Louis CK had just gotten finished with his controversial appearance on The View when he got on the phone with me to talk about his new HBO show, Lucky Louie.
The View’s female panel took him by surprise with their stinging criticism. "All of a sudden, I’m watching life and they’re having this f—ing debate over my show," he told me. "I’m about to go out there, and I’m supposed to tell jokes? To have Fonzie and Baba Wawa debate the social merits of my TV show, that’s insane! That’s great." As for Barbara Walters’ accusation that CK’s show is racist, he countered, "That’s just ignorant. That just means somebody’s uncomfortable about it."
CK, the 38-year-old longtime writing partner of Chris Rock, said he’d read most of the critical reviews of his show. "I like reading ones where they’re really upset," he said. "A lot of people who write bad reviews, in the description of the show, pay it great service. People magazine — they ended it with, ‘It’s like David Mamet doing a parody of Roseanne.’ Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Thank you! I actually wanted to put that on the poster."
He cares more what viewers think of his show, anyhow. "This show is very honest. It’s very raw. All we’re really doing is letting this show be a limitless expression of the characters. We’re just letting it hang out," he said. That’s the only way CK knows how to be. "I’ve been doing comedy for 22 years, and this is my first shot. This is my first TV show. And there’s a reason it’s this one and it’s on HBO. If people want to see a family where the parents only make great decisions and no one speaks badly in a house that has a kid in it…then stay away."
He was more than happy to get some of his longtime Boston comedy friends on the show.
Recurring character Laura Kightlinger used to perform at open mics at Stitches at the same time as CK. "When I started in 1985, Laura was an Emerson student," CK told me. "She and I have been really close. She’s been in movie’s I’ve made and I’ve always hoped for her to do great. We actually shot our HBO specials, our first ones, that same night in San Francisco. So to get her on the show was a major victory for me."
Nick DiPaolo showed up as the building’s super, and CK acknowledged that he started the whole business of exchanging bruises. "Nick was there the week before, shooting a show with us. I think I started it. He was waiting to shoot a scene. We were waiting between scenes…he has something at stake, because his character has potential to recur…and I walked up behind him and punched him in the arm with everything I had — actually the back of his shoulder, where he had just had surgery. It really hurt. So he got me in both arms by the end of the week."
He said it took him a long time to get back to headline at the Comedy Conncetion in Boston. "I’ve worked at the Connection once years ago. They just never had me back. I guess it’s a ‘where you came from’ kind of thing. I go and work at the Comedy Studio. Sometimes it’s unannounced. It’s a great place to do a weekend. The Comedy Connection, you get more money. But the Comedy Connection was mean to me as a kid. So at this point, f— ’em!"
He doesn’t feel any shame about showing himself naked on HBO, either. "Look, I’ve been married for seven years. I have two children. My body has no sexual value. If it can have a little comedic value and inject a little honesty into our show, that’s funny. I don’t think a guy’s body is sexual…I think men’s bodies are funny when naked. I don’t think women are. They’re just sublime and wonderful."
CK said he still has a box stocked with old matchbooks from gigs back in his early days working the clubs and bars around Boston in the 1980s. "The Knotty Pine in Quincy and f—ing Bentley’s! There was a Bentley car in the middle of the club. They wouldn’t turn the TV off when we did comedy. I would be nowhere without those horrible Boston gigs!" But it was far from horrible. CK said Bill Hicks would come up to Boston to perform in the mid-80s at the crest of the comedy wave. "Let alone Kenny Rogerson and Meaney, and Sweeney. Coming up in that, the inspiration, to have the bar that high, it was incredible! Even the working-class comics, like Mike Moto, Rich Ceisler and Fran Solomita, who made that movie, even guys who weren’t considered gods, they were great comics. They could kill anywhere, even today. Then there was Barry Crimmins and (Jimmy) Tingle, who were lefties, but they still loved them. Steve Sweeney, he was more like Andy Kaufman than anyone else. Kenny Rogerson, who was like a white Richard Pryor. Don Gavin, who was like Buddy Hackett but funnier than any of those guys."
Boston also provided a tough but true testing ground. "If you’re not funny, not only will you not get laughs, you might get the s–t beat out of you. They’re only quiet for about 30 seconds. Then you get, ‘Next!’ Drunk big-hair girls going ‘You suck!’ Pretty much the whole crowd is against you, ‘Na na na na, Na na na na, Hey hey hey, Goodbye!’"