Louie writer-director-star Louis C.K. recently sat down with The A.V. Club to discuss the show’s second season, episode by episode. This section of his interview follows parts one and two, and covers episodes seven through nine, beginning with “Oh Louie/Tickets” and concluding with “Eddie.”
“Oh Louie/Tickets” (Aug. 4, 2011)
Louie becomes disillusioned filming a shitty sitcom. Later, he asks Dane Cook for tickets to a Lady Gaga concert and handles some unfinished business with the stand-up superstar.
The A.V. Club: There are a lot more single-part episodes this season.
Louis C.K.: That’s right, there were more. It just happened that way. I think everything I did this season was more ambitious than last year. I went deeper with all the stories than I had the year before. We shot more shots per scene. We shot more careful coverage. We moved the camera more. We had more cast. Everything was more, and so episodes just got longer. I didn’t know which ones were going to be long, either. I sort of thought the Dane Cook thing was going to be a whole episode by itself, because so much happens. But also, there was a different ending originally, where we were trying to get Lady Gaga.
That episode used to be called “Lady Gaga.” And it was going to end with me going to [a Lady Gaga concert] with my daughter, and we watched her show. The episode came to me because I was listening to Lady Gaga, to “Paparazzi.” She sings it so beautifully. It’s very gorgeous; it’s very lovely. I was very taken by it when I was listening to it. And I pictured being at a concert of hers, and my daughter’s thrilled to be there, but I’m in love. I’m blown away by Lady Gaga. The original intent was that—the scene I have with my daughter when I’m talking about Lady Gaga, I’m saying things that, in real life, I don’t believe. I think Lady Gaga is cool. I think she’s an artist. So I wanted to be this prejudiced parent, lumping her in with Britney Spears and people like that. And then I go and I find out how wrong I was. Also, it was interesting to me that I think I’m cool and seeing the sellouts, and I think Lady Gaga is a bullshit Britney Spears person, and I just find out I’m wrong in every fucking direction. But we couldn’t get anywhere near Lady Gaga, so we didn’t have that ending anymore.
AVC: She’s very well protected.
LCK: Yeah. There was no way to get her on the show. I ended up leaving the dialogue in where I say the negative shit about her, maybe a little bit spitefully. [Laughs.] I left it in even though it doesn’t get redeemed later. But I didn’t have a fucking ending anymore. And then I thought of this ending with Dane, not only having to go through what I did with him, but he would be right about something, about my kids. And he doesn’t even fucking have kids.
The sitcom thing, I wrote without knowing where it was going. I loved the idea of opening an episode on a sitcom set and starting that scene and then having it dissolve into this fucking bummer. I only wrote that part, I never wrote a second half to that, I wrote up to me looking at the baby and telling her I can’t be in a sitcom, and I never wrote what happens next. But there’s other things I’ve done where I just started shooting anyway, figuring at some point I’ll write a part two to this, but with this one I never did. And then, somehow, it dawned on me that I closed the sitcom with me and Lilly when she’s a baby, and that the first scene of the Dane Cook thing is me and her together in a diner. I realized that there’s a through-line between those two pieces, of trying to do things for my daughter, and how that impacts my career. So I threw them together.
Dane and I have this weird conflict that everybody but us talks about. For four fucking years that’s all anybody would ask me about. Before I got this show, I was the guy that Dane Cook stole from. I mean every interview I did was about Dane Cook, and I hated it. I hated the whole thing. But there it was. And I knew Dane hated it. Dane and I had a little bit of an exchange through email when it first started. Neither of us was satisfied with the other’s point of view, really, but we just sort of lived with it for all these years. Last year I had Robert Kelly on the show playing my brother. Robert and Dane are very close friends, and he was opening for Dane somewhere on the road when I asked him to come and shoot a scene with me. So he told Dane he needed to leave his tour. I think he just told him he was going to be on TV, and Dane said, “Ooh, what show?” and he told me that Dane looked a little sad and that Dane said, “You know, the sad part is that I’d like to be in a TV show with Louie. I like him.” So when I heard that, it kind of stuck with me and I thought, “Why not put Dane in the show? How do I put Dane Cook on this show?”
I thought, “The only way it’s at all interesting is if it’s a direct fucking confrontation of what we went through together.” Somehow I got very quickly to the idea that I need something from him, for my kids. And then I wrote this scene of the two of us—I just sat in a room and I wrote it. I tried to take his point of view. For me, there’s something I learned this season, and a little bit last season, that if you’re willing to totally defend the other side, you can go anywhere. You can go to controversial places, as long as you can really give the other side the best argument, because you win just for doing it, just for taking it on. The fact that I got Dane to be on this show and I sat down and had this conversation with him, to me that’s enough of a win. That’s so great that I got to do that, to tread that really interesting territory. I don’t need to fucking win the argument too. I mean, Jesus.
So I wrote thinking about his point of view and wrote it out and then I wrote him an email and I said, “Hello. I wrote something. It’s for my show. I want to shoot it. I’d love for you to play yourself; it’s about our thing. I think if you read it, you’d want to do it. I hope you do. If you don’t, I’ll get somebody else.” And I would’ve. I would have got an actor.
AVC: Really? To play Dane Cook?
LCK: Sure, sure. It would have been worth it. I’m not harping some positive vibe; I was willing to think about doing that. But he wrote back and he said, “Your email brought up a lot of feelings. Let’s meet.” I didn’t want to send him the script because I didn’t want it out in the wild, and I don’t let anybody read my shit, or have it, really. So I said, “Just come to my office.” And the fucking guy showed up in a baseball cap and T-shirt sat down with me.
AVC: He wasn’t wearing some sort of diamond tuxedo?
LCK: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. He just came without any entourage and had his defenses down. Then we read it together. He even read my daughter’s parts and my agent’s and all those people. We just read it and discovered it together. It was really intense, and he said, “Wow, this is really something. I’d like to do this. I’d like to give it some thought, but I think I want to do it.” Then he went off and then he wrote me an email with a lot of notes that he wanted to protect his character by being a little funnier. He said, “I wanna portray myself as somebody who’s at peace with this, because I am. And as somebody who can get above things. I’m not an angry person. And I’m a funny guy, and I’d like some funnier lines to show that you and I can banter and that kind of thing.”
So I wrote him back and said, “No to all of that, I have no interest as portraying you as a level-headed person, not at all interesting to me.” I said, “This is really about you and me having this moment, and it’s going to be really interesting to people the way it’s written.” I’m also kind of an asshole. I can’t take notes. I said, “I totally get that you don’t want to do anything. I would never fault you for that. But if you do this piece, you have to check all your concerns at the door and just come along for the ride.” And he wrote back and said, “I’ll do it.” That’s it—that was the end of it. He showed up early on the set, prepared and extremely professional, and we shot this together. He took my directions. He read it verbatim as I wrote it. And nailed it!
You know, it’s funny, one of the suggestions he had made—I wrote it that he’s at Caroline’s comedy club, and I go see him at the club. But he said, “I don’t work Caroline’s. I work stadiums. Don’t you think it’d be funnier if you have to come and see me at this huge stadium and it blows your mind.” And I was like, “Fuck you! I’m not gonna fucking write that you were at Madison Square Garden you fucking megalomaniacal asshole.” I was really insulted. I said, “No, no. It has to be Caroline’s.” And he was like, “Okay.” He was really cool about it. Then I was talking to my friend Vernon Chapman and I told him the story, and Vernon said, “How dumb are you? It’s a million times funnier, Madison Square Garden. How can you be so blind? Of course it’s funnier.” And I realized what an asshole I was being. I really was letting my competitive ego fuck the bit up.
AVC: There’s an almost ominous quality to how protected he is.
LCK: Totally. It would have been nothing like this. And once we’re meeting—we tried to shoot at Madison Square Garden and he actually tried to help us, ’cause he’s played there. But they wanted so many fucking conditions met, it was too hard. So we shot it in some junior college in the Bronx. We were walking to the set of his dressing room, and there were these terrific hallways with these fucking crazy chain-metal doors and all this stuff. I thought—it wasn’t written this way—I thought we should have security guards lead me through these corridors. This should be like Dead Man Walking. We looked at the extras we had, and they were not interesting looking. Somebody tried to throw together a security guard costume. I could’ve maybe gotten one skinny guy in, a guy who was like a Funny Or Die comic or somebody, a UCB-type comic. So I said, “Why don’t we call a security company and get a detail?” Get fucking armed security guys. You could get those people, fast. Sometimes people need them, like, “In five minutes I need an armed detail.” So Tony Hernandez, our production coordinator, got on the horn, and in 20 minutes he said, “I got eight guys on the way here and they’re all paramilitary, ex-C.I.A.” [Laughs.] “They’re all fucking serious and they’re all packing guns.” We didn’t end up showing the guns because there just wasn’t a way to do it that wasn’t stupid. But all these guys were ex-Chicago Police and fucking really intense martial-arts experts. I didn’t have to tell them nothing, I said, “You’re just taking me from there to there,” and they just did it the way they do it. So that ended up working out great.
And then the agent—my agent is very young, my agent is 24 years old, and he’s the most capable person I’ve ever worked with, outside of my manager. But he’s funny because he’s so young. So when I was creating the agent character, I wanted a young guy, and they dug up this kid and he just immediately made me laugh, so he’s my agent.
AVC: How old is the kid who plays your agent?
LCK: He’s actually 21, I think.
AVC: He looks like he’s 12 years old.
LCK: He looks like he’s 12, but then he has that crazy deep voice ’cause he’s a man. Once he put those glasses on and that suit, I was like, “This is beautiful,” ’cause I knew I didn’t want an agent. Last year I killed my agent in the only scene I had him in, mostly ’cause of this Ari character on Entourage. I’m doing a show-business show, and I should have a rep of some kind, but I just don’t want to have Jeff from Curb or fucking Ari from Entourage.
AVC: You’re a standup comedian in the show, but do you think of it as a show-business show?
LCK: No, it really isn’t. That’s just my job, but that’s definitely something I wanted to not let go down, especially when the show was young. When people see things that they think are something before they really know what your show is, they pick up on them. I was like, “The only way I’m going to have my agent on the show, the first season, was to make him a ridiculous old-style agent and kill him before I’m even done with the episode.” And this time it was a similar distraction.
AVC: How much inspiration did you take from the sitcoms you were in before Louie?
LCK: Yeah, that was more from the [unaired] pilot, Saint Louie, that I did for CBS before Lucky Louie. Lucky Louie was nothing like that. Lucky Louie was fun; this one was just me going through the paces, trying to get on the air. I had a show-runner who was actually running Charlie Sheen’s new show. He was a very bright guy, and when I started the deal at CBS, he said, “I only have one question for you: Are you trying to get on the air?” And I said yes, ’cause I had a new, young family. I had a baby. And I really did just wanna get a sitcom, at all costs. So I went down that road, of like, “Let’s see if we can get on the air.” And we got a pilot shot, which is a hard thing to get done, but it was nothing. It just had nothing to do with anything. By the time we were through the system, there was nothing left to air. But it was an incredible experience to learn from. That’s sort of where that was from, and realizing I had to go be a comedian again, which did happen.
AVC: Did you have that moment of, “Oh my God, what am I doing?”
LCK: Yeah. There was one moment when I was saying to the show-runner, “This makes no sense for me to be saying this. This doesn’t have a reason to be happening, and it’s not what I set out to do.” And he just kept saying, “No, it’s great! It’s gonna be great!” I was just like, “Jesus Christ, man.” I do remember I had this empathy for the woman playing my wife. She was just working. I learned something about these actresses who get—they have to be very careful where they hitch their horse every year, because every year adds 10 years to their screen age. So that was interesting stuff to approach, even though I failed. In the scene with my daughter, they painted my head to look less bald, but it didn’t even work.
“Come On, God” (Aug. 11, 2011)
Louie debates the merits of masturbation on Red Eye W/Greg Gutfield with an attractive Christian woman he later goes out for drinks with.
LCK: “Come On, God.” Remove the comma and you have a really disgusting thought. I wanted to originally do a show where I say something on a cable show and get in a lot of trouble. And then I started approaching that and thought, “What if it’s not that?” Christine O’Donnell made commercials about “don’t masturbate” when she was young, and I saw one of them, and I was amazed that somebody would do that. But, then again, with everything else that I write about people that are alien to me, it’s so much more interesting to write a real version about them and find out what I could learn about that mentality, instead of just making fun of it. And also, my life as a masturbator is a miserable life.
The other part of it was, I think that through my whole Sarah Palin problems of the past, I’ve thought about Sarah Palin a lot, and I look at her and her strapping husband, Todd, and the amount of kids that they have and the Christian belief that they have, and I really do believe that Sarah Palin has a great sex life, because she has no conflict, sexually. Christians, when they’re married, can fuck like bananas because it’s okay, and non-believers that fuck out of wedlock, even if it’s 1 percent of you, there’s some part of you that’s upset about what you’re doing.
AVC: There’s some part of you that asks, “Am I going to hell for this?”
LCK: Yeah, but a Christian doesn’t have that conflict, because they’re fucking their wife or their husband. At least there’s potential for that. To me, to have this more eloquent and interesting character who is not—and I also don’t believe that Christians are just assholes. Some of them really are interested in saving people, which is, from my point of view, invasive and sometimes cruel, telling other people what they shouldn’t be doing; but the initial impulse to save another human being and bring them to Christ, if you believe in that, is a very nice thing to do. I don’t strike a very confident and happy profile. So somebody looking at me and saying, “Come on, you can do better for yourself. You don’t have to do this the way you do it.” Also, we, the non-believers, some of us just live sloppy and hedonistic lives and that is not the answer, either. There is something we can learn from each other: pulling back, making it mean something, and really aiming for ecstasy instead of just jacking off. That’s where that came from.
And we got that terrific Liz Holtan. Then we went down the road of who’s gonna play—I think I asked Joy Behar to play the host at one point, and we went out to Anderson Cooper about it. But it actually made it more compelling to me to do it at Fox News. I actually asked our Fox friends to ask Sean Hannity to do it, or Shep Smith was the guy I wanted. But we were told no one was willing to even ask them. The guy at Fox News that was our go-between guy, he said, “You should try this Red Eye guy, because that show is already a little rebellious. They do a lot of goofy stuff and they have lot of comedians on.” I didn’t really want to do it, ’cause I had seen his show and he usually just wears a T-shirt and a jacket and he goes on rants and he’s a bit of a comic. But he had the script, and I called him and said, “Listen, I’m interested in doing this with you because you’re on Fox News, but I have a concern,” and he interrupted me and said, “You don’t want me to be who I am on my show: You want a Fox News guy like Hannity. You want me to play a guy like that.” And I said, “Yes” and he said, “Of course I will. I’d love to do it.”
He was really motivated to be in it and was excited about it. So he put on a suit and tie. He does that sometimes, he fills in for the Fox News shows. So he fucking showed up and did a great, great job. We shot it in the belly of the beast, though. It was really funny to go there, and they were worried about us wandering into the wrong shows. We had a liaison who was really watching us. It was interesting to be there, because Obama was making a speech that day, and he had just finished the speech, and we watched the Fox News machine crank up and respond. They had talking heads—’cause I was watching the feeds and stuff, ’cause I’m fascinated by broadcast television—and I saw feeds of people standing with earpieces waiting to be interviewed. Like a guy standing there in front of whatever in Washington, and they were ready with their response before the speech was finished. And I realized how fast it was, and from being there, if you’re in a place where you have empathy, I thought, “They have a demand.” They don’t have any meaning to the public if they can’t start talking the second he’s done, so they have to throw together their fucking opinions, and then the other side does the same thing. And if anyone would just fucking take four minutes and drink a glass of water, it would tone down the rhetoric, like 60 percent, if they just took five minutes.
AVC: But that would be the end of Fox if they toned down the rhetoric.
LCK: Right—and everybody else, and Rachel Maddow and these people, although she’s pretty damn reasonable. That’s ’cause I agree with her. [Laughs.] But it was intense. But anyway, Greg was great, she was great. And then the masturbating elevator thing was not supposed to be in the same episode. The elevator masturbation thing was its own orphan bit that I wasn’t sure what to do with. Then it occurred to me that it would be interesting if, in the middle of the “Come On, God” story, I go home and masturbate and fail at masturbating to this elevator girl, and all this stuff, and the Chinese guy and everything. So I sort of smashed them together. This was when we were starting to shoot some things we used to shoot sloppy in a more elegant way. Like the chair I’m sitting in while I’m masturbating, that shot is very carefully manicured. It’s also, by the way, the same shot when I called the girl for the date from “Bummer.” It’s right after I finish jacking I picked up the phone and called her. I didn’t even get up from the chair between the two shots.
AVC: There’s a secret continuity between those two episodes.
LCK: Yeah, exactly.
LCK: Eddie was an amalgam of a lot characters in my life. Open mikers who I started with in Boston, who never left open-mic comedy, and resented me for moving ahead. Even at that level, not people who are still doing comedy, but people who only wanted to do five minutes for free and who saw it as this kind of anarchist netherworld, a place where there’s no rules. It is a beautiful part of show business, the open mics, because there is no business to it. You’re not even being paid. So when you walk away from this, you always leave people behind who just think you’re a piece of shit. I started thinking about people like that and the notion of—this season I thought, “You know, let’s talk about experiences that are unique to stand-up comedians. That’s interesting. And if I do it authentically they’ll ring true for people in other parts of their lives, too.” And then there’s these guys who live on the road, who live in their cars. I’ve encountered a bunch of guys like that, and there’s always this feeling when I’ve worked with them that they wanna bond, but they wanna reject me too, because I’m headed somewhere.
When you’re younger, you sometimes feel guilt for your success, and you feel a little like a fraud because you think about guys like that as the “real” guys. But then you get grown-up enough and you’re like, “Well I’m supporting my kids and also I’m actually being creatively important,” or whatever it is, unique. It’s hard, grown-up work. The guys who are really fucking out there are actually people who continue to refine their voice and kept themselves healthy long enough to turn it into something worth watching. But there is security, that life. So it’s both sides. I wrote this thing that kind of went down this road, this character showing up and then it turned into this ending, I’m probably not the only one who’s been confronted by it, an old friend saying “I want to kill myself.” I’ve always resented it when people have said that to me, because it’s just an exhibitionist and bullshit thing to put on a person, and it’s very narcissistic and it shows very little love or care for the person you’re talking to.
I started thinking about this, going back, putting these people together by showing these flashbacks, these black-and-white flashbacks of this guy and developing throughout the story that he was a good friend and a defender, but then also he was an asshole. And as I’m hanging out with him I start to remember, “You know this guy was not that nice to me when I was younger.” [Laughs.] And now he’s showing up, and he’s trying to make me responsible for his giving up, and I don’t want to be responsible. I don’t want to do this, I’m a grown-up, and I know what this is gonna be: It’s gonna be me staying up with him until dawn, and talking him out of it, and then he’s gonna leave happy and I’m gonna leave drained and have nothing left for my kids in the morning, and I just ain’t doing it. At this age, we don’t do that for each other anymore. “You’re not my brother.” And that’s a harsher point of view than I was altogether comfortable with, but I decided that’s okay. I decided I’m gonna let myself end this episode with a decision I’m not altogether comfortable with. I thought, “There’s gonna be people who watch this episode and go, ‘That’s pretty fucking cold, man. You could’ve talked to him for a minute.’” And then I thought, “That’s okay. That’s okay for them to feel that way and to judge me harshly. It’s okay.” And also, I picture people saying that out loud and the other person in the room saying, “Well, what do you want him to do? What would have worked?”
And also, as I started to come up with things to say to him, I realized I was being self-aggrandizing, like, “I’m gonna save this guy” and what he says is totally me saying that to myself: “Who the fuck do you think you are that you’re going to save someone’s life? It’s not about you.” The two people walking by and arguing was a way to just defuse the argument between the two of us and to make us both realize that we’re just a couple of fucking idiots in New York yelling at each other, just like these two, and that we’re not this. And he isn’t either. The thing that really ended up turning that episode into something was Doug Stanhope.
AVC: I didn’t know that he was an actor, and I was blown away by his performance.
LCK: Yeah, he is incredible. I wrote this thing and I started to hear him in my head as I wrote it. I love Doug, and he is that guy, but more successful. But Doug has no acting background, none at all. And not only that, Doug has a fear of success—maybe, I don’t know. But I did detect in Doug elements that would hurt him trying to do something like this. I thought, “Doug’s probably never acted because he’s never gotten to a place where he can let himself do something like this.” But he was in my head. And I had other fucking people. I’ve had some pretty major actors ask me to put them in this show, and I had some great candidates. But I called Doug and I said, “Listen, I wrote this thing, and I don’t know if you’re right for it, but it occurred to me that maybe you could play this part.” And he said, “I can’t do that. I’m telling you right now, I will ruin it.” I said, “Well, let me frame the question a different way: Would you like to try it? If I let you have it, would you want it?” He said, “Yes, I would.” And that, to me, is a huge difference. He didn’t think he could do it, but he wanted to try.
So I said, “Listen, I’ll send it to you and let’s Skype.” He lives in Arizona in a fuckin’ trailer. I said, “Let’s Skype and read it together over Skype.” And he said, “Okay.” I gave him 24 hours and then I Skyped with him standing there with a ceiling fan behind him. He was sweating, he was up all night, I don’t know if he was sober, I have no idea. He did a pretty damn good job. He was off-book—he remembered it. He had a couple of good moments, and then the rest of the performance he went into secure places and self-advertised a bit. And then I thought, “You know, I could get an actor and the actor would be maybe 20 percent better than this, or I could push Doug through this.” I’ve worked with comedians before that have demons; I know what their problems are. I thought, “This is gonna be a hard episode to do, but I’m gonna give Doug a shot. I may have to do it line-by-line, but I’m going to get it out of him.”
So he came to shoot the episode, and I was in a really bad place, because I was exhausted, it was close to the end of the season, I had nothing left. Nobody wanted to shoot that episode. My producer, everybody was like, “It’s too depressing.” Everybody thought it was just a horrible script, way too sad. I had no support. I didn’t know any of my fucking lines, and he brought this energy to that character that I did not see coming. He made him fun, and weirdly full of life at the end of his life—just a good guy. I started in the first few minutes of shooting to beat that out of him and make this more depressing, but then I thought, “No, no. Let this happen. This is better than what I wrote.”
He was so fucking real and good that he pulled me through the episode, because I was in a terrible place. I was so run down, and at one point I fell asleep in that fucking car, and he got in the car next to me and I said, “Doug, I don’t know any of my lines. None of them.” And he just said, “It’s easy. I say this and you say this then the rest is me. You don’t have to worry about it.” And he fuckin’ drank with me in this episode. He knew his lines so well and he was so centered as the character and he pulled me through it and gave the character way more than I had imbibed him with in the writing. Then when we were shooting the scene at the end, when he’s telling about the doctor and the pills and everything, I was in such heaven, because I’m just watching him and inside I’m thinking, “I can’t believe we’re getting all this on film. This guy is so fucking good.” This season I had a real pleasure in who I got to put on camera. The people that I got to put on the show that weren’t people who are on stuff all the time, that meant a lot. And for Doug, I mean, he’s never done anything approaching that. That was great. I loved that he did that. It turned into this story, this little short story that really was really worth watching.