Tuned In

Louis CK Interview, Part 2: Money and Mortality

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FX’s Louie, the dark-comic vision of Louis CK, returns for a second season tonight. (Also, the season-one DVD just came out; see above for a probably-NSFW deleted scene.) My feature on the comedian and the new season is in this week’s TIME magazine, and part one of the (lightly edited) transcript of our interview went up yesterday. (The episode they were shooting when I visited the set, by the way, airs tonight. It’s excellent.)

Here’s the second and last part, in which we talk about Louie’s low-budget, high-freedom deal with the network, and about his comedic penchant for death:

Do you have the same business relationships this year that you did for the first season?

Yeah. It’s still the same thing.

They cut you a check and you give them an episode?

Yeah. And then they give me editing notes. And I have told [FX] a little more about stuff that I did last year because some of the episodes I needed help with. I had something that I shot that included… one of the locations was a Fox affiliate, was one of their companies, and I needed help with one of their other shows so I had to send them the script and go through them. And we have one episode that we’re doing, hopefully, we don’t even know yet, that’s a huge, much bigger budget. It’s twice the budget of the usual show but the subject matter is something that they were keenly interested in. If I get the money then it’ll be something that they and I will have collaborated on more because they helped me. But that’s been a good experience. They’re really great people. So we’ll see. They may just not have the money. [JP: He’s referring to the season finale, set in Afghanistan and shot in Texas and California, which they ended up getting the budget to shoot.]

What are the things that go into making a show that cheap? I mean, you still have to have crew; you still have to do locations.

Well, there’s a lot of stuff that you do away with that’s really more of a bother than anything else. We really have the amount of crew that you need to do a show like this. But I came from independent film in New York and everybody—I mean Amy and I did short films together back in the late ‘80s, my production designer Laura and I did Pootie Tang together. That was a three million dollar film but it had stunts and shit on it, you know, gun play and a fight in a car wash. She designed that movie too. And Paul, my [director of photography] and I, we’d been shooting together forever and ever. We don’t have a big dolly on wheels, we have this thing called the 7 jib and it was invented by a friend of his. And it’s a really creative way to move the camera around that’s way cheaper, a million times cheaper. We’re just smart about how we spend the money. There’s probably five trucks that we don’t have that other shows would have. Also, I really know production. I really understand everything. That makes a huge mark.

From having done a lot of the stuff yourself?

Yeah. And also being fascinated with it and loving it so. I mean we do—like we bought a set of lenses this year instead of renting. We rent a set—we bought a set of lenses that’s very unique and we had to have a complete set, and that’s our property. That’s our visual property; nobody else gets to have it now. So we have a look for the red that nobody else has. This is stuff I think about all the time. Also, I don’t get—I just make the show, I don’t really get paid a thousand bucks a show. I have a fee but it’s the lowest legal fee that I could possibly take. You know, the skills minimum across the board for SAG, Director’s Guild and all that stuff. But I might get an enormous amount of money on the road because of the show. So that’s the tradeoff.

And obviously, if the show becomes profitable—that’s their hope. The reason they’re bothering to do this is they’re getting very cheap television that’s doing well. So the thing is as long as we’re doing that we’ll keep going. It’s funny, last year John Landgraf said something to me like well, so next year hopefully your ratings will bump, but if they don’t then it’s really going to be up to you if you want to keep doing it or not. And it was a crazy thing for me to hear him say that, as if it would ever be anything but that I’d want to do it. Because there is fatigue, it’s fucking hard, but what I know from experience is that if I was getting a million dollars a show it wouldn’t make it easier. It wouldn’t make it more fun.

So I really like that I just do this for the sake of doing it and so that it’s on the air and it kind of enriches everything for me. A lot of TV writers and creators and stars and stuff, they want a lot of fucking money. And they sink their own shows. It’s easier to cancel a show if it’s expensive.

Yeah. FX has canceled—I don’t remember your exact rating from last year [It was just over 1 million viewers an episode], but FX had to cancel shows that they liked that I assume were more expensive.

Yeah, way more expensive. And so there are other things that we’ve just learned, like we don’t have a cast of five that are all paid for every episode. It’s an enormous cost, series deals for series regulars. I mean we’re paying everybody a little more this year, some people a lot more, because we’re doing better and we’re no longer a show on probation, we’re doing well. So those costs go up but…

Besides the kids I assume some people are—like Pamela Adlon’s doing the second season.

She’s in the second season.

Plus your brother, I don’t know if he’s…

Well, my brother—I have two sisters this season; I don’t have a brother. That’s the reality. I don’t have a brother in real life. I just had Bobby because I really liked Bobby Kelly and he makes me laugh. And he would have been on this year too but I just didn’t come up with any stories for him. And that’s the whole thing to me is like if you announce somebody as a series regular you pay him per episode, you know, for a whole boat of episodes. Then you’re stuck with him and it’s not even…

You have to write stories just for him.

Yeah. There’s a lot of moments and scenes in sitcoms that you know they’re just serving the character because they have him there. Bobby played his way onto this team. There was never supposed to be a brother on this show. He did one episode and he was so compelling that I wrote a few more. And then this year my brain just didn’t go to him so I got to not have him on.

But now I have these two sisters. I don’t know if I’ll keep both of them or one of them, you know, we’ll see. But yes, Pamela is back and I only get Pamela for like three episodes a year because she’s on Californication and so I’m not allowed to use her more than that. She also helps me write and cast the show. She’s a producer.

And the kids, but I don’t have a series deal with the kids. Last year, two different kids played the youngest one, Jane. Nobody even noticed that. You know, there is one episode in last year’s series where both the Janes are in the same episode. It’s one of the last ones. I don’t know which one, but it’s one of the last ones. Nobody noticed, including the—I was afraid to tell the network because we lost the original actress to a pilot and I thought do we tell them. Do we inform them that we—because they told me when they wanted to make my cast deals, they said you’re going to lose people. And I said I’m willing to take that chance. And sure enough we lost a kid and we replaced her and I thought do we tell the network? And I said no, just let them as always, let them watch the episodes. And then the day they watch that one they’re going to call and say who’s the new kid?

And they never did. I think it was at the premier party that I said to Landgraf, did you know there’s two different kids? And he said no, I didn’t.

I’m always looking for doubles on the kids just in case. The girl who plays Lily, my oldest, her parents give her a real life, you know. And so sometimes we lose her to things she does in real life, which is great. And she’s a really healthy and smart kid. And they may say some day we’re taking Hadley to France or something or she’s going to boarding school, and I’ll lose her. But that’s okay, that’s her life. And next year–you know, I did a lot of fucking kid stories this year. Next year I may not want to do it. Maybe next year I’ll do a whole, you know, I wanted to do a bunch of shit about high school and about other times in my life you know. I didn’t end up getting to that but maybe next year will be a whole other time, I don’t know.

One other thing I wanted to ask before we’re done. Would you say is it—would it be fair to say that mortality is a fairly big theme of your comedy?

It’s funny that I hear that sometimes, because I don’t think about it very much. I mean to me it’s there. It’s like the timeline goes there, it goes past it so it’s just there. And to me it’s funny to, it’s funny to me that anybody doesn’t—it’s not a subject to me, it’s just where everything heads, do you know what I mean? It’s just natural. I don’t think about—I mean for myself, but everybody dies, so to me it’s kind of like being on a bus to Pittsburgh and I’m like I wonder what time we’re going to get to Pittsburgh. And everyone’s like shut—what—why are you talking about Pittsburgh? We’re on a fucking bus; this bus is going to Pittsburgh. God, you know, you’re so obsessed with Pittsburgh. Well, it says it on the fucking tickets and on the front of the bus, where do you—that’s where we’re going. Why aren’t you talking—aren’t you interested that we’re all headed there?

So to some degree it’s like, you know, and life is finite and it’s made finite by death, that’s what makes it that. So everything is whatever happens till you die, so you know. I’m reckless about it; I think that’s the thing. It’s not that I’m obsessed with it but on my mind it’s mentioning it. Oh yeah, there’s a run and die. Or that person’s going to die or my dog died, you know, whatever. It’s weird to me. So now like I tell a story, a new story about my dead dog, about my other dog that died. Last year I did a story about one dead dog; this year I’m doing a story about another dead dog. And I tell a story about saving my dog’s life when she had eaten some poison and stuff, and I tell the story about the struggle, and at the end of it I go anyway she got hit by a truck a year later. And everybody goes ohhh. People get so upset, ohhh. And I always, every time I go what’s wrong with you? Yes, she died, you didn’t know her, you know. I’ll be honest, I was devastated when she—when a dog dies though you’re devastated for two weeks and then you completely forget the dog if you’re a grownup. I don’t think I have any—people died this year, people die; a lot of people died this year.

And it’s not just literal death but decay. I mean the Ricky Gervais scenes from last year, you know, I’m getting older and stuff’s falling apart…

Yeah. Mainly there’s not as much of the getting older, but there is a bunch of old people. Not me, but a bunch of old people. I mean I’m old, but there’s other older people and then a few folks die on camera. Yeah. I just don’t mind, it’s like why wouldn’t you talk about it? It’s the most, you know, death and talking, those are all really big subjects. And because they kind of give people an immediate reaction, a lot of people think of them as cheap. I don’t know. I did a lot of things I didn’t used to do this season. I think there’s like four episodes that have fart jokes in them somewhere. I realize that and I didn’t notice it. I just noticed okay, I fart in this episode.

Farts are—I just refuse to be snobbish about certain shit with comedy. You know, farts come out of your ass and they make a fucking trumpet sound. That shit smelling gas comes out of your ass and it makes a toot sound. What the fuck is not funny about that? It’s perfect, it’s a perfect joke. It has all the elements.