Louis C.K. on testing the limits TIM CARMODY · JUN 06 2014
Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:
JW: You've talked about how you've had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It's almost as though you're writing material for them. What's the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?
I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there's a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, "Oh, I'm just not doing it, I'm not doing the right thing." There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don't know what that is, I'm really curious about that. I'm really curious about what people think they're doing when they're doing something evil, casually. I think it's really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that's really interesting, I think it's a profound human question...
I think it's really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it's in defense of the common person against the rich that think they're entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there's not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.
At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie's abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There's Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie's darker impulses. There's standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie... except when he doesn't, and the two characters blur and flip.
Louie is -- despite its dick-joke dressing -- a profoundly ethical show... Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.
I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, "this is like looking at my life in ten years." Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn't funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall -- the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children -- are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you're both redheads with beards. It's an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.
At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who's more successful now than he's ever been, who knows he's good at what he does, but who's never been certain that anyone's ever loved him or if he's ever been worthy of love.
Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what's worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn't even like very much?