20Q: Louis C.K.

By Jason Buhrmester Photography by MATTHIAS CLAMER

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He’s the comic who channels our inner crankiness. We let him vent about race, life as an immigrant, growing up in Boston, bombing as a comic, Sarah Palin, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, divorce, cold milk, getting drunk and why Mississippi is the worst state in the union

Q1

PLAYBOY: Your TV show Louie *is based loosely on your life as a 40-something stand-up comedian and single father of two little girls who struggles with things such as going to the gym and dating. Does growing old suck?C.K.:* No, it doesn’t. I mean, it sucks in the way that life generally does, but I think being old sucks less than being young. As you go through awful things and survive them, you become more equipped to go through them later. It’s all about surviving failure so you get better at it.

Q2

PLAYBOY: In one episode last season a high school student threatens and embarrasses you while you’re on a date. Your date later admits that watching you back down was a turnoff. How would the real Louis C.K. have handled that situation?C.K: I think not very differently than my character. When you’re young you size yourself up against somebody and think, Can I fight this guy? You wouldn’t mind walking away with a swollen eye or something. But when you’re past your 40s, if you get a black eye you’re fucked for months. I can’t see that well anyway. I could throw my back out. It’s not worth it.

Q3

PLAYBOY: Louie *does a great job of tackling race issues. In one episode you attempt to ask a black cashier out on a date, and in another you spend a night going to clubs with black -comedians. Is it hard to talk about race as a white comic?****C.K.:* Yeah. We’re still racially divided, so that makes it interesting. What I do on the show is take little feelings and make them bigger. I don’t really feel awkward around black women, but it’s fun to show that feeling.

Q4

PLAYBOY: Why take an audience to an uncomfortable place like that?C.K.: If you make them laugh, then they’ve come there for a good reason. If you take them to that uncomfortable place and just upset them, some people might like that. But if you take them there and make them laugh, then that won’t be such an awful place to go anymore.

Q5

PLAYBOY: You’re half Mexican and lived in Mexico until you were seven. What was it like when you moved to Boston?C.K.: I didn’t speak English, so that was kind of difficult, but I loved it. America was clean and big and amazing. I remember coming from a big, smog-filled, overcrowded city in Mexico that was a little drab and poor.

Q6

PLAYBOY: Does that experience influence your feelings about immigration?C.K.: Yeah, because I know what it feels like. It makes me feel differently about America. In Mexico in the 1970s, when I lived there, you couldn’t even drink the milk because the refrigeration wasn’t strong enough. Milk would go bad, so you drank -Carnation powdered milk. Until I was seven I drank only powdered milk. When I first lived in America there were these big jugs of freezing-cold milk. I still have that perspective on milk.

Q7

PLAYBOY: Do you recognize parts of you as being distinctly derived from Boston?*C.K.: *Oh yeah. Boston is a scrappy town full of drunk Irish people and rich Jews. That’s my upbringing. I had Jewish friends I grew up with whose parents were so cool they let them smoke pot in the attic and stuff. I also had these scrappy Irish friends. I swear that was my comedy upbringing in Boston. If you weren’t funny you got your ass kicked. It wasn’t just about getting laughs; it was about survival.

Q8

PLAYBOY: You first tried stand-up when you were a teenager. How did it go?C.K.: The first time I did it, it was terrible. I did about two minutes onstage, and I didn’t get one laugh. I tried again and did even worse. I was just too young to relate to it all. I took about six months off, and then I came crawling back. I wanted to do it so bad. And then I just kept working at it until I got better. All comedians suck when they start, every single one.

Q9

PLAYBOY: What made you stick with it?C.K.: It was just a desire and an interest. And bombing and failing aren’t so bad. You can handle it. The rewards are that it gets incrementally better. Looking back, I gave everything to it. I gave up any rational way to live a life so I could try to get good at this thing. To be part of the community of comedians was a big deal to me. I really admire comedians, and I wanted to live that life. Things got really hard, but I never thought it wasn’t worth it.

Q10

PLAYBOY: At one point you auditioned for Saturday Night Live and got rejected. Did that put pressure on you to quit?C.K.: I don’t remember anyone ever telling me I should quit. When I started out and I was struggling, my mom would say, “Why do you have to be a comedian?” But she’s thril led with my life, and I’ve always managed to find a way to make a living. I’ve always survived, so she’s never worried about me.

Q11

PLAYBOY: Your stand-up is very personal, but you’ve avoided talking about your divorce. Is divorce not funny?C.K.: The transition of divorce happened to me three years ago, and it just doesn’t matter to me anymore. It would be like if you had children and you obsessed about the day they were born rather than their lives every day.

Q12

PLAYBOY: Comedians have a reputation for ending up as -addicts and alcoholics. How did you avoid that?C.K.: I did most of my drugs in school. I did loads of drugs when I was in eighth grade, ninth grade. For some reason those were the years I picked, and I learned what the pitfalls were. Also, I’m too driven. I love what I do, and it’s important to me. Being -addicted is one thing. If you’re addicted you have a sickness. But to do drugs recklessly when you’re trying to be a comedian, you’re just not trying hard enough

Q13

PLAYBOY: What is a very drunk Louis C.K. like?C.K.: You know on shows like *Dallas *or a mob show when somebody goes to a guy’s office and is made a drink at two in the afternoon? Or when you see somebody on a TV show having a business meeting and they drink whiskey from crystal decanters? I don’t understand how everyone in that scene isn’t sleeping. How do you function drinking like that? I tend to go to sleep when I get drunk.

Q14

PLAYBOY: Your drunken Twitter rants about Sarah Palin are legendary. What don’t you like about her?C.K.: I think it’s just fun to say things about her. She opens herself up to be a target. There’s something so self-assured about her. Everybody needs to have some self-doubt and acknowledgment that they don’t know what they’re doing and that life is more complicated than they understand. My objection to her is not political. It’s just aesthetic. It’s just humane. She’s perfectly evil to me, so I like making fun of her in ways that have nothing to do with who she really is. Look, my saying that Sarah Palin has poor Chinese people living in her cunt is not political.

Q15

PLAYBOY: You wound up sitting next to her daughter Bristol on The Tonight Show. How did that happen?C.K.: I was on my way to Los Angeles to do the appearance when the people from *The Tonight Show *said, “Listen, her daughter is here. You’re not going to say anything to her, are you?” They were a little concerned. And I said, “No, of course not.” So there was no incident. She was very nice to me. I don’t blame people for who their parents are.

Q16

PLAYBOY: One of your first writing gigs was for the original Late Night With Conan O’Brien. What do you remember about those days?C.K.: Those were intense days. Every Friday we used to think we were getting canceled. This executive would come to the *Conan *office and look at all of us with a very kind, sympathetic expression, and we’d all be like, Well, this is it—we’re done. Everybody would go to their office and call their agent to start feeling around for other work. And Conan would roll up his sleeves, take a deep breath, get this serious presidential look about him and go into his office and have a conference call with all the executives to push for more time. He always got it. Everybody always felt Conan was protecting our jobs, not just his. He had more money than all of us put together at the time. He was very successful already. But he had brought all of us to this crazy place, and he kept it going. So I learned from him. I still think about him. The way he handled the pressure and persevered is something I draw from now in my own life, like having TV shows and trying to keep them on the air.

Q17

PLAYBOY: At one point in your career you had worked as a writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Late Show With David Letterman and The Chris Rock Show. Did you worry you would get trapped as a talk-show writer?C.K.: It’s fun for a while. It’s a good training ground, like college for comedy writers, but you have to get out of it. One guy who used to push me was Chris Rock. He said to me one day, “Why aren’t you directing movies?” I was like, “What?” And he said, “You know, I’m happy you’re here. I feel like I have a minor league baseball team somewhere in Virginia and you’re Barry Bonds, hitting home runs for me every day. I’m grateful, but what are you doing with your life?”

Q18

PLAYBOY: You worked with Rock on your directorial debut, Pootie Tang, which has a cult following these days. Who has told you they’re fans?C.K.: Metallica and Jack White, and I heard a lot of people have it on their tour buses. That’s what I always hear. I get e-mails from people once in a while, and I guess it trends on Twitter. To me it’s just this one old idea I had, and we played it out for what it was worth.

Q19

PLAYBOY: What don’t you like about your body?C.K.: I don’t care about it. I don’t like that it doesn’t do everything I want it to, but that’s my fault. I can’t blame my body. I haven’t put in the investment to keep it going. I train and I train and I usually hit a peak of about two weeks when I feel as if I can do whatever I want, and then it starts to decline exponentially and daily.

Q20

PLAYBOY: You talked about having sex with your shirt on during an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The segment allegedly got the show banned in the state of Mississippi.C.K.: I felt pretty bad. I thought it was dumb of them, but I felt bad because if you’re living in Mississippi and you like Fresh Air, you probably really need it. I live in New York, and if they canceled Fresh Air there, I’d have a lot of other sources for things I like. But if I were in Mississippi, it would make me cry if they canceled it. I’m being bigoted, but I’ve traveled all over the country, and Mississippi is a thoroughly one-thing state. Georgia is the South, but geez, it has Atlanta and Athens. It’s a really cool state. People make fun of Louisiana, but that’s where New Orleans is, and there are some pretty fucked-up, crazy people in Louisiana. Every state has its thing. Mississippi, I don’t know what’s there.


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