EMMYS: Q&A With Louis C.K. Of 'Louie'

Comedian Louis C.K. finds himself an overnight sensation after 25 years in the biz. Now he’s earned four Emmy nominations for writing and acting on his critically praised FX comedy Louie as well as for writing and editing his stand-up special Louis C.K.: Hilarious for EPIX premium cable channel. But best of all, C.K. (a play on his last name Szekely) is widely hailed by his peers as the gold standard in stand-up. He spoke with Deadline TV Contributor Ray Richmond:

DEADLINE: How does it feel for Ricky Gervais to call you ‘The Funniest Stand-up Working In America’ or Chris Rock refer to you as ‘The Greatest Comic Mind Of The Last Quarter Century’?
LOUIS C.K.: It’s nice to hear, but also a little weird, you know? You can’t buy into any of it. Hearing it doesn’t make me better at anything and probably does the opposite. Plus, you know it’s all going to go away. No one is permanently chiseled onto anything. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and have been up and down a lot. You get hot for a while, then it turns right around. I remember doing the Young Comedians Special in Aspen in 1995 and that was the first time where I felt like I was on some kind of a roll. The lesson I took away was not to take any of it too seriously. Keep it in perspective.

DEADLINE: But you just took in more Emmy nominations than any other performer this year.
C.K.: Well yeah, the Emmy thing, that’s just crazy. I was honestly expecting nothing. Actually that’s not entirely true. I thought maybe I’d get something for writing the special. But the nominations for the FX series, I had no idea these voters were even aware of it. Yet now that it’s out there, I see it as an opportunity. And I’m doing all I can to try to win. It’s hugely important to me.

DEADLINE: Why?
C.K.: Because winning hopefully helps to give the show a deeper foothold, and I start making some money for FX. I want to put cash in Rupert Murdoch’s coffers that are otherwise laying dormant. Emmys would give FX a payoff for having given me this gift of a show. I want the establishment to tell John Landgraf that he did the right thing, and that he should let me keep doing it. That’s what the Emmy is for me. I personally don’t need it. I’ve already won. It would also reward all of the amazing crew people who work so hard making Louie what it is and maybe give the crew job security and Landgraf even more credibility. I just want to bring any benefit to that guy that I can. So basically, I see the Emmys as a slot machine that pays off in reverse.

DEADLINE: So you have a decent relationship with your FX boss?
C.K.: It’s way beyond that. He lets me do what I want. John Landgraf has taught me everything I’ve needed to make this show work like it does, and he lets me do the show the way I’ve wanted to. I don’t think anyone has ever done a show this way.

DEADLINE: You write Louie, produce it, direct it, star in it, edit it. How did you manage to become a total control freak?
C.K.: I’ve been writing pilots and developing television shows going back to 1996, and learned a lot the past 15 years. I found out that the more money you ask the network for upfront, the more permission you need for every creative step along the way and the less freedom you ultimately have. When I was making my deal, my manager and agent were pushing me to get more money for the Louie pilot. But I listened to Landgraf and took far less. In the long view of it, there are only two outcomes: Either I’ll never get rich from the show but remain intensely proud of the work and stand behind every second of it, or it catches on and I’ll make my money down the road. If you ask for a shitload of money up front, your options go way down. One of the fears I had was succeeding wildly with a show I hated. I just feel so lucky to have the deal for this show that I have.

DEADLINE: Do you just make the show and FX sees it for the first time when it airs?
C.K.: Not quite. My contract with FX says that I have to show them every script, and they have the right to approve every actor we put on the show. They can also replace me in any of my jobs whenever they want at their discretion. The fact they haven’t enforced any of those rights says they’ve been happy with the way I’ve been doing things so far. If you want to keep the freedom, you’d better succeed. There are no free rides. So I wouldn’t call what I have ‘complete creative control’. Instead, it’s really a lack of being creatively controlled.

DEADLINE: I’ve never heard of anyone having that kind of deal.
C.K.: Neither have I. But I don’t do it on my own. I have an enormous and great crew. My fellow voices on the show are incredibly unique. The show looks beautiful, too. The reason I’ve been able to pull this off is I’ve learned big lessons from the independent filmmakers like Woody Allen and Spike Lee by just watching them from afar. Woody and Spike got known for making really exceptional films without anyone telling them how to do it. That’s what I wanted for TV.

DEADLINE: Why are you still so dedicated to stand-up?
C.K.: I love it. Stand-up is probably the most solo performance in art. There’s nothing else like it. You’re totally alone. Even a singer has a band. I love stand-up more than anything, and I’m so happy to have found a way to use it in the show.

DEADLINE: Which comics do you admire?
C.K.: Zach Galifianakis. Patrice O’Neal is getting incredibly strong right now. Doug Stanhope is a fucking phenomenal comedian, honest and really funny and working really hard right now. I haven’t seen Patton Oswalt in a while, but I really love him onstage. Maria Bamford is terrific. And I still love Bill Cosby and Steven Wright.

DEADLINE: What do you think of Modern Family?
C.K.: Never seen it. I don’t watch a lot of television. I tend to rent movies. And I watch a lot of sports. But when I’m not working, I’m with my daughters every chance I get.

  1. Last night’s episode was THE BEST EPISODE OF TELEVISION IN HISTORY. Yes, better than Chuckles the Clown. Louie is as inspiring as he is entertaining. Can’t wait for more of his show – he more than deserves an Emmy.

  2. Louie is easily one of the best shows on TV. Come on Emmy… show the man some love. Louis CK FTW

  3. A brilliant show in which he’s not only doing a fantastic job, especially in the writing, but as a director and producer, he takes extraordinary NY actors and lets them shine.

  4. “Louie” is pretty incredible. Last night’s hourlong “Duckling” episode was one of the best episodes of television I’ve seen in a long, long time. There is a sparseness and attention to detail on the show that is quite remarkable and absorbing. And its f**king funny as hell.

    Don’t be surprised if Louis snags one or more Emmys next month. He’s that good on the show. Doug Stanhope was incredible on the “Eddie” episode a couple of weeks ago. Should be an Emmy contender next year. That half-hour played like a short film.

    1. I thought the “Eddie” episode was the best thing I’ve seen on tv this year.

      The show is somtimes uneven, but I find something endearing in its unevenness, maybe because there’s nothing else like it on the air right now.

  5. FilmTurtle — you’re 100% correct. Stanhope was brilliant and deserves an Emmy nod for it, along with more for Louie.

    It’s nice to see someone who’s been at it for so long breakthrough in such a huge way. Go Louis CK!

  6. Louis CK is the funniest stand up comic around, and Louis one of the funniest comedies on at the moment, up there with Modern Family, Rescue Me and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I love the use of the cello in Louis lol those moments, just when things seem to have hit the bottom of the barrel, the slow cello music comes in and it’s East European communist era grimness.

  7. That last question was just random. Nothing against Modern Family, but what does it have to do with Louis?

  8. As great as the show is, it’s equally depressing to learn that Louis C.K., THE Louis C.K., has to hustle like a jive turkey to get his show done right. Let JJ Abrams hustle to prove he’s not going to lay another turd, and give Louis all the help he needs. It seems so simple, and yet…

  9. I have to say that Louis is literally the greatest stand-up working right now. That being said, his show isn’t funny in the slightest. I can’t even watch it.

    1. You think he’s the greatest comic on the planet, and you don’t even like his show a little? To each his own, I guess.

      1. I love Louis CK and I love the show, but that comment does not surprise me. The show (and the comic) is definitely not for everyone. That’s why Modern Family will probably beat it for the emmy. Even though shows like Curb and Louie are so much better and edgier, their bite limits their audience. Doing something like Modern Family that appeals to such a wide base wihtout turning off a ton of people is really hard too.

  10. Every week, I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder in disbelief that Louie is on the air – and I mean that in the best way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a show that requires intelligence and emotional maturity from its audience, and that never does the thing you think you see coming next. John Landgraf, well done.

  11. Last night was the best episode of possibly the greatest show ever put on television.

  12. Louie is a masterpiece, and Louis is a genius.

    The fact this show exists is nothing short of a miracle. I really can’t believe how great it is, and how one guy can pull it off. It’s amazing to behold.

  13. Why is no one talking about how cinematic the show is. As brilliant as it is, it really has no business being on TV. It plays much more like an indie feature. If Searchlight doesn’t already have one of his scripts in the hopper, they should have their collective heads examined because he is the next Woody Allen.

  14. I was kind of prepared to read these comments and cringe. Nice to see the consensus is so positive on a show that’s so non-traditional. Louie is the highlight of my week.

  15. I agree with Chris Rock’s comment that CK is the best comic in the last 25 years. I suppose Rock had Carlin or Pryor in mind when he said that. But I laugh harder at Louis C.K. than I ever did with Carlin or Pryor.

  16. I’m with every one of you on this. As an actor and producer I have been a part of developing plays, films and TV projects and always wondered if projects would be better off if we just kept our fucking mouths shut and let the writer write. In most cases – probably not. Collaboration is healthy and if everyone is on their game (including and especially the network) it almost certainly makes for a better result. But “Louie” might be the exception that proves the rule. It helps that he wears every hat that would normally be one of the collaborators, and wears them exceedingly well. Kudos to him and Landgraf, but I would not expect this to launch an new era of “hands-off” TV development.

  17. There is not a better half hour show on television. Period.

    And props for Ray Richmond. Dude, hope you’re well.

  18. It’s the only 1/2 hour comedy I watch (oh, Entourage too). The show is up there with the best of ‘em – All in the Family, Seinfeld, Good Times, MASH, Taxi, Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Dev. and Barney Miller… to name of few of my favorites… and yeah, I’m no spring chicken but if TV were funnier today I’d be watching more comedy.

  19. I am so happy for Louis C.K.! I find him super funny, charming, witty, and so very wrong. He makes me laugh until I cry ;) The show is sensitive and funny…a great writer/storyteller like Louis has earned this recognition! Keep it up! I’m enjoying the ride!

  20. Nice to see that sometimes hard work and keeping your nose to the grindstone does eventually pay off in this business. I hope Louie gets all the ducats he deserves. Fabulous show, I never miss it.

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