I met Louis C.K. backstage at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh in between sets. He was performing a one night shot on April 2nd, preparing for a new comedy special to be filmed this weekend in Milwaukee. During the course of the interview, we touched on the start of his stand-up career, writing for network television, and working with Ricky Gervais.
IW: How old were you when you first started stand-up?
LCK: I was 18. Well, about 17 when I first started, but I was 18 when I really earnestly started.
IW: Where were you at that point?
LCK: High school when I first did it, and then after high school I was leading kind of a wasted life. I was just doing comedy and not a lot else because there wasn’t a lot else to do in Massachusetts, where I grew up.
IW: What made you first get on the stage at 17?
LCK: Well, I found out you could. I loved stand-up comedy, but had no idea how someone became a comedian. Then, I heard that there were open mics in Boston. Boston had one of the greatest comedy scenes ever in the mid 80s. There’s a lot of lore around it now. When I was there, it was just all these amazing guys that set this huge bar for how funny you could be. Open mic nights were full, ever table packed with audiences. I found out you could do 5 minutes and be anybody.
IW: What comics did you study?
LCK: Bill Cosby was the first guy that I realized was a great comic. He is still someone that, as far as timing and story goes, he’s a master. Steve Martin was a comic that, when he first showed up, I didn’t realize as a comic that you could do anything you wanted to. He was just fucking around and brought a whole other level to it. It wasn’t just jokes. Then when I became a comic I got to open for Jerry Seinfeld a bunch of times. Watching him do a whole concert is amazing. It’s like watching a virtuoso. I study comedy a lot. Even if I’m performing in Louisville, I’ll watch the local comic perform, see what he’s doing.
IW: What was the most surprising part of stand-up when you first began?
LCK: How horrible it was. I didn’t realize anything could ever feel that bad. I thought, “That is something that I cannot do.”
IW: What changed your mind?
LCK: I really wanted to do it, and I was young enough to work at something I really wanted to do.
IW: How long did it take before you were really comfortable on a stage?
LCK: The first time I got on stage I was at a comedy club and I was doing jokes and it just felt wrong. Then I found this place in Cambridge, MA, this really crummy coffee shop that did comedy on Saturdays that was a little more of a strange scene. There really wasn’t “alternative comedy” then, this was 1986 or 87. I thought, “I can do some really inventive stuff here,” so I went out with a different kind of attitude, closer to what I thought was funny, and I had a little success with it. Once I had one good set, I thought I could put up with 50 bad sets for that 1 good one, I didn’t care. Then I was fearless. I still bombed alot.
IW: At this point in your career, when performing a new set, if something bombs that you think is funny, does it stay in even if the audience isn’t responding?
LCK: I have a good feeling on what works and what doesn’t. I know what should be in and what shouldn’t be. If I have something that should be quality material and people aren’t laughing at it, I’m not going to drop it. The difference is, there are comics that will happen to and they say, “Fuck that, I’m leaving it in, I don’t care if they laugh,” and that’s…for me, for my goals, that’s crazy. I know if no one is laughing, I ain’t doing it right. I have to keep doing it, and dig a different path from me to them on this bit. I know they can’t see it, so I have to try a different channel.
Part two of the interview will deal with Lucky Louie, HBO, and Kermit the Frog. Before I go, at Movie Feast we are going to be discussing favorite movie suicides very soon, with each writer contributing their thoughts on the funniest, most horrific, saddest, what have you, suicides caught on film. If you have any thoughts, please email me at weeksisaac at yahoo dot com, and please visit Movie Feast at moviefeast.blogspot.com. Thanks!