Louis CK On The Comedy Of Being A Single Dad
Comedian gives insight into his sense of humor
With the second season of his critically acclaimed show Louie, reaching its midseason mark, comedian Louis C.K. can take a moment to reflect on the fruits of his labor. He’s been a successful stand-up comic touring the country for over 20 years, has been a writer for David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock, and was also the mastermind behind one of the most sought after cult films to have emerged in the past decade, Pootie Tang. When he’s not performing at theaters across the country, C.K. finds himself as the writer, director, editor and star of Louie on FX. A comedic blend of C.K.’s stand-up mixed with scenes that are based slightly on his experiences off-stage as a working comedian and single father of two girls.
“Doing the whole season is really hard, doing as much as I do,” C.K. explains from his home in New York City. “You just kind of give yourself to, I’m going to be uncomfortably busy and panicked and stressed for a bunch of months, and then it’ll be over. But I’ve done it before so I know I can take it, and it’s worth it. I get a lot out of doing that. I like having too much to do a lot more than not having enough.” With C.K. handling so many production roles outside of being the star of the show, he must find some aspects that are more difficult than others. “I’d say the writing is the most difficult.” he says matter-of-factly, “Because that’s where it all starts and if I don’t get it done, there’s no way to shoot the other ones. If I’m having a bad day I can have a strong coffee and direct well, but with writing if I’m sort of down, just nothing comes and then the whole show collapses. So the writing is the most pressure and it’s the hardest, but it is also the most rewarding when it works out.”
Fans of Louie can appreciate the straightforward honesty of the show, and unlike other sitcoms the problems that occur during the episode aren’t always resolved in thirty minutes or less. “I think things are funnier when you put them in the context that feels more real and has other things in them besides comedy.” says C.K. “In other words, comedy that sort of lives in a petri dish, like comedy movies or sitcoms where everything that’s being done is steered technically towards funny. They sort of make you laugh in a kind of physical way, but when you’re put in a story, when you’re really invested in what’s happening emotionally, and with your curiosity and suspense and all those other things that you can stimulate; then funny fires on more cylinders. It just makes more of you laugh. It makes you laugh in an emotional relief.”
C.K. began his career in Boston in 1985, right at the height of the 1980’s comedy boom. His real last name is spelled Szekely, but in an effort to prevent future mispronunciations, he changed it at his first open mic experience. “The first time I did it, I went to a place called Stitches and at the time, you wrote your name down on a blackboard and they’d just call you up. I wrote my name “Louie CK” so that it would be said right, that’s where that came from.” C.K. recalls. “I was only 17 or 18 years old and I thought I had about two hours worth of material. There’s a guy onstage named Ed Driscoll. He really intimidated me because it was very easy for him and he was really funny. He was the host and brought on people with varying abilities, most of them pretty good, a lot of them had been doing it for awhile. Then I went on and all the material I had thought of, evaporated in about thirty seconds. It just was gone. And it was a terrible feeling; I just felt out of place, I felt too young for the crowd. I felt dumb. Nothing I said was funny, and when I got off stage Eddie made fun of me for doing such a short amount of time and got huge easy laughs with making fun of me. Yeah, that hurt pretty bad; Ed ended up being a friend of mine after awhile. The second time, Kevin Meaney had a show called the Sweeney and Meaney Hour and he put me on and I did even worse. It was just horrible.”
Thankfully, C.K. persevered and began to develop his comedic voice that is so prevalent in Louie. “I think when you first start doing stand-up, you’re just trying to learn how to be onstage,” explains C.K. “Just existing and having a presence onstage is the first huge leap. It takes a good fifteen years. Until then, you’re just trying to think of funny stuff to say, you’re trying to come up with material. But then you kind of cross the line. I don’t know when it happened to me. Where you’re just on stage and its second nature and it doesn’t feel like such a big deal anymore, and you feel like you can say anything. Then it just gets more interesting to talk about stuff that’s deeper. I reached some point where I realized the thoughts that I’m having all day, I’ve learned that that’s probably good comedy material.”
A reoccurring theme on the show and something that provides insight into an untapped demographic in late night television, is seeing C.K. portray himself as divorced father of two who also happens to be a successful comedian (not a far stretch from reality, as C.K. has been divorced from his wife Alix Bailey since 2008.) “To me, the most important change in my life when I got divorced was that I was a single father and that I really had to take on fatherhood by myself.” C.K. adds. “That to me I haven’t seen a lot of, and that’s what was coming out of me. It’s a unique experience and it’s one that not a lot of people know about. When I take my kids to lunch at a restaurant, sometimes the waitress will come over and say, ‘Oh, this is so nice that you’re getting to have lunch with your dad.’ And to us it sounds stupid because this is what we do. I’m not a Sunday dad, I don’t visit with my kids; I share custody of them, I raise them. Sometimes if my kid falls down in a park and cries, some total strange woman will come over and try to grab her. I’ve tried to not hit people because it’s like my kid’s being abducted, she’s crying. A total stranger grabs your kid while she’s crying, but they’ll do that because they just assume, because I’m a dad that I’m probably not with the kid a lot, and my wife forced me to take the kids to the park and [my daughter] needs a mom. But from me and my daughter’s point of view, the idea that my crying child would rather have a crazy stranger with her instead of her dad is crazy. I only work three days a week on the show and the rest of the time I spend with my kids. Days I have my kids, I don’t work.”
Fans of the show can definitely expect to see a lot more interaction between Louis and his daughters in the remainder of this season. “There’s a lot more to do with the kids this year. This season is more about me, not being good at having kids but trying to get my head around and more engaged with them as human beings, instead of just comedy props.” With season two of Louie coming to a close in the fall, the FX network would be crazy not to pick this show up for another season. Not since Seinfeld has a show centered around a stand-up comedian generated this kind of buzz or interest. C.K.’s work ethic is something to be admired. Although he’s already the show’s sole writer, director and star, Louis has aspirations to add even more to the production value of the show. “I bought a sewing machine for my daughter and we started making shirts and stuff together, and I went crazy. l loved it. I used to watch Project Runway. I’d probably make all the clothes if I could. I like costume design - it’s really great!”
Louie airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on FX.