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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.