One episode features comic Louis C.K. wallowing in the aftermath of his divorce, connecting with a woman from his distant past through Facebook in one of the most uncomfortable reunions I've ever seen on television.
Another story spotlights a gay comic stunning a roomful of his poker-playing comedian buddies by explaining the origins of a gay slur. And there's the moment the comic picks up a woman for his first post-divorce date, and her senior citizen neighbor flashes him.
To say that Louis C.K.'s new FX comedy Louie (debuting at 11 p.m. Tuesday) is something of an anti-sitcom may be the understatement of the decade. I've always considered him one of the funniest comedians who never had a super-successful TV deal — a sidesplitting standup comic who won an Emmy writing for Chris Rock's groundbreaking HBO show.
Now, with Louie, he has persuaded a major TV channel to let him write, direct, edit and star in a show that's about whatever he wants it to be, blending snippets of his standup comedy with vignettes re-creating the eccentric desperation of being a divorced, 40-something guy with two kids trying to date in New York City. Here's how he made it happen.
Why are you doing so much on this show? Do you eventually wash dishes after everybody has lunch, too?
I like doing it this way 'cause it's more from the gut. There's something about the way a (regular) sitcom is written and is taken through its paces. You know, you have all these network-approval tiers that you have to get through; a group of people that have to have reached consensus before they write something. And this is very different because the network let me do the show the way I want. They don't see the show till it's cut together. I don't pitch the stories and stuff; I can write something and just shoot it. Personally, I'd rather watch a show that's imperfect and herky-jerky but has bigger raw energies.
How'd you get FX to let you do that?
I didn't want to come out to L.A. to do a sitcom because of my kids here in New York. I'm divorced, which means I can't make my ex-wife move the kids to L.A. anymore. And I'm not a person who's going to go take a job where I can't be with my kids. If somebody said to me, we'll pay you Charlie Sheen money to do a show in L.A. and it meant I'd have to fly back once every three weeks to see my kids, I'd say no. So FX is offering me a tenth of what everybody else offered me but (they wanted) a show that's more personal and more narrative.
You don't even really have a cast of characters.
The thing is, when you cast a (regular) show, you're betting that people are going to bond with characters. You cast somebody and you say okay, this guy's the best friend. I think people will love this guy and, moreover, I bet I'm going to be able to write for this guy and I bet this guy is going to continue to show range and continue to be a good asset to the show. You find yourself six months later, this guy stinks. How do I kill this character? So I started with nothing. … I think as long as the stories are compelling, you know, the show will work.
You have one episode where a date is going so badly a woman jumps into a helicopter to get away from you. Is there anything you won't do to avoid a predictable ending?
To me, it's got to be compelling, and it's got to be unique, and it's got to be funny. Those, to me, would be the three rules. … It's got to be like, "I want to keep watching this. What the hell's going on?" And I think a show should leave you with (things) to think about and puzzle about, you know? It should leave you kind of … "what the hell was that? Why did I see that?" And, you know, I think that kind of sticks with you.