Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor/contributor to AwardsLine.
It would be an understatement to credit Louis C.K. as another stand-up who has redefined situation comedy like Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. C.K. isn’t just making funny TV every week in Louie as a single New York City father. He’s revolutionizing it with an anthology of exceptional short films. After pushing the boundaries of multi-camera comedy on HBO with Lucky Louie, C.K.’s latest show on FX serves as an evolution to the festival and Showtime short films he created throughout the ’90s: The black-and-white jazz mockumentary The Legend of Willie Brown, the Elia Kazan-esque Ice Cream and the Depression-era talkie sendup Hello There to name a few. These bellwethers laid out the themes that C.K. harps on in Louie: Man’s challenge to conform to socially acceptable roles (i.e. not asking 19-year-olds out on dates as C.K. did in the episode ‘Duckling’) and the absurdity of urban life gone awry (accidentally tossing a lunatic vagrant into oncoming traffic in ‘Bummer/Blueberries’). The TV Academy is already more than OK with C.K. having lauded Louie last year with Emmy noms for comedy writing and lead actor.
Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview
AWARDSLINE: How did the opportunity arise to do another half hour comedy series on cable?
LOUIS C.K.: After HBO I went on the road and just concentrated on stand-up where I filled up big theaters. [Soon after] I was asked [by network executives] if I wanted to have a show again. [FX president] John Landgraf easily had the most penetrating pitch. John offered me $200,000 which was 1% of what everyone else was offering. I said ‘I’ll do this if you give me the money and I make the show without you knowing what it’s about. I’ll do it in New York City and direct it myself without any involvement financially and creatively from FX. He said ‘For a pilot, that’s not a bad bet.’
AWARDSLINE: You have written every episode alone?
C.K.: Yeah, this year I have [stand-up comedian] Vernon Chatman as a producer. I’ve known him for years. Pamela Adlon was a consulting producer last year. She has a Story By on one of the episodes. So I’ve had help forming some of these ideas, but I’m the only one writing episodes.
AWARDSLINE: That has to be a huge perk for a TV network – to have one guy writing everything. It’s great for FX economically and you don’t have to deal with 13 voices in a writer’s room.
C.K.: Yes, I like it this way. And even though they would be 13 well-meaning voices in a writer’s room, one would still need to convince 13 people of something and that’s very taxing. And it also costs a show a lot of money.
AWARDSLINE: Let’s go over some of the episodes you’re submitting for the Emmys.
C.K.: ‘Pregnant’ [Episode 1, season 2] was a good reset for the characters and for the show. It showed what my life is like [as a single father]. It had this terrific drama in it. I loved Rusty [Schwimmer] who played my pregnant sister. There’s great acting in this episode and it was a good example of how the DNA was evolving on the show … ‘Subway/Pamela’ [episode 6] was good because it was a two-story episode that covered more ground. It had a cinematic beginning and a funny emotional ending.
AWARDSLINE: Did stand-up comedian Dane Cook actually steal your jokes as portrayed in episode 7 ‘Oh Louie/Tickets’?
C.K.: People think so. What I wrote for Dane and me on camera represents what each other feels about the situation. The only difference is that he’s not angry about it. Neither of us really care. Dane was generous in allowing me to take him to a place of anger and it was funny the way he did it. I don’t think he stole from me knowingly, which is what I said in the episode. I think he sort of got some of my jokes in his head and got sloppy. He’s a good guy and not capable of maleficence.
AWARDSLINE: As portrayed in ‘Duckling,’ did you really go to Afghanistan on a USO tour at some point?
C.K.: I was in Kuwait and Afghanistan and pretty much everything that happens to me in that episode happened in real life except for the duck and the helicopter going down. If a helicopter went down with USO members, there would be eight more surrounding them … I went to the countryside (in Kuwait) and played horse shoes and soccer with Iraqi soldiers. Travelled with that cheerleader in the show and we had a conversation about me asking out a 19 year-old. … I didn’t have a patriotic or anti-war idea to push. I just wanted to show what it was like over there.
AWARDSLINE: What percent of each episode is autobiographical?
C.K.: It’s autobiographical fiction. I am the guy, but I strip away all my good judgment and good luck and that makes me the guy in the show. Some moments have spun off from things that have happened to me. The women I encounter on the show – some are fantasies and others amalgams: I never spanked a woman in my life and made her cry. I love making shit up rather than making reality.