Entertainment & Arts

The Conversation: Louis C.K.

Louis C.K.(a transliteration of his Hungarian surname, Szekely), a divorced stand-up comedian with two daughters, recently returned to the small screen with the third season of the edgy eponymous FX comedy series he writes, stars in and directs. “Louie,” also about a divorced stand-up comedian with two daughters, has been a critics’ darling since its 2010 debut.

Since “Louie” mines your life for material, I gather that one thing you’re thinking a lot about these days is dating and gender roles.

I guess so, yeah.

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Your recent episode with Oscar winner Melissa Leo.... How did you come to cast her?

I saw her in"The Fighter,"and I loved her in that. It was pretty cut and dry. We sent it to her through channels, and she accepted almost immediately. She told me that it was something so different from what she’s asked to do that she was excited to try it.

Your sex scene was pretty unusual, and I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz online about it. What were you thinking when you wrote it, and what kind of reaction have you been getting?

The original idea was just being set up by married people, because married people get nervous when there are divorced people around them. Because it challenges the reality that they’re living. So if someone is happily divorced, it makes a nervous married person very nervous. So they want to pair people off; they don’t want any happy single people around.


And then these stories kind of tell themselves to me sometimes. Once I have this character in my head of this woman I’m being set up with, I pictured this scene with us together and us getting into a power struggle and it was just interesting to me to trade those different attitudes. I think we were both so absolute about our opinion that it had to end in violence. When nobody wants to back down, somebody hits somebody.

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So your characters leave the married couple’s house together, and she offers oral sex, which you accept but refuse to reciprocate. That’s what you guys were fighting about. Some of the online comments said you were in the female role there.

I have to say that if you know enough people with enough variety, generalizations always break down. I’ve known a lot of women like her. Maybe more women have been in the role I was in, but ... I didn’t see it as a male-female thing. I saw it as two human beings who were talking about pleasuring each other.

You’ve said you think you should always be the victim of sex, and I think you were talking about your character. Why is that?

It’s fun to dissect the character on the show. I think all the bad things that happen to me, not just bad but the strange, humiliating, penetrating things that happen to me are like dissecting. They’re tools of investigation of a character. So when the character is more the aggressor, it’s just different — you don’t get a look inside. So sex is one of those cases.

“Louie” is the only relatively mainstream TV show that I’m aware of that you have to input your birth date to access past episodes online, like going to wine and porn sites. How did that happen?

My show’s got some pretty adult language. I’m not surprised.


Is it fair to say that you regard your show as a grand experiment? Maybe not so grand but an experiment.

Definitely take the grand off there, but you always have to be trying something new. You don’t have to, but it’s fun that way. If you can do something that’s very new but feels familiar and authentic, that’s a very exciting place to be.

Speaking of doing things that are new, selling tickets to your upcoming tour through your own website is new. How’s that going?

I think we’ve sold all of them practically. It’s been by far the most successful tour I’ve done, and it doesn’t even start until October.

I didn’t see L.A. on your tour.

I couldn’t find a room. In L.A. a lot of the better theaters have obligations to other ticketing services, so they couldn’t work with us.

You are charging $45 for each ticket, no matter where it is in the theater, which is like a 1990 price. Presumably you’re doing that to keep money in your fans’ pockets instead of giving it to companies like Ticketmaster. Last year, when you used ticketing services, how much were the tickets and how much actually went to you and the production?

It varies from place to place, but I always try to keep my tickets down.... I could charge $75 for better seats, which translates to about $100 a person. To me, that’s putting a lot of hurt on people when they’re just trying to have a good time. I don’t need that much.


How do you prevent scalping?

We don’t prevent it completely, but we’ve driven it down massively. I have one show on regular ticketing services this year, because it was booked before my tour was booked, and it’s 4,400 seats. Those shows aren’t even sold out, and 1,100 of those tickets are on scalping sites. But out of my tour that we ticketed ourselves, 136,000 tickets are in the market and only 100 of them are on scalper sites.

Makes you wonder why more people don’t take control of this like you do.

It does make you wonder. Yes.

I heard your chat with Donald Rumsfeld on Sirius XM’s “Opie & Anthony Show.” It’s amazing that he didn’t hang up when you kept asking him whether he was a lizard. What were you thinking?

I don’t think he wanted to hang up. He was having a good time. The guys at “Opie & Anthony” told me that his people called right after and said, “Thank you. He enjoyed it.” You think of people like Donald Rumsfeld as powerful and omnipresent, but the fact is he’s retired, and it’s really hard to sell books. So having some ... comedian bother him and have it go viral, I bet I sold at least 500 books for that guy, and that’s not nothin’.

Your opening sequence, which of course has the song, “Louie Louie,” seems very ‘70s. The title fonts remind me of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Cooper black, yeah.

Do you have some kind of nostalgia for the ‘70s?

I grew up watching TV in the ‘70s. I just like those aesthetics.

Is the production budget creeping up now that your series is getting more attention?

It’s going up in the increments we agreed to before we started. It goes up a little bit each year because all the people we employ and do business with in New York City, a lot of them helped us out in the first season. And as the show grows in popularity, those people need more money. But I don’t believe there’s a cheaper show on TV, unless it’s “Cheaters,” or one of those shows.

So FX was the only network that gave you complete creative freedom? HBO didn’t when you had your first series, “Lucky Louie”?

They have their notes. They gave me a lot of freedom, but it was still a network process. A lot of work in television goes into just the process of auditioning the episodes for the networks. That’s a lot of work we skip completely, and it saves us a lot of money.

So why did HBO cancel it?

You’d have to ask them. Our ratings increased almost every week. And you can’t see it anywhere on HBO. It’s not in their archives, it’s not on their website. “Lucky Louie” was just banished. There was a whole other group of people working there when I was there who loved the show, a whole other regime. There are people there now who aggressively hate the show, so they’re pretending it never existed.


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