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Louis C.K. Reflects On 'Louie,' Loss, Love And Life
C.K. won an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series for an episode on his FX show Louie. In 2011, C.K. told Fresh Air about making his comedy special and his relationship with other comedians.
Originally broadcast Dec. 13, 2011.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our mini series featuring interviews with some of this week's Emmy winners. Up next, Louis C.K., who's commonly acknowledged as one of the greatest comics of his generation. He's the creator, writer, director and star of the FX comedy series "Louie." He plays a comic named Louie who, like Louis C.K., is the divorced father of two girls and shares custody with their mother. He won the Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series for an episode of the "Louie" called "So Did The Fat Lady." We talked about that episode in May.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: This is an episode in which you've been trying to go out with one of the waitresses in the comedy club where you work, but she keeps turning you down. But another waitress keeps asking you to hang out, and she seems smart and really funny, but she's also heavy. She's, you know, somewhere between chubby and fat, depending on the word you want to use.
And you keep coming up with excuses about why you're busy, and finally you agree to spend some time with her. You're walking with her along the river, and she starts talking about how difficult it is to be a fat girl and single, and then you try to reassure her that she's not fat. Her name is Vanessa in the show, and she's played by Sarah Baker.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "LOUIE")
LOUIS C.K.: (As Louie) You know, Vanessa, you're a very, really beautiful...
SARAH BAKER: (As Vanessa) Come on. If I was a very, really beautiful, then you would've said yes when I asked you out. I mean come on, Louie, be honest here. You know what's funny? I flirt with guys all the time, and I mean the great looking ones, like, the really high-caliber studs, they flirt right back, no problem, because they know their status will never be questioned. But guys like you never flirt with me because you get scared that maybe you should be with a girl like me. And why not? You know, if you were standing over there looking at us, you know what you'd see?
C.K.: (As Louie) What?
BAKER: (As Vanessa) That we totally match. We're actually a great couple together.
GROSS: That's a scene from Louis C.K.'s show, "Louie." I think that's a terrific scene. There's a lot more of it. We just played a short excerpt. And I think there's so much truth in what she's saying about how certain men will only be comfortable hanging out with attractive women and certainly will only date a really attractive woman, even if they're not attractive themselves. Do you know what I mean?
GROSS: And the way you've written your character in this, he's just, like, totally pigged out. (Laughter).
GROSS: You know, he's had like two meals - two full meals back to back with a really fat friend of his - a male friend. And so it's like - you know, it's so hypocritical that he'd be uncomfortable walking with a fat girl when, you know, one of his good friends is, like, super-overweight and...
C.K.: Yeah, yeah, and he's also - him and his friend - that's my brother, actually, on the show, Bobby - we're looking over at women on the street, you know, like we're looking at candy through a window, like, though they're very untouchable to us, you know? So it's a weird pecking order.
GROSS: So how did you start thinking about writing that part for the role of Vanessa? Had you had a similar conversation with somebody? Was somebody you know telling you her point of view? Did you just kind of figure this out yourself?
C.K.: I actually had a conversation many, many years ago with a guy who was heavy and kind of - you know, big eyebrows and - a guy somebody might, you know, describe as a troll. And he just said - and you're not used to hearing people talk like this - he said it's not fair that people aren't attracted to me and that I'm just excluded from certain basic human joys that everybody else partakes in.
And it's true. I mean, there's always - everybody's in that position somewhere relatively - not everybody. Some people just seem to be universally attractive, but, I mean, I know what that feels like too. I've been several weights in my life, and I know what it feels like to just feel like you're in the outside looking in of the real party in life, you know?
GROSS: So at what point in your life did you arrive at the point of thinking the kinds of things that you just said? Is that a recent realization, or have you been thinking that for a long time?
C.K.: I've always thought about it because in school you're confronted with kids saying stuff to you. I was heavy for parts of my school life, or awkward at least. You know, at least in high school kids make fun of you. After high school, you're just alone.
C.K.: Like there's just no people. You just get left alone. So I know what it feels to feel that way. I'm certainly not as heavy as some people, but I've been heavy, and I went bald at, like, 24. So I've always thought about it.
GROSS: So, but now that you're so well-known for being really funny - now that your show is so good - now that a lot of people talk about you, rightfully so, as perhaps the best comic of your generation, are you much sexier?
C.K.: Jeez, I don't know. I mean, I don't - I'm not out being single like I used to be. So I never had a heyday, sexually. I mean, I've, you know - I've always been somewhat confident even though I've been awkward and lumpy. I mean, when I was in junior high school, I used to ask every - I asked every girl out, every girl in the school.
And in high school, too - the cheerleaders, everybody. It never bothered me to get rejected. So I would go up to the cutest girl in school...
GROSS: Good preparation for being a comic. (Laughter).
C.K.: Yeah, exactly. What's so bad? You go up to a very attractive girl who's like a queen bee - just ask her out. And I was nobody, but I'd be like, hey, you want to go out with me? And you'd always get at least one second of sympathy and kind of, oh, that's - no, no, definitely not, but wow, you came up and asked me.
So I don't know, it never bothered me. And so, you know, I was married, and I've had girlfriends and, casual sex - all kinds of stuff. And I'm in a relationship now. So I'm not out - you know, I don't know how sexy I am in the marketplace. I'm not testing it right now.
GROSS: (Laughter). Your character is always either getting picked up by a woman or, you know, trying to hit on a woman, and he's always winding up with women who are such trouble. Even if they're beautiful, there's something kind of mentally unstable about them. Why is that?
C.K.: You know, I don't know. It sort of became a trend after a couple of seasons. I think the thing to me - what's fun to do with this guy on the show is just put stuff in front of him that he can't resist. You know what I mean? Here's a beautiful woman, and she doesn't seem like a good choice for you, but there you go. If you're intimate with a total stranger, it's a reckless thing to do. You know, getting into bed with somebody who you don't know simply because you like their body or because they came on to you - these always lead to bad choices.
So I like showing a guy deal with bad choices. To me the show wouldn't be very interesting if I was confronted with all very well-balanced women, and then we go and have coffee and everything works out well, and maybe we kiss, and that's the end of the episode. That's not that funny to me.
So I've been playing that game over and over again for a while 'cause it's still fun for me. That's why I'm still telling that story. It certainly doesn't represent to me that that's what women are like. To me it's funny when people want a show to be an ideal of this is what we all feel is the best version of a woman and a man. I'm looking for weaknesses on both sides. It's fun.
But this season I sort of try to fall in love for real and try to have a more real relationship. So...
GROSS: At the risk of getting too personal, have you had your share of experiences where you wake up in the morning in a stranger's bed and think what have I done? Why am I here?
C.K.: Yeah, oh, sure. I usually don't make it to the morning in situations like that.
C.K.: I usually find a way to get the hell out of there, yeah. It's usually right after the act. I'm like wait, this is such a bad idea for both of us. I'm upset for myself and her. Almost every single time I've had sex with somebody for the first time, I should've waited.
You get two benefits. One is you realize you didn't want to after all, and there's something about her that, you know, you didn't want to get that intimate. Or you get more fond of each other, and there's more to connect about if you wait.
GROSS: Part of what you just said sounds like a rehearsal for when your daughters get just a little bit older.
GROSS: Like, take it from me, you should wait.
C.K.: Yeah, exactly. Well, I do think we should tell our kids when they start making these choices - tell them the real thing. Like don't tell them hocus pocus, you know, spooky stories - you know, you're going to get - someone's going to kill you. Jesus is going to hate you if you do this. Tell them the truth, which is you're going to feel crappy if you do this.
C.K.: You're going to feel - it's not worth it. Just wait. It's a very big deal to be naked in a room with a human being - to be naked in a bed with another person. That is so intimate. That's such a big deal. And when you don't treat it like a big deal, you get confronted with how big a deal it is as a surprise when you're - you know, when that urge is over that got you there. So yeah, it took me, you know, about a thousand repetitions of the mistake to sort of start to think of it as one, which I think is probably pretty common.
GROSS: Louis C.K., recorded in May - this week he won the Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series for the episode "So Did The Fat Lady" in his series, "Louie." He's touring with Funny or Die's Oddball Comedy Festival. So is the next Emmy winner we'll here from, Sarah Silverman. That's after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.