Louis C.K. on eating pressure and providing an alternative to The Man  

Louis C.K. on eating pressure and providing an alternative to The Man  

Writing, directing, editing, and starring in a critically acclaimed television show while creating a new hour of stand-up comedy every year would be enough for most entertainers. Hell, it would be more than enough: It would be a grueling, exhausting ticket to a complete nervous breakdown, especially once single parenthood is thrown into the mix. Yet Louis C.K. has somehow managed to find time in his busy schedule of writing, directing, and starring in his acclaimed FX vehicle Louie—as well as creating stand-up material that has made him one of the most respected comedians alive—to completely reinvent the way comedy specials and tickets to comedy shows are disseminated. 

In late 2011, C.K. made headlines by selling his latest comedy special, Live At The Beacon Theater, directly to fans through his website, cutting out middlemen like cable channels or DVD distributors. The experiment was such a smashing success that comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari soon followed suit. Emboldened, C.K. has announced plans to sell tickets to his upcoming stand-up comedy tour through his own website, once again cutting out middlemen like Ticketmaster. 

C.K. recently completed shooting on the third season of Louie in addition to preparing for his next stand-up tour. The television auteur has also been cast in a new film from one of his idols, Woody Allen. (In a neat bit of synchronicity, C.K. hired Allen’s former editor, Susan Morse, to edit the third season of Louie, a task he previously handled himself.) The A.V Club recently spoke with the hardest-working man in comedy about his insane workload and enviable work ethic, his shark-like tendencies, and why he won’t he won’t be appearing in a buddy-cop movie with Larry The Cable Guy any time soon. 

The A.V. Club: What was the most difficult part of putting together the third season?

Louis C.K.: We shot a lot. It’s a complicated season. There’s a lot more locations than we’re used to shooting in. We traveled a bit. And I wanted the show to keep going forward and keep getting better. It was hard. But I wrote it all ahead of time—that was the smartest thing I did. I wrote the whole season before we started shooting.

AVC: It wasn’t like that in the years before? In the past, did you take breaks from shooting in order to write more? 

LCK: Yeah, this time we didn’t do that. This time I got close, and so I called an audible. I said, “Let’s delay production for one month”—this was back in February—and I said, “If you give me a month more to write, I’ll have the entire 13 written.” And one of my producers said back, “Well, if we do that, you get no breaks. We just plow through it.” And so that’s how we did it.

AVC: How can you not be in a perpetual state of complete exhaustion?

LCK: You know what? That’s the central question of my life—how to manage all of that. There’s a woman I see who’s not my therapist, but she’s like an old friend who’s a therapist in profession. She lets me talk to her like a therapist once in a while, and she does a great thing. Whenever I have a big dilemma, like this is a big problem in my life, she always says, “Wow, you’re going to have to figure that out.” [Laughs.] That’s all she says. And so I had to figure it out. I had to put some time and effort into figuring out how to manage energy and time and brain effort and all that stuff. I’ve got a bunch of different things I do. I learned that sharks sleep parts of their brain, like rolling blackouts; they can’t fall asleep because they can’t stop moving or they’ll suffocate. So they sleep sections of their brain at a time. So I do kind of a version of that, where I shut down brain centers. I literally tell myself, “Don’t logistically problem-solve for the next three hours, but you can talk to folks. Driving my kid home from school—don’t think about all the professional things you have to do.” 

AVC: How can you do all this without also cracking from pressure? 

LCK: I like pressure. Pressure doesn’t make me crack. It’s enabling. I eat pressure, and there might be times when I get a bad feeling in my gut that this might be too much, but you feel pressure when you’re not doing something, you know? When you’re getting ready for something, you feel pressure—when you’re anticipating. But when you’re constantly in activity, there’s no time for pressure to just sit there and make you crack. 

AVC: If you were an athlete, you’d be the kind of guy who wants the ball in the last minute. 

LCK: I guess that’s true, yeah. Although I really love the feeling of collaboration. To me, it’s very exhilarating when somebody else does a great thing, and it’s not me. When somebody else on the cast or the crew is the one who gets the ball at the last minute, I just love that feeling. I love it. It’s still inside of what I do. It’s really great. I know all of these people; I’ve been working with them for three years.

AVC: How did you come to hire Susan Morse to edit the new season?

LCK: Well, I was really having a hard time with the editing last year. I love editing, and I still do it, but I needed help. I figured I wanted to get the best help there is in the world, and I kind of threw out, almost as a joke, “Let’s try to get Susan Morse.” And, lo and behold, she was available. She was just finishing a documentary, and the timing was good for her, and I think she was keen on trying television. She had never worked in television. And if there’s any TV show she was going to do, this was the perfect one. So it just was a really good fit.

AVC: Was your interest in her based on her work with Woody Allen?

LCK: Well, sure. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the other movies. [Laughs.] She did edit The Warriors, which is another great movie. And Arthur. She’s got a great pedigree.

AVC: Was Woody Allen a formative influence on you, as a filmmaker and as a comedian?

LCK: Absolutely. He is the guy who took comedy and added an artistic, challenging filmmaking element to it. And so that’s obviously a great role model for me. And also I love Woody, just as a fan.

AVC: You two are famous for your ferocious work ethics. Did you relate to him on that level as well? 

LCK: Yeah, and also the way he works. He’s a no-bullshit filmmaker. He doesn’t add the Hollywood spectacle to what he does, and he just does it his way. He also makes movies uniquely, and he doesn’t waste any time or money. That’s the MO on him that I understand, and that’s the way I do it. We get an enormous amount done for the amount of money we spend on the show, because we know what we’re doing. We’re a very pragmatic company. I think Woody’s like that too. With Hollywood movies, there’s 70 trailers and a lot of drama between actors, and inflated salaries based on somebody’s other movies. All that kind of shit.  So why not try the model, “Let’s make this movie, everybody gets scale, and you’re done in a week?” [Laughs.] That’s a good role model.

AVC: You’re in Woody Allen’s next film. How did that come about?

LCK: That was a really big deal. In show business, when you really have a career that takes a while, you don’t get those big moments. You don’t get those “Oh my God, it’s me” things. You get the call—“You’re playing Carnegie Hall”—and then you go, “Yeah, well, what are they paying me?” Because how you get to Carnegie Hall is you sell out Town Hall twice in a year, and now you sell enough tickets to do a show at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall is a shitty deal: They have a high-paid crew, and the rent is high, and you don’t make that much money. So that moment that you think is going to be a guy in a tuxedo bringing you a pearly telephone and saying, “You’re playing Carnegie Hall”—it doesn’t happen. You have worked your way there in tiny steps, so by the time you get to Carnegie Hall, it’s as natural as playing anywhere else. [Laughs.] I’ve had a few times where I’ve been told, “You might be getting this thing that’s going to make you feel amazing,” and then it doesn’t happen that way, usually. You work in little steps. This, by the way, isn’t a huge career boost. It’s just for me; it’s personal. But I got a call that Woody’s making a movie and that his casting people wanted to show him my stuff, and so they asked us what to show him. And we said, “Some standup, some episodes, and maybe Parks And Rec.” And I guess we showed him some good stuff. Then I got an email saying, “Woody wants to meet with you and have you read for a part.” And that was a big deal, to know that I’m going to meet him.

AVC: You had to audition. 

LCK: Yeah, I was told he wanted me to read. The story I always hear is that he meets you for 10 seconds, and then he decides. He wanted me to read, but he also wanted to meet me. Because the other option is always that you either read for Julia Taylor or you meet Woody, that’s what I’ve heard. You hear these things. There’s a lot of different versions out there. But anyway, I went to his office. I got there early because I was scared to be late, and then I went in to his little office and… very nice people—his assistant, his casting director. Then I was brought into this little room, and he’s standing there, waiting for me, in a sweater. And he looks just like Woody Allen. 

That thought was in my head, that he looks just like Woody Allen. And he was very sweet. He said, “Look, I don’t mean to make you read because I think you can’t act. I know you can act. I’m just not sure that you can be this kind of guy. This is a very tough guy.” So he told me to go take the sides outside, think about it, read them, and come back. And when I went outside, I was overcome emotionally. I couldn’t believe I just met him. He was very kind to me, and I met him. It was a big deal for me; I didn’t care if I got the part or not. I really didn’t care. And I went back in and read it, and my heart rate was too high, I couldn’t control it, I didn’t do a perfect job, and they didn’t give me the part. But he found something else for me. So I got a personal letter from Woody saying, “You were too nice to be this guy, but how about this other guy?” The letter was very nice, and it’s my prized possession. It’s framed. If there’s a fire, I grab my kids and then the letter.

AVC: Did you read the letter in Woody Allen’s voice?

LCK: [Laughs.] Well this is what’s lonely about it, is that I read it not in his cartoon character’s voice, but in the voice that he spoke to me in in person, and I felt so happy to have that voice in my head when I read it. It was great. It felt really great. And I’m only in the movie for a week—I just do a week. So it worked out for me. The other part I was reading for was honestly too much. I couldn’t have done all that. I would have had to trade in time with my kids, and I didn’t want to do that this summer. I really need to be with them this summer. So I do a week with Woody, and then I go to my kids.

AVC: You said earlier you don’t have a lot of “holy shit” moments in your career, but you’ve had to have some as of late, like when you made over a million dollars on PayPal selling your special online, or when you were nominated for four Emmys in a single year.

LCK: Yeah, those were definitely big. The show has been a massive thing. That’s been huge. The show has definitely not been, “Yeah, sure, of course I’m getting this.” The show has been a precious thing to me, and it’s been something I’m horribly grateful for. It’s just such a big deal to me that I’m getting to do this. I’m aware of how fleeting it is. I’m aware that, at best, it’ll go eight years, and that a year after those eight years are over, it’ll feel like a distant memory. I’m aware of that. 

That’s one reason that I’m working really hard on it. I’m physically pretty banged up from this season from shit that I did. I fucking jumped into a boat that was 10 feet off a dock, and I really hurt my knee. I’ve taken such a beating. But I do it because I know I’m not going to get an opportunity to do this for very long. This is going to feel like it was only a few years as soon as it’s over. I’m trying to really slow down time while it’s going on. And it’s really important to me that I earn it, that I earn what I’ve got in front of me by doing the show as well as possible. So that’s how I feel about it. It’s a big fucking deal. The web thing was a huge euphoria. It was a crazy feeling. It was like physically altering. Looking at my phone and watching the sales come, like a thousand per fucking minute, was insane. I was in a bathroom at LAX, looking at the sales for the web thing on my phone, and I started laughing. I couldn’t control it. And I realized I was laughing like Laurence Olivier when he’s getting his diamonds in the bank in Marathon Man. [Laughs.] He just starts giggling, like, “I can’t believe what’s happening here.” And I had a similar moment like that these last two days, because I put all these tickets on sale [for the upcoming tour] on the Internet in the same way, and it’s crazy. It’s gangbusters. I mean, half the tour is sold out, and we’ve added shows in like eight cities.

We made a million bucks in two hours with the tickets. [Laughs.] Last time I checked, [in] 20 hours we had sold 25,000 tickets around the country, and the box-office gross was $3.5 million. This is the gross; I have to share this with venues, it’s not money I’m making. But that’s how much revenue the tickets have made. And we’ve sold out 15 shows out of the original 30. None of these shows start until October. And it’s been less than a whole day. All over the country we’re adding shows, and those are selling pretty well, too.

AVC: How did both those things come about, putting up the special by yourself, and also handling the tickets for this tour? 

LCK: Yeah, well, I like to try stuff. I like to try to see if something can work. It’s really satisfying to figure out, “What if we try it this way? What if we made it way more pleasurable and cheaper to come see me? Or to watch my show online? And if we do this right, how much benefit were we getting from the giant companies?” The first time I ever toured in theaters—the first time I toured, really. You do comedy clubs, it’s just working clubs, but the first time I went on a tour in theaters—they were like 500-to-700-seat theaters, my agent asked me some blanket questions, like, “Here’s what’s going to come up,” and he said, “What is your radio tolerance?” That’s what he asked me. He said, “What presence are you willing to let radio people have at your shows?” and I said, “Give me an example.” And he goes, “Well, here’s all the things they will ask for in every city: Thing one is that the radio personality gets to come onstage and introduce the show. And the second thing they’re going to want is a van outside, broadcasting from the show. Then they’re going to want a banner onstage, with the name of the radio on it. Then they’re going to want a table out in the lobby with bumper stickers.”

He just made a list of, “Here’s the things that they will want.” Another one was meet-and-greets. They get to give away tickets, and the DJ introduces you to the contest winners who won the meet-and-greets. Ten minutes with you alone in a room where you take pictures and stuff. So they said, “What of these things are you willing to do?” And I said, “Let’s say no to all of this.” [Laughs.] One hundred percent of it. As a professional courtesy, if a radio DJ wants free tickets, he can come to the show. He can’t come backstage. He certainly can’t come onstage. They may not have their logo on any of the shit on the stage, anywhere near it. I want people to come to the theater and feel like they’re just coming to see this; they’re not being promoted to. I don’t think there’s anything more obnoxious than when someone has paid to be somewhere, to be promoting to them. That they’re paying to be advertised to is really annoying to me. 

I said to him, “Let’s do none of it.” And he said, “Well, here’s the thing: If you let them do these things, then they talk about your show all the time. They talk about your show on the air, and you get more free promotion from radio stations. If they get to say, ‘I’m going to be there,’ they’ll get more into it.” And I said, “Well, first of all, I don’t want people at my shows that are there to see the DJ. I just don’t want them to come.” And I said to my agent, “Let’s find out if this is a huge mistake. Let’s find out. I’m willing to sacrifice my first theater tour and have the places empty and identify that it’s because I wouldn’t let the radio people participate. But we also might find out that it didn’t make a difference and that I never have to do it.” [Laughs.] Because you can’t roll that shit back once you’ve started. 

[pagebreak]

Anyway, the obvious story is that it didn’t make a fucking difference. It didn’t matter. It’s like, there’s some joke about a guy with a banana in his ear to keep the crocodiles away and he says, “It’s working.” You can’t really tell how much you need folks. And the thing that was a little painful to me was that I was trying to bring down my ticket prices in the last couple years. Because I guess, the tour before this last one, I made enough. I started making enough money about two years ago on shows. I mean literally making enough. I reached a point where I felt like, “I don’t need to earn more than this doing stand-up comedy. It’s enough. That’s loads of money.” 

Some entertainers don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them. They just go, “Oh, cool, I’m playing this place.” They just do it, and they take the money. But if you pay attention, you find out that the economics are very simple. If you want more money, the fans pay for it. They just pay. And so I decided, “Okay, I’m making enough. Let’s drive the ticket prices down a bit.” I decided to do that a couple years ago, especially because the economy was shitty. So as I drove the prices down, first of all, I found out that they weren’t really going down because the ticket charges were so high. And the other thing that I was finding out was that folks are buying the tickets and just speculating. Because they’re cheaper, my tickets became more attractive to ticket speculators. Anyway, this is all jargon. But this kind of stuff bothers me. And it’s worth it to me to think about it. And to think, “Is there another way to do this? Is it possible not to do it this way?” Same thing with the [Live At The] Beacon special: I didn’t have a great, satisfactory way to put the special out. I didn’t love the idea of it being on Showtime, where it’s not really a comedy place. I didn’t want it to be on Comedy Central with commercials and bleeping. So I thought of some options, and the least predictable and funnest way to do it was to try to do something totally new. It’s so fun to be on the front row of a thing that’s changing. It’s a really fun thing. And the feeling you get when you try to set the values and parameters on a product or a thing that you’re putting out to a certain place and try to feel what people will want and have some empathy for them… When you put it out there and money starts flowing into it, it’s a really weird feeling. [Laughs.] It’s really strange. And so with these tickets, it’s a lot bigger than the Beacon thing was because it’s a relief to people. And also I haven’t toured for a while; a lot of these cities I haven’t played for a long time.

AVC: Were excessive service charges on tickets something that had bothered you for a long time? 

LCK: Well, obviously the problem of my fans paying too much to see me wasn’t a problem when I was struggling. It’s a new thing. I don’t know. I don’t like when I’m prevented from doing things the way I think they should be done. I do something called “recession tipping.” I make more than some other people in the world, so if I’m in a restaurant, I tip over 20 percent—I tip more. Because I know that other people can’t. Tipping is a thing where you can actually steal money from a waiter; you can just not give them any. A lot of people, when they go out to eat during a recession, they just don’t tip, and I’m aware of that. It’s just my quiet thing that I do. I’ll tip over 20 percent because I can afford it. It’s just my own voluntary Buffett Rule. That’s all it is. When I negotiate with somebody who I’m working with on a crew, like if I hire a first A.D. or something, the way I work it in my head is, I tell them my economic realities—this is a low-budget show—and then I ask them to tell me how much they want. Say the guy says, “I want $500 an hour.” That’s not realistic; I’m just making it up. Then I’ll say, “Okay, I’ll give you $550.” You know what I mean? I ask him to think about what he really needs; when he tells me, I give him a little more. It buys me goodwill with this person; I feel good about what I’m paying them. I like to give people a little more than they want, and I like to ask people for a little less than they’re willing to give. So when I found that through selling tickets I wasn’t able to do this, it was frustrating to me, that I literally couldn’t do that the way that I believe it should be done, but just by me. Not by other people. I don’t judge anybody else. And I think these ticket services are very well run, they’re really smart, they got it all set up. And if I was them I’d do it the same way. Or no I wouldn’t. [Laughs.]

AVC: You wouldn’t because you’re doing it your way. It’s different than the way Ticketmaster does things.

LCK: Right. I’m just staying away from criticizing anybody else. The point of it, to me, isn’t to stick it to somebody else or out of anger toward something else…

AVC: You’re not about sticking it to The Man?

LCK: No. It’s really providing an alternative. And there are many theaters that we went to with this ticketing service and my show who said, “We don’t want to do it because of our economics.” And then we would politely say, “Thanks anyway,” and keep looking in every city until we could find a place that could accommodate us. That it didn’t hurt them, that they didn’t have a conflicting affiliation, and that it could make them a profit. So that’s why we’re playing this place in Chicago. Last year I was at the Chicago Theatre, and I love the Chicago Theatre. And I’m grateful for the shows I did there with the promoters and ticketing services that they use.

AVC: On your website you wrote a post telling people what you did with the money you made from the special. Why engage in that kind of transparency? 

LCK: Well, it’s interesting, because when I got to $1 million as quickly as I did… I mean, when the smoke cleared on the first day, I had something like $200,000. I think we hit that before a day was over, and that was just stunning to me. And then when we hit a million, I thought, “This is crazy.” It didn’t feel like it was just about me; a lot of people had sort of voted with this money. It was an expression. This money that was in my hands now was a united expression by a lot of people of an idea. That sounds really lofty, but it’s not. A lot of people had a feeling, and they injected money with that feeling. Like they came money on me. [Laughs.]

AVC: In the most pure, beautiful way imaginable.

LCK: Exactly. They came all over my face with dollars. And I’d never had anyone come on my face at all, so it was a new experience. So I’m laying there with this pool of money around me, and I’m like, “What just happened?” I know it wasn’t just about me. I had been fielding phone calls from foreign press… Like fucking Forbes Magazine UK and all these very serious economists were calling me. So I knew that this was something people were paying attention to—how it was going—and it was way more interesting to me than that I just made some money. It was a thing that happened. 

So I was talking to my mom about it, and I said, “I kind of feel like I should tell people.” But the people that work for me had said, “Don’t. Look, you’re being looked at as a Robin Hood-y kind of guy here, and if you tell them you made a bunch of money then they’re not going to like you anymore, or they’re going to start to pirate it.” But my mom said, “Tell everybody right now how much you have. Tell them everything. And then never tell them after that.” [Laughs.] She said, “Tell them now, you hit a million, tell them, and don’t tell again.” And then I thought about telling them what I spent because, if everyone was tracking this as a model for how to make money as an individual on a mass scale, then I thought it might be good if the end of the story was a model for them, too. If the next person that tried it, if they didn’t give some of the money away, that might get noticed. I don’t spend my whole life giving money to charity, but in this case I felt like this money came too quick for me to keep it. I have to definitely give some of it back to the people who work for me. They should get a windfall, not just a salary. And then again I talked to my mom, who’s a great confidant for me, and I told her, “I’m thinking of giving a shitload of this money away.” And she similarly said, “Do it. You’ll never miss it. In a million years you won’t miss the money. Just let it go out into the world and work. It’s better than it being in your bank account.” And that’s how I feel about money. Money is a resource. It’s an energy that you can inject into things, and it makes stuff happen. This money was like an intention that was pushed toward me, and I thought, “If I keep pushing it around, this is good. This makes me happy.” And I still keep fucking $220,000 that’s pure profit.

AVC: And how did it feel to have people like Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan very overtly say, “I’m doing what Louis C.K. is doing” by releasing their specials directly to fans via the Internet as well?

LCK: Those two guys are both friends of mine, and if it benefits them, great. I care about comedy as a culture, so to me, any comedian that does well is helping every comedian. Every time a comedian does well, it interests people in stand-up and in comedy. Every comedian benefits when a comedian prospers.

AVC: You’ve similarly talked about how you’ve run your company with a certain degree of pragmatism, but it also seems like in the way you conduct your business and your creative affairs, that there’s also a lot of idealism in that as well. Do you see yourself as a moral, idealistic person?

LCK: I don’t know. I’d be afraid to call myself that. I think I’m more just very curious. I do have a lot of energy, so I will try stuff. Doing stuff like this is really, really hard work. Putting this tour together was a huge amount of work, and it did mean being a little bit brave, because it’s scary. I don’t want to upset any of these people who do this shit. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? So some of it that’s not just practical is that I will try to do stuff that can be a little scary but feels right to me, even if it’s harder. So that’s what I would identify as feeling like that. Outside of just trying to get it done. It’s worth it. And also, it’s exhilarating. 

AVC: How big of an organization do you have to do all these ambitious things more or less simultaneously? 

LCK: Well, kind of in the same way that I have the shark sleep, I have different groups working on different stuff at the same time. My agent did this whole tour, Mike Berkowitz. He really made this shit happen. I gave him the parameters. I told him what I was willing to do, I told him the tickets could only be available on my site, I told him, “Nobody else can have the customers mailing list unless they ask to be on the mailing list,” all this stuff. So he would report to me once in a while and say, “Here’s what these cities are saying, here’s what this…” and I would say yes or no, and we’d talk about it. So my Mike Berkowitz phone calls have been all throughout the last eight months on this thing. I do that phone call when I can. My show has a very small but dedicated group of people. And we’re much smaller than most crews. There was a guy who acted in my show this year who’s kind of like a big deal—I don’t want to say who it is, but…

AVC: Is it Allan Havey?

LCK: [Laughs.] No, it’s not Allan Havey. You haven’t seen the guy yet, in the first five shows. But he’s a bit of a mogul. He’s been very successful. And so he agreed to be on the show, and he came and… What I found out later was that on the flight back, he told his assistant, “Please give them back all they paid us. I had no idea how little help he has.” [Laughs.] Like he felt bad that he drew a paycheck from me. Because once he worked on the show… He had a really good time, and the crew was really small, really small amount of equipment, and so whatever we negotiated to pay him, they returned all his checks to us, the travel money, everything. Because we flew him in from L.A. We have like, two of everybody: We have two art, two carpenters, two lighting people, two camera, two sound, and that’s it.

AVC: It seems like the smaller and more manageable things are, the easier it becomes to experiment and take chances.

LCK: That’s exactly right. I can say, “Hey Sean, let’s do it this way,” instead of, “Let’s have a sound meeting.”

AVC: In your last interview with us, you said if you could make a movie with the same freedom you do your television show, you’d do it in a heartbeat. Have you thought about funding a movie through Kickstarter? There would definitely be a lot of interest and enthusiasm there. 

LCK: I think about doing that sometimes, but it feels cleaner to me that I just sort of show up with stuff and say, “Here, if you want it, it’s pretty cheap. Enjoy it if it’s for you.” You know what I mean? I feel like it’s cleaner. That’s how we did the Beacon, that’s how we did this—it just showed up on the site. I mean, we didn’t even advertise the tickets. We just went, “Here. Here’s this. Here’s a gift for you. It costs $45.” If I do a movie I would love to try to do something similar with it, but I would rather that the movie came out of me, from the audience’s point of view, magically. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? When you meet somebody and you really care for them, and you’re really exhilarated and dizzy with the newness of knowing them, and everything’s great, and then they ask you for money and your smile just fades. [Laughs.] I don’t want to borrow money from these people. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m not shutting off the world to it, because it’s an interesting idea. I do want to make a movie, but right now I’m awfully busy.

AVC: Have you been getting offers from movie folks eager to get into the Louis C.K. business? 

LCK: Yeah, I have had those. I get offered to be in movies a lot these days, and I just pretty much say no to all of them except for Woody. In Hollywood you take a lot of meetings, and that’s what it takes. To have that conversation you have to actually go to the place where the guy works, sit down with him, and have him say it to your face. You have to park your car and get it validated and fucking sit. And his assistant gives you a water. You really have to be there for that. But if you just work and do your job, you’re just not around for that conversation. I don’t know. I’m looking into something right now that may turn into a movie in the next couple years, but I have no idea how it’s going to… We’ll see.

AVC: The problem with the way you’ve conducted yourself and your career is that if you do, say, a big-budget buddy-cop movie with Larry The Cable Guy for a big payday, people will feel very let down and disappointed. 

LCK: Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

AVC: You’ve closed off that kind of sellout move.

LCK: No, if somebody came to me and offered me, let’s say… This would never happen, but if somebody offered me $30 million to be in a comedy movie, I’d just say no instantly. There’s no way I would say yes to that. And if I do, you have license to use this against me. If you’re recording it, you can use this recording of my voice to tell everybody—like Yul Brynner, when he put out “Don’t Smoke” ads after he died—don’t go see this movie that I’m in for $30 million. It’s just not worth it.

AVC: It could be a gotcha moment.

LCK: Yeah, exactly. Just don’t do it. I might make a movie next year, and I’ll be in it, and it’ll be funny, but it won’t be that. If it’s a $30 million comedy, and there’s either a dramatic actor like Mel Gibson in it or, you know, what did you say? Larry The Cable Guy? Great guy, by the way—Dan Whitney. Great guy. But, yes, if Dan Whitney and I are in a movie together playing cops, don’t go see it. Punish me for taking the money.

AVC: In a blog post on your website you wrote, “I hope with all my heart that I stay funny.” Is that something that you’re worried about? That this could all fall apart tomorrow, that the skill set you built up could somehow evaporate?

LCK: The skill set will stay because those are just basically know-how stuff. But the basic little engine, the fucking whatever is, the Iron Man glow-y heart thing… [Laughs.]

AVC: Creativity.

LCK: Yeah, that thing. Sure. That could flame out at any second. No idea. I have no reason to be able to count on it. It’s just there. I can do a lot with hard work and no creativity. I could do it. When you really become a professional at this stuff, what’s important is how well you can do when you’re not inspired. If that’s still workable, then you have a career.

AVC: Have you felt that way while you were working on Louie, that, “The spirit just isn’t in me, but I have to get this done”?

LCK: Yeah, different levels. There’s days where I come to the set, and we make a game of a scene, and we find great, inspired things to do inside of a scene. There’s other days where I just feel stale, and I’m just fucking shooting a master and two close-ups, and I’m just saying the lines. It happens. It’s a fucking bummer. Hopefully it doesn’t happen throughout an episode. And you find ways to fix it in post. But it does happen, sure.

AVC: In a conversation with fans on Reddit, you wrote that one of the last jobs you had before becoming a comedian was covering football games for local cable-access. That seems like, on one hand, terrible and an incredibly tedious gig, but on the other hand really useful in terms of learning how to put something together.

LCK: Totally. Really useful. Yeah. Covering football games—

AVC: How do you get a job like that?

LCK: Well, I was technical director of a cable station, so I had to do everything. But you get it by going to a local-access cable station—I don’t know if they still have those. But I was a volunteer intern, and I was in high school. And I learned how to use every machine in that place. My biggest advice to people would be key on the technical. If you learn how to use these machines—cameras and editing systems and stuff like that—then you will have the tools to do stuff creatively. There’s some people who turn up their nose to the technical side of production. It’s the dumbest thing that people do, because then you need to get permission and crews to shoot for you. But I learned how to fix the fucking cameras at this local-access cable station. I knew how to do everything. So I could be trusted with the equipment. That’s really all it ever comes down to, is insurance. They can’t fucking give you the equipment unless there’s somebody qualified to run it. And I learned how to do this stuff when I was 16 years old. So out of high school, I worked at a cable station, and I covered the football games. And so I had to drive this little remote van with a switcher in it and cameras and three big, fucking heavy cases. And there’d be, like, three volunteers with me. Had to drag these cameras up to vantage points around the football field, and the clock is ticking and people are showing up for the game, and start placing the cameras, register the cameras—which is a really weird technical process with tiny screwdrivers—plug them into the van, fucking fire up the van, get all the shots right, punch in all the fucking names of the players and their numbers, and get ready, and here comes the game. It’s a lot of pressure. Yeah, huge training ground. Great benefit.

AVC: One of the things that’s interesting and unusual about your career, especially for a comedian, is that you’re deeply interested and invested in the business, technical, and artistic elements of everything you do, not just the creative side. 

LCK: Well, it’s all so interesting. It’s all so goddamn interesting. It really is. I love knowing why I was able to sell out in one town, and why I wasn’t in another town. I love knowing what goes into everything—the economics, the technical aspect, and how to create the ideas in the show. It’s great. If you can have access to all of that, why the fuck would you not want to know? I just love learning. I think learning is how you live. The verb of my life is learning.

More Interview