw that ball on that car.” It was really hard to get that ball to break that car. That was a lot of advance work, that’s where we put the effort, was making sure that looked right. And then the casting is where you put all the time into having the moment feel right, dialogue-wise. Gotta find the right person. I’ve put my production people through a lot with like, “We still haven’t found the main character of the sketch that we’re shooting tomorrow,” and like, “Well you haven’t found the guy, I’m sorry. I’m not shootin’ this until we find the right guy.” So that’s where a lot of the stress goes, into finding the right guy.
AVC: Why did you feel like Louie wouldn’t get picked up for another season?
LCK: Because that’s just kind of the way things go, you know? Second seasons are kind of a big “yes,” you know? Because the more information they have, the more culpable they are for mistakes, the network people. In other words, when they pick up a pilot, if it stinks, they can say to the people who paid for it, “Well he’s done other stuff, and I thought it would be good. Sorry.” If you do a first season, it’s like, “We thought this was worth trying.” A first season is a shot at trying it. A pilot is like, “Here’s an idea,” and they go, “We don’t really know what the idea is, we need to see it for us to know what the idea is,” so they see it, and then the first season is, “Let’s try this idea to see if it works,” and then the second season is saying, “It works. Let’s really make it a part of this network.”
So at that phase, it’s just that the stakes were actually way up. There’s a lot of people at FX who pushed for this show that are very passionate about it, and they really get it, and they believe in it. They’re a small, core group of people. When they have to ask for a second season, they have to go outside of that group to people who are not particularly invested in it. I think there’s a lot of people at FX who don’t like my show who signed off on it. So they have to go to those people and say, “Well, we want to do this show where this kid pries the Jesus off the cross,” and then they write, “What?” so I have to find another way to prove it. They put a lot of stock in reviews. It’s like showing them that this is something worth continuing to try. There’s people out there who will like it if it’s given some time.
AVC: There was such a tidal wave of good press for Louie. That had to be encouraging.
LCK: Well, one thing that helped is that we’re on a small network. And we came on in the summer. There wasn’t this kind of, “This better be fucking good,” gun to the head. It was like, “Uh, FX is sneaking a show on this summer, and it might be good. That guy’s pretty funny. Let’s see what happens.” In Lucky Louie they declared they were changing the sitcom forever, and it was the channel that had created The Sopranos and all this shit. So it was quite different. People were very excited to find out it was flawed.
AVC: Could you talk a little about the final scene of the first season [a lovely, lingering circular shot of Manhattan at dawn as C.K. has breakfast with his daughters with a melancholy blues song as the soundtrack]?
LCK: Yeah, that was a big deal for me. To me, it’s really important to keep earning this. I’m not sure I deserved it when I got it, so every episode, I have to really make sure this is okay I’m doing this. I really wanted to have a season finale that really felt like one. Lucky Louie had kind of a season finale and I remember thinking, “Fucking last one of these. I kind of want to remember what everyone looks like. I may have to tell people goodbye in this episode, I want it to be a really good ending.” I knew what that shot was going to be from when I was sitting at the computer. I knew exactly. Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes you’re on the set and you find stuff visually, but that was one that I just knew. We’re going to be in this little thing and it’s just how I wanted to find the dawn in the sky.
I knew that was going to be what it was supposed to be. And we had to really be careful about what time we were shooting. The sky was black on one side, and purple on the other, so that gave us about five takes before it just became dawn. We worked with this piece of equipment—I’m really into this shit, visually—we have this piece of equipment we call the 7-foot jib, it’s like an arm that the camera goes on. It’s very expensive and time-consuming to lay track to move the camera. To lay track so that you can have lateral movement, tracking shots. It really kills us to lay track. We burn hours and we also bother more neighbors and it’s just not good. So we got this thing, the 7-foot jib, and it’s on an arm, but it’s like a compass, like you draw circles with. So when you move the camera, it’s going from right to left but it’s also going in a curve. It’s going in a circle, so as you move past the subject you’re also moving toward it, then you start moving away from it. And the whole show started to have a spiral feeling to it visually. So when you watch that shot, the camera starts on us, then it starts drifting away, then it starts drifting away at two axes, towards the left and also away, backing away. Then it corkscrews around and finds the buildings across the street, corkscrews around and then finds the sky. And it’s actually like, 1 degree away from finding us again. If we had kept panning over we would have come back to us. That was a lot of meaning to me for a lot of dumb reasons.
I had Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” in my head. I think I saw an after-school special about drunk driving when I was a kid, and they had somebody who was lying dead on the road and the camera drifted away and they started playing this Bob Seger-y song. Then the drums come in and the organ. I wanted to do something like that. I actually wrote that last song. I sat at my piano and wrote these lyrics about a shitty night. When my musicians, we put together, this sort of building, kind of emotional song, one of the guys in the band said he knew a vocalist, actually a British guy, had a very ragged voice, a really soulful voice. His name was James Maddock. And this guy came in, sang this for us. A lot went into that moment; that was a lot of work for just that one shot.
AVC: You talked earlier about having to earn those big emotional moments. By that point did you feel, “Okay, we can do these things. I’ve established that this show can be anything”?
LCK: Yeah, I think that by then I just figured, “We’re just doing this. I’m not fucking around anymore.” [Laughs.] I’m not going to worry about that line anymore in comedy about getting laughs per second. I figured, “This is good. This is engaging and it’s compelling.” My audience that I’ve grown over 25 years of being in front of them was telling me I was doing okay. And if it turned out I was wrong, which certainly happens, then it’s a very Darwinist system. I’d get cancelled. People would write, “Who the fuck do you think you are with this shit? You’re not funny, go away.” Then I’d go back on the road. It’s okay. It was worth trying. I think this may be a miscalculation with what I can get away with, and if it is, I’ll be really sad. There’s other pressures, there’s other people’s jobs at stake too.
AVC: But it seems like that’s always been a part of your aesthetic, seeing how far you could go, dating back to the first skit of The Dana Carvey Show.
LCK: You can find a whole different bunch of ways to succeed, you got all these different tools and you’re left with them when you keep working. When I did season two I was like, “Great, we are a show that gets to do this.” I think this season I get kind of wet-eyed probably too often. I think I went a little too far with it. It just happened, I just get caught up in some of this shit. There’s emotional moments in season two that I didn’t mean to be. When I was acting them I got choked up, it just fucking happened. So the thing I’m watching this season to see if it works, that I’m a little worried about, is that maybe I get a little too emotional. It happened at the end of the first season, when I’m in that hallway with those guys. I get choked up and I’m not sure it was appropriate. It just happened. I wouldn’t have put glycerin in my eyes and made it happen. That would have been bad. But it happened, so I let it be.
AVC: The last time we spoke you were ambivalent about acting. Are you more comfortable with it now? Do you feel that you’ve grown as an actor?
LCK: Well, I don’t know if I’ve gotten better or worse, but I do like it more. I feel more comfortable with it, I do. I’m less ill at ease about it, and a lot of that is because I’m with this group of people now for two seasons, my crew. You always feel weird acting in front of people you’re working with and directing, but not anymore. They’re all my pals. We set up the shot and I sit in it and I go, “Okay, ready guys? Watch me do this,” and I do it. It’s just from repetition. It’s the same as stand-up, doing it over and over again, learning the pitfalls and finding what works. So now I do feel a lot better about it.
AVC: In a lot of Louie, you’re primarily reacting to other people. Does that make it a little easier, that you’re not the focal point of every scene?
LCK: Most definitely. Part of that is the workload thing. I can’t give myself a thousand lines, I can’t do it. I can’t carry the load; it’s too much. And so I think, just instinctively for survival, I’ve ended up giving the other characters stuff to say and I just look at them. I’m really happy when I’m really tired and I get to a set and I realize that all I have to do is listen to this guy. And I do think I’ve gotten better at that. But in this year and this season, I definitely go to more places, acting-wise. I get more excited, more upset. There’s more scenes where I invest emotion in stuff. I get a little pissed.
AVC: A wider emotional range.
LCK: Yes. I try, anyway. That’s what I wrote for myself, and we’ll see how I did. But, yeah, I get more animated and more upset, and I say more stuff. There’s more going on with my face this year.
AVC: What was it like to do the WTF several months ago? That was an unusually emotional and intense episode of a podcast that tends to be emotional and intense.
LCK: Marc [Maron] and I were friends for years, and then our friendship kind of ended, we drifted apart. That was kind of heavy for both of us. All of a sudden Marc’s in my house with a microphone, and he’s interviewing me. It was very surreal and strange, and I think we went to emotional places because we couldn’t help it, it was an emotionally charged moment. We were like, best, best friends, and he never knew me as a daddy, he never met my kids. So it was surreal to be talking to him about that stuff, and to be talking about our friendship like that.
AVC: Did it make it easier or more difficult that it was so public?
LCK: I kind of wish it wasn’t. It’s a little much to maybe that out there. It’s my private life. I think it got a bit much. I think I say too much sometimes. So I’d probably take it back if I could. I guess Marc’s podcast is doing well. I’m really happy for him. Whatever, you can’t have too many regrets. You just go, “Well, all right, people hurt me. Choked up talking to Marc about my kids.” It’s weird.
AVC: So how did you get into boxing? You’ve trained with Mickey Ward, the subject of The Fighter.
LCK: That’s right. I’ve always loved boxing. It’s something I’ve always been extremely excited about. And I’ve seen some fights where a guy is just getting the shit beat out of him, and somehow during the beating he recovers, and catches up to it, and starts winning. I’m in awe of that ability to do that. I think anybody who can do that can do anything, and that kind of made me always want to try it. I was living in Venice a few years ago, and there was a boxing gym down the street from me. I just walked in and asked, “Can I try this?” So the guy put some gloves on me, and had me hit some pads and stuff, and I was like, “I never want to stop doing this, it’s so fun.”
To succeed in boxing you have to think really smart and subtle things under a huge amount of pressure, which is that you’re getting beaten up. That’s why I like sparring and stuff in boxing. If you get into good enough shape, and you train hard enough, then when you get into the ring with somebody, when they’re punching you, you don’t flail. The biggest mistake you can make when you get in is to completely tighten up your body and run backward. You’re going to get the shit beat out of you. You actually have to take the punches and stand there and keep your game plan. That’s it. But it takes a lot, a lot of work to get to that place, and that’s an extremely strong analogy to stand-up, and doing a show, all these things.
AVC: You’ve taken your shares of hits professionally. Does that feed into the competitive side, the aggression?
LCK: No, it’s just if you learn to take those hits, if you learn to survive the bad parts. Learning to do really great work is one thing, that’s just fun, that’s just drinking cream. But learning to get in a train wreck and then walk away from it, that’s way more valuable, that will get you further. So I’m grateful for every time I’ve been knocked out, because I stood up afterward and realized, “Hey, I can get hit that hard and I don’t die.” And that’s a very valuable skill.
AVC: There’s something very liberating about realizing how much you can withstand, physically and emotionally.
LCK: It’s like something I was saying onstage recently. If you lived your life in Catholic rules and if you did something bad you would go to hell. What if you could go to hell and find out it wasn’t that bad? Then you wouldn’t worry so much anymore. You also find out probably that heaven is not that great, it’s like a Sandals resort. It looks nice, but you have to eat when they tell you and there’s a lot of German tourists with no boundaries. You just learn you’re on your own, and you’ll be okay with whatever you do. So what you’re left with is just doing what you think is right creatively.
AVC: The boxer and the stand-up comedian are men alone. There’s a kind of existential quality to it.
LCK: Yeah, I think so. But also there’s something about it that is just about fundamentally training correctly. Every time that I ask Mickey Ward, “How did you do it? How did you get up in the third [Arturo] Gatti fight and keep fighting after the sixth round?” He said, “I just trained real hard. I was ready. I was prepared. I just did my job.”