Louis C.K. has a lot of different titles these days. Comedian. Actor. Director. Writer. Genius. But as successful as he’s become, getting to that point took a lot of time and a lot of hard work. At 48, C.K. is one of the most famous stand-up comedians in America and has had two critically-acclaimed television shows, Louie and Horace and Pete, over the last few years. After bombing at a Boston comedy club when he was only 17-years-old, Louis could have easily given up and almost did after an unsuccessful audition for Saturday Night Live back in the 1990s. However, C.K. would soon land a writing job for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, a gig that he says saved his career in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
After spending the next few years working in the late-night world, including writing for Dana Carvey and David Letterman, C.K. had essentially given up the idea of ever having his own show until his friend, Chris Rock, for whom he’d been writing for on The Chris Rock Show, urged him to keep trying. One of the sketches from that show turned into Pootie Tang, which became Louis C.K.’s directorial debut. He also wrote the film but has said that he was basically fired from the production during the editing process and that the finished version of the film, which was berated by critics, was far from the vision he had for it. C.K. also says that’s when he learned about the importance of creative control, something which would become a major part of his life a few years down the road.
His first time acting actually didn’t come until 2004 when he shot a pilot for CBS called Saint Louie. The show wasn’t picked up but he went the TV route again in 2006 for HBO’s Lucky Louie, which was put on the air for a season, but was quickly cancelled in 2007. However, C.K.’s popularity and fame had grown, which meant bigger audiences for his stand-up shows and began receiving big-time offers from major networks, but opted not to cash in on his new-found success. Louis had no desire to move to Los Angeles, which would mean being away from his children, and also didn’t like the fact that he would only be using a small portion of his own material while the rest would be from the network’s writers. However, C.K. would soon be contacted by FX president and general manager John Landgraf with a deal that was just too good to turn down.
While Landgraf said that FX could only offer $200,000 for a pilot and any subsequent episodes, Louis could shoot his series in New York, have complete creative control and only do as much press and promotion that he felt comfortable with. C.K. jumped at the offer and Louie was born.
The chance to do something truly original meant everything to Louis C.K. and he put as much as he could into it.
“It became an obsession — that was it — and I really gave a s**t about the show and applied everything I’d learned — everything — to the show.”
Debuting in 2010, Louie became a hit with audiences and critics alike. And the creative control that said he could stop and start the show whenever he pleased allowed C.K. the freedom to only do the show when he felt the time was right, which he took full advantage of with a two-year hiatus between Seasons 3 and 4. Louie took an “extended hiatus” after its fifth season finale last May, which may be the last time that viewers ever get to enjoy it.
“I don’t ever want to do the show because I owe another season. I don’t think that’s fair to anybody.
“I think the guy that I played on the show, the just-divorced kinda under-water dad/struggling New York comic — I don’t think I have stories for that guy anymore. But the show is autobiographical, so what John Landgraf and I have always thought is that it may come back with a different set of stories from a different angle a little further down the road. And I don’t know where that’s from yet, so it just depends on if it writes. I think, for me, if I’m on TV again doing a single-camera show, it’s Louie. But I don’t know. I have no idea. I needed to not know if I’d ever do it again — I needed to feel that way — so that’s the way I feel right now.”
With Louie on hiatus, C.K. took a huge risk and went the dramatic route with Horace and Pete. He quietly lined up an A-list cast, including Steve Buscemi and Edie Falco, to join him onscreen for a series that has no network attachment. Instead, he shot 10 episodes and released it on his website, LouisCK.net, charging $5 for the first episode and $31 for all 10. C.K. spoke about the process and why he decided to put out the show in the manner in which he did.
“I call it a tragedy.
“They were very emotional to write. I started to get excited about different ways to do it, like make the episodes as long as you want, shot as a sitcom but without an audience, let it feel like a play, have an episode where two people talk and nobody else is in it, have a 10-minute monologue before you know who [the character] is talking to. And I started to think, ‘This is gonna be a little tough to fit into the FX frequency and how they make television, just stylistically.”
Horace and Pete was another critically-acclaimed hit for Louis C.K. and has even gotten some Emmy buzz. While Time recently reported that the show would not return for a second season, C.K. says that isn’t exactly true. Following the release of the 10th and final episode on April 2, Louis emailed his fans and wrote “That was it.” C.K. also stated that it was “a very very sad thing to be done doing it,” but says that he only meant that season one had come to a close, not the series.
“Here’s what happened. I was writing an email every week to my fans with every new episode. But the tenth episode was the last one, and I didn’t want to say, ‘Here’s the last episode,’ because I had a very dramatic ending to the season. And by the way, I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but that’s up to me… I could do a second season of Horace and Pete, of course I could — and I’m considering it. I’m not sure what I’m gonna do. I know I will do this kind of show again.
“They wrote ‘cancels the show.’ That is a big leap to take. And then they say, in big letters, ‘Now it’s finished.’ They not only took it out of context, they created a context for it… So Time prints that, and everybody else prints it as a fact… Why would I cancel my own TV show? I mean, I’m paying for it myself!”
Only Louis C.K. knows what the fate of both Louie and Horace and Pete will be, but audiences would certainly welcome back both with open arms.
[Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press]