FX's Louie isn't like other comedies. That's because its creator, star, director, writer, producer, editor, receptionist, production assistant, and pitchman Louis C.K. isn't like other comics. The series returns for Season 3 tomorrow at 10:30pm on FX, and to help explain how the show works, Louis C.K. got on the phone this morning to explain to a bunch of us reporters how it's done, what to expect, and why Louie's white kids have a black mother.
I've cut the transcript down to what I think are just the highlights, but there's so much genius that spouts from this guy's mouth that it's still pretty long. Let's just deal with it and revel in his brilliance, okay?
On how Louie came to be:
"I was doing my stand-up and I was in L.A. and taking meetings about doing a TV show. FX approached me about doing a show cheaply and with a lot of freedom. So we tried the pilot that way. I told them if they could give me the money and let me do the pilot freely, it would be worth it. So they gave me a very small amount of money and I made a show with it that they liked. That's the model we've been working on."
On Season 3's guest-stars:
"I got a lot of great people this year. I won't tell you all of them. Melissa Leo is in the second episode. F. Murray Abraham comes back, he's one of my favorite people ever. Robin Williams does something in the season. Jerry Seinfeld is on the show. Lot of guest-stars piling up, I'm excited about it."
More details on Jerry Seinfeld's guest role:
"The tenth, eleventh, and twelvth episodes of this season are going be a whole story on their own, it's going to be a three-part story. It's the biggest, it's what we put the most effort into. Jerry is in that. I don't want to say anything about it, it's got a lot of guest-stars and a lot happens. It's a big turn for the character. Jerry did a part in that and what he did in that is very different from what you're used to seeing Jerry do. Jerry turned in a terrific performance, I'm very happy."
On a rare opportunity (which happens in Episode 3) for his character to just be happy:
"The Miami episode was so fun for our whole crew, we all got a trip to Miami. It was very hard work because we went all over the city. I love celebrating Miami, all [the music in the episode] is original, that's all music we made. A lot went into creating the colors and capturing the energy of Miami. ... I spend enough time on-screen looking hang-dogged and depressed, so I think it was okay to let me smile and chase a chicken for a minute."
On adding an ex-wife character to Season 3:
"The show needs to keep going, so I'm introducing new elements each year. I try to do something that's new to the show. The stories I wrote really lead me to her. The show has really broken off into fiction much more in the last year and this year. This ex-wife character is completely not anything like my real ex-wife. When I was drawing from my own life, I didn't want this story to be about an ex-husband and an ex-wife. That relationship isn't what I wanted to write about. So I arrived at a version of it for this character that I thought was really good, this woman who was really put together and added pressure to his life."
On casting an African-American woman as Louie's ex-wife even though his kids are white:
"It just was the actress being as good as she was and the character feeling right. I think when people first see her, their brains do a little DNA map and go, "I'm not sure how that would happen." And I think with my show people say Ahh, just go ahead. And then they watch the scene. The thing that's important is what's getting said. Her performances are really compelling. I like what that character brings out in me and in the show, so for me, that trumped whatever logistical notion. She's very direct and very self-possessed. And she's got a great demeanor for someone who has moved on in her life. She's moved on in life and she's on a good new chapter, and she looks like she's in a better new chapter than me, as far as us having shared a chapter earlier. So I think that's a good contrast."
Bonus sound clip! Louis C.K. on letting his real-life kids watch the show:
On taking his experiences from working on a TV show and putting them into his stand-up:
"I always think that's kind of boring. When comedians start getting TV and movie jobs and then they start talking about being on sets and movies and stuff, I think there's something disappointing about that. It would be like a novelist writing a chapter and saying, I did a book reading at Barnes & Noble the other day. You don't want to hear that. You want to hear stories. On the show I play a comedian so those stories can be told, but that's different."
On taking people on an unexpected journey rather than a predictable one:
"I think that's a great thing to do if you can. Take people down a road they're really unsure of and have something down that road that they liked that they saw. There's definitely well-worn paths to laughter, and everybody knows where they are. And one way to do that is just to walk down those paths cheerfully and everybody laughs. But it's really fun to go into territory they're unsure of. That's what I enjoy. I like when I'm watching something and I'm in a wilderness and I'm not sure where it's headed and I'm like, WOW! That's what he was doing."
On the bizarre writing process of Louie:
"It's kind of crazy to think that every story you ever tell should take 22 minutes to tell. Imagine telling somebody a story about something funny that happened in your life, and you're done with your details and you look at your watch, and you're like, Shit I gotta keep talking about this for 22 minutes. So I gotta come up with different reasons to talk about this, I'll introduce other people... Whenever you're watching something on television that was created because it was necessary, because they needed it, it's not fun to watch. So when I start writing a story I have zero— to me, if this is over at the end of the page, I'm shooting it if it's good. It can be just one scene. And if it sprawls and just keeps on going, I'll shoot that. I just put the pieces in wherever they fit. This season is unique because there's more than one story that took more than one episode to tell. There's still a lot of short stories, there's still a lot of two-story episodes. I also like that when people are watching the show, they don't know how long they're going to be told the story for. I think that makes it exciting, more compelling. Whenever you give people a show where their brain knows what the pattern is going to be the brain sets itself. One reason TV like that has always done well is that there's something comforting about watching a show where you kind of know where you're going to be taken. But there's a different group of people, probably a smaller group of people, who would rather watch a show where they don't know how long it's going to go on for, they don't know if they're going to see this character again, this character may be in the rest of the season, who knows. I think it's more organic that way. Life is built that way. You stick with things that are compelling and you drift away from things that aren’t.
Louie Season 3 debuts Thursday, June 28 at 10:30pm on FX.