Louis CK investigates bombing standup routines
So, I hear you’ve been caught up with doing radio interviews all morning.
I’ve been doing radio interviews for 20 years now, and I’m still not totally used to it. It always depends on the people on the show. Sometimes they’re a good flow of energy and you jump in with them, and other times it’s just these weirdos who do these fake radio voices, and you can’t really talk to them.
They say “HEY WE’RE TALKIN! TO LOUIS CK RIIIGHT NOW!!”
Right, and then they say “HEY! WHAT’S GOIN’ ON!?” Like, literally that loud. And I’m like “Not much.” And there’s this dead air because they wanted me to go “NOTHING, DUDE!!” I don’t have a loud fakeness to match theirs. Today on WZLX, he asked me two or three things then got the f-ck off the phone with me fast, because I wasn’t matching his intensity.
Is it harder to do an interview when the guy is trying to do shtick?
To me, it’s about how real a person is. If they’re being bizarrely fake, I just don’t know how to relate. But people trying to be funny, that’s OK. You just laugh at their jokes and they feel better about themselves, and you continue talking.
You grew up in Newton. Were you a fancy rich boy?
You know, if you look at the demographics of Newton, like Newton Center and Chestnut Hill is really rich, but then there’s this whole part near the Mass. Turnpike that’s very working class people. They make their living by painting the houses of the people up on the hill. That’s where I grew up. The Pike literally went through my backyard, and that purple commuter train — I never found out where it goes — rumbled through.
You made it to 98 on Comedy Central’s greatest comedians of all time. Think your got robbed?
Oh, I don’t care. It’s not like they had an eminent think tank. Some intern at Comedy Central spit out this list. I never give a sh-t. I should probably be somewhere off the list. There’s some clear choices at the beginning, then it just gets weird and murky. They’ve never been the arbiters of who the funniest people in the world are, to me. Half the time, you put on Comedy Central and it’s like “Weekend At Bernie’s,” so I don’t really care what they think.
It seems comedians are the only ones who rehearse in front of audiences, unlike musicians who practice in private.
That’s exactly right. With comedy, the audience is almost the instrument you are playing. There’s no second part to your sentence without them. There is no way to simulate performance, which is what rehearsing is. It’s beyond Interactive. You’re doing it together. That’s why you have to fail as a performer. No standup exists who hasn’t had a huge amount of failure in their life. You can’t prepare, you have to at some point show very raw, untested, poor material to an actual paying audience. And it never gets easier, because as you get popular people come to see you and they’re happy to see you, and you think that is going to get you some benefit of the doubt, but it actually lays a huge amount of pressure on you, because they’re expecting a lot and they’re paying more. You have to surprise them.
Failure is funnier than success isn’t it?
Certainly. What makes me laugh is failing on stage. When we talk about performing, you might say in passing that someone had a killer set, but the thing that makes a room full of comedians laugh is talking about how a dude just bombed [laughs]. When I’m having a bad show, I can’t wait to tell my friends. While it’s going on and I’m sweating and flailing I’m thinking at least I can get some of my friends to appreciate this.
I find myself doing that if I have a bad interview, if someone has nothing to say and I’m struggling and getting nervous. Immediately I have to tell my friends that dude sucked.
[Laughs.] Yeah, of course. It’s way more interesting. And on a more productive level, failed sets teach you a huge amount. You gather so much data. In a good show you don’t. There’s so much euphoria and drugs in a good show, that all it does is delude you that you’re better than you are. When you have a bad show you get a really clear picture, and a forensics file that you will draw from for the rest of your life
You’re like the CSI of comedy.
Exactly like CSI! Where you’re kind of pointing at things on the floor with a pen with gloves on and going like “Well, clearly he tried to do some racial humor after some really smug self-aggrandizing humor so he was coming off like an asshole. If he’d just switched these around, no one would have gotten hurt.”
You’re working with Ricky Gervais soon. I think to myself, “Wow, that must be laughs all the time, but is the reality a little more mundane?”
We’re gonna start shooting in April. The whole thing shoots out of Boston. It’s called “This Side of the Truth.” He plays a guy who lives in an alternate universe, and no one ever lies. He invents lying, in a world where it doesn’t exist. I play his loser asshole best friend who he hates. I’ve hung out with Ricky once. He is a hilarious goof of a guy. He laughs a lot. There are times when comedians and funny people hang out together and it’s really funny. [laughs] It does happen.
Anything you would have done differently with “Lucky Louie,” in hindsight?
I don’t think so. All that show needed was another season. There’s no show that hit’s the ground running, perfectly. A show that’s that different than what was going on at the time, people need time to adjust. And everybody I know that loved that show — and people come up to me literally, daily to say that they miss it -- they also say they didn’t know what to make of it at first, then they grew to love it, because it was new. We intentionally made the sets very flat and underlit and theatrical, so that it would feel like a live show and be more about the characters than the photography of the thing. Some people thought we f-cked up and didn’t spend enough time building the set. And those people, if they kept watching would have caught on to what the intent of the show was. All I would say I would do differently is I would let us do more. And we also would have gotten better. Of course, the show wasn’t perfect.
It’s weird, you think an HBO audience would be a little more sophisticated than a network audience.
Well, I learned a lot about that. I think rather than being more sophisticated, they like to use words like ‘eclectic,’ but I don’t think they are eclectic. I think they want something shot on film, they like awkward comedy that’s based on absurd ‘cut to this guy being awkward’ things. People have a very specific palate that they enjoy, it’s just different than other people’s. It looks more educated, and I guess in some ways it is, but I don’t think anyone’s eclectic. People like what they like and that’s it. They don’t change easily. And to me, comedy has always been about taking people out of what they expect to like and making them like something new. But through being generous with them and helping to get there. That was what we were trying to do with “Lucky Louie,” we just didn’t have enough time.
Originally published in the Boston Metro.