We chatted with funny man and one-man production team (he writes, directs, produces and most recently gave up the job of editing the series) Louis C.K., where he talked about a few of his extremely entertaining guest-stars this season including Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Treme, Homicide: Life on the Street), fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld and how this season drifts further away from his real life, and veers deeper into the world of fiction.
First up, let’s preview tonight’s episode 302, “Telling Jokes/Set up” another in what will become a prominent theme in this third season, Louie building up his sea legs for the always tumultuous world of dating. Even when he’s not necessarily pursuing anything, some things just fall into his lap. I won’t ruin tonight’s episode of Louie on FX, but I will say that it’s one of the funniest and raunchiest episodes to date. Do not miss it. Louis explains how Leo came to be a guest-star this season despite her not being known for her comedy.
“I love Melissa very much as an actor, and so she was in my head. When I wrote the thing that she’s in, I wrote it in my head for the kind of women I knew in Boston growing up, and then it just hit me, Melissa Leo would be amazing. It was very simple: we sent it to her reps, and in a few days she said, ‘Yes.’ She just really responded to the material, and she showed up and took it very seriously. She really approached it the way I wanted her to as an actress, you know?”
“On my show, there’s not really a comedy muscle you have to use. We play most of the scenes kind of real or—we play them straight for comedy rather than—you know, our eyebrows don’t all go up like they do on most sitcoms, so somebody like her is perfect for my show. She was shooting something in New Orleans, so we flew her in for a quick two days, and we had to sort of jam everything into two days. But that’s how much she wanted it. She really wanted to do it.”
Like every one of Louis C.K.’s scripts, Leo’s performance in tonight’s episode was completely scripted and there is no improvisation on the show. As he explained in his Season 2 DVD/Blu-Ray commentary (out in stores now), that if he sounds like he wants credit, he does, because he works really hard on them. We agree, he does deserve the credit and it’s damn good writing.
If you caught the hilarious season premiere last week, you may have noticed that we see Louie’s ex-wife, Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson) for the first time, a surprise for longtime fans because he had always made it a point not to show her. I asked him about that choice to bring that character into the fold.
“Well, the show needs to keep going, and so I’m introducing new elements each year,” C.K. replied. “I try to do something new that’s new to the show. The stories that I wrote really led me to her. The show has really broken off into fiction much more in the last year and this year, and so it’s really not drawing from my life so much anymore.”
“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 to have the story be about an ex-husband and ex-wife. That relationship wasn’t what I wanted to write about. But I arrived at a version of it for this character that I thought was really good, this woman who’s well put together and kind of an added pressure to his life.”
And Susan was so good. A lot of the stuff that we do on the show, I’m not sure I’m going to do it until I see who’s playing it. It’s part of having the freedom without a network, that you don’t have to run all the scripts and casting by people. I wrote a script with her in it, and I had the casting people go look for someone, and I told them open it way up and just bring anybody. And I really liked what Susan did, so I decided to stick with the character.”
And sticks with her he does as she continues to show up in much of the first half of the season, we’ll see if she continues to show up past episode five. Some viewers may have been startled at first that Janet is African-American, because looking at Louie’s two daughters, something doesn’t exactly add up.
“It came down to just Susan being as good as she was, and the character feeling right,” he explained. “And I guess I didn’t care. I guess to me the racial thing is like—I think when people probably first see her, their brains do a little bit of DNA math and go, ‘I’m not sure I get how that would happen.’ With my show, most people, they go, ‘Oh, alright. Just go ahead,’ and then they watch the scene. The thing that’s important is what’s getting said.”
“I think that her performances are really compelling and I just like that. I like what that character brings out in the stories and in me on the show. She’s really direct, and she’s very self-possessed, and she has got a great demeanor for somebody who has moved on in life. That’s what she feels like to me—like she has moved on in life, and she’s on a good new chapter. And I think 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 is a good contrast. To me that trumped whatever logistical notion.”
Despite what viewers may think, C.K.’s true children are different than the characters on the series. While some scenes–like the field trip bus ride from hell in the pilot episode–are based on actual experiences C.K. has encountered, he says that the series will continue to resemble very little from his real life. He also is certain that he has no problem with his kids viewing scenes of the show that involve scenes with Lilly (Hadley Delany) and Jane (Ursula Parker), even if he is flipping them the bird behind their backs.
“They don’t know what that means yet,” C.K. responded. “But I don’t think that they’re far from understanding it. I mean, we’re all friends, me and my kids. They’re my best friends, and therefore I talk to—I spend more time with them than anybody else in the world, and so we all know each other, and we laugh about the same stuff.”
“My show is an adult version of the same humor that I share with my children. They know whenever they see me on the show or onstage acting really angry, they just think it’s hilarious because I’m not really like that. If I was an angry, detached, jerk of a father, then my show would probably be some kind of a nightmare for my kids, but they just think it’s funny because Daddy’s not like that.”
“I get mad like anybody else does, but being able to laugh about getting mad is very healthy, and my kids know that. We share a lot. And really, I can only speak for them to a limit. They are my kids, but when they turn 18, you can ask them.”
Other things learned about Season 3:
• Season 2 consulting producer and recurring actor, Pamela Adlon (Californication, Thundercats) will not be returning for season 3 as Louis said, “Her story kind of ended in that airport—and that’s not to say she may not come back some other time.”
• Jerry Seinfeld will appear in a late season, three-episode arc that will be a self-contained story. Offering no details on the story, he only said that Jerry did a part that was very different than what we’re used to seeing and that he was very happy with his performance.
• F. Murray Abraham (Beauty and the Beast) who played Jonathan, a man who propositioned Louie for a threesome in last season’s episode, New Jersey/Airport will return.
• Robin Williams (Happy Feet) who recently guest-starred in the special season 2 “preview” for Wilfred will also guest-star.
• Again, after listening to the commentary on the Season 2 blu-ray, two people who will be returning are Louie’s neighbors who awkwardly enter into his life to help him with his pregnant sister in the Season 2 premiere.
Catch Part 2 of this talk next week as we’ll preview episode 303, “Miami” and tune into Louie Thursday nights on FX at 10:30pm and see one of the hardest working men in the business on the funniest comedy on television. Also catch Louis C.K. live on tour as he travels around the country bringing his stand-up act to a city near you; you can buy one of the few remaining tickets for $45 on his website. And look for Louie Season 1 and 2 on DVD and Blu-Ray out now.