“I did not get into this shit to try to get Emmys,” said Louis C.K. at the Television Academy screening and Q&A for the fourth season of FX’s “Louie.” He may not have been aiming for awards, but he got them anyway. He has won four Emmys out of a staggering 25 nominations, 20 of which have come in the last three years alone for writing, directing, editing, producing, and starring in “Louie” and his various stand-up specials.
His success seems sudden, but it has been almost 30 years in the making. He got his start in stand-up in 1985, then got a job writing for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” when stand-up comedy was in decline in the early 1990s. “I thought,’ I’m a comedian who got a writing job,'” he says of his late night experience, which earned him his first Emmy in 1999: Best Variety Writing for “The Chris Rock Show.”
Q&A moderator Bill Carter, who literally wrote the books on the late-night wars (“The Late Shift” and, later, “The War for Late Night”), couldn’t resist asking C.K. about the prophetic season three “Louie” storyline in which his character became a candidate to replace a retiring David Letterman – more than a year before Letterman announced that he was indeed retiring. But C.K. assures us he never would have been interested in filling Letterman’s shoes in real life: “I wouldn’t want it and nobody would want me to do that job … The only reason I would think of doing it would be to just see how badly it would go.”
Before “Louie,” C.K. made an ill-fated first foray into situation comedy in 2006: “I had a TV show on HBO for a while called ‘Lucky Louie,’ and nobody really wanted that to keep existing,” he said.
He didn’t expect much better when FX approached him to do another series: “I was like, ‘What’s FX? What is that? FOX without the “O”?’ … I’ll do one season, no one will watch it, and we’ll all be really glad we had some fun.” But critics responded to the first season, which was nominated for two Emmys in 2011 (Best Comedy Actor and Best Comedy Wrting), and three years later he’s set to premiere a fourth season to high expectations and much fanfare.
C.K. discussed his do-it-yourself approach – he writes, directs, edits, and produces the series – which was as much about avoiding negotiating with studio execs as it was about creative freedom: “I said to [FX president John Landgraf], ‘Look, the only way I’ll do a show for you is if you just give me the money … wire me the $200,000, and I’ll give you the DVD three months later, and between those two things, no talking.’ “
But autonomy is a double-edged sword. He explained, “When they leave you alone that comes with something else, which is pressure. It’s a huge amount of pressure, because if you turn in shitty shows you’ve really fucked everybody. So I worked harder I think because they didn’t bother me.”
Season three ended in September 2012, 20 months before the May 2014 season premiere, and the prolonged hiatus was a deliberate creative choice: “I didn’t want to do a season that the point of the season was I need another season … This season we went much slower. We decided, we got more from the network to do the episodes, and so I asked that we only shoot one scene a day, and that we take a much longer time to shoot it … I feel like the show’s better because we did that.”
Despite his Emmy success, C.K. has yet to win for acting on his show, which may be due in part to the fact that he’s playing a version of himself, and actors who play themselves almost never win. But he doesn’t actually consider his character very much like himself, so there may be hope for him yet: “I think I have more confidence than [my on-screen persona]. And I like life a little more than he does.”
In real life, for instance, he’s much better at handling gloominess than his TV counterpart: “I make [my kids] breakfast and get them to school … and I just feel so numb, and I’m still dreaming a little bit from sleep, and all my nasal passages are clogged with shit, and it’s gross, I feel horrible – I like that feeling.”
“Louie” will air this season’s 14 new episodes over seven weeks starting May 5. Do you think it will win Best Comedy Series this year? Our predictors rank it fourth with 9/1 odds. Make your predictions below: