In Conversation: Louis C.K.Posted: July 3, 2016
Louis C.K. on the Right to Be Offensive, Why White Guys Should Stop Whining, and Bored Masturbation.
Talking feminism and optimism with the comedian who upended the conventions of TV comedy.
David Marchese writes: When you watch comedy on television these days, especially shows that don’t seem to care if you’re laughing or wincing, there’s a good chance you’re watching something indebted to Louis C.K. As the creator of FX’s Louie, the 48-year-old comedian pioneered the filthy and emotionally fearless, auteur-driven and defiantly non-pandering genre of prestige comedy. But just as his footprint became inescapable, C.K. put his namesake show on hold for Horace and Pete, a ten-part kitchen-sink tragedy he self-financed and surprise-released on his own website in January. Emotionally brutal, and economically self-sufficient, the latter series suggests a new way forward for the comedian. This summer, he’ll lend his voice to the animated movie The Secret Life of Pets, and he’s devoting the next year to touring his stand-up act. “Part of what keeps me going is that I keep learning and trying to figure things out,” he says during one of our long talks — the first at the Hudson Diner in the West Village on May 12, the second on the phone before a gig in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on May 20. “But comedy is something that I’ll never figure out.”
David Marchese: You were in the news for calling Donald Trump Hitler
Louis C.K.: Yeah, yeah. That was a messy thing to do.
Then you said publicly that you regretted sharing that opinion. I found it weird that you seemed uncomfortable with the idea that you’d divulged too much of your own political thinking. You’re a guy who tells jokes about why your 4-year-old daughter is an asshole.
As far as talking about what’s deep in my gut about certain subjects, I’ll put that out there because I know I do that really well, and I’m a unique originator of certain thoughts. Politically I’m not an expert. And also there’s very little rational intake of political thought. People get so upset that they don’t hear what you’re saying. There’s this feeling with people where they’ve got to decide whether an opinion or information is right or wrong. Nobody can eat a whole meal and then digest it and see how they feel the next day. You’ve got a meal in front of you, and you take a piece of lettuce and you go, “Why is there just a piece of lettuce? I’m hungry for more.” “What do you mean? There’s a bunch of other shit on the plate. Take a minute and eat that!” “No. It’s just lettuce, and fuck you, I hate lettuce.” That’s how it is with every conversation now.
So what I hear you saying is that you’re endorsing Donald Trump.
You’re 100 percent right. I’m very pleased with everything he’s done. I don’t know, celebrities saying things politically is obnoxious, because you’ve got a bullhorn that was given to you for one reason and you used that bullhorn for something else. But also I think when there’s somebody as terrible as Trump running, you’re a little bit of a coward by keeping it to yourself if you’re really concerned about it. I felt like I had to raise my hand and be counted because I believe he’s a bigot with a hole in his heart. A guy who shouldn’t be anywhere near the fucking thing is the Republican nominee.
How are you feeling about Hillary and Bernie?
I keep going back and forth. Sometimes I think the system is so deeply fucked up that somebody as disruptive as Bernie — maybe he doesn’t even do a good job as president but he jars something loose in our system and something exciting happens. I mean, Hillary is better at this than any of these people. The American government is a very volatile, dangerous mechanism, and Hillary has the most experience with it. It’s like if you were on a plane and you wanted to choose a pilot. You have one person, Hillary, who says, “Here’s my license. Here’s all the thousands of flights that I’ve flown. Here’s planes I’ve flown in really difficult situations. I’ve had some good flights and some bad flights, but I’ve been flying for a very long time, and I know exactly how this plane works.” Then you’ve got Bernie, who says, “Everyone should get a ride right to their house with this plane.” “Well, how are you going to do that?” “I just think we should. It’s only fair that everyone gets to use the plane equally.” And then Trump says, “I’m going to fly so well. You’re not going to believe how good I’m going to fly this plane, and by the way, Hillary never flew a plane in her life.” “She did, and we have pictures.” “No, she never did it.” It’s insane.
You mentioned in a radio interview how interested you were in this election cycle. What specifically are you finding so interesting?
It’s very emotional. There is a fear of Hillary, you know? I think some of it has to do with Hillary being such a strong candidate and being a woman. The response to her is very male. The other side is very male-oriented. Trump is a man. Well, he’s a boy, and Bernie is an old man. Neither is a feminine person. Obama’s a very feminine person. I don’t mean effeminate.
You mean he’s not macho?
Everybody has both masculine and feminine sides, but Obama is feminine inside. There ain’t no femininity in Trump. There’s none in Bernie. These are both really emphatic guys saying, “We got to do this!” Hillary’s trying to say, “Guys, this is reality. These are complex issues.” And those two are going, “I don’t want to fucking hear it!” It’s weird to watch. It’s like if you had an election in your family. Imagine that when you were a kid there was an election to decide whether Mom or Dad would be in charge for the next four years. Or if some group of siblings got together and said, “We’re going to get this woman to replace Mom.” After the election, imagine how you would feel about each other. It’s terribly, terribly interesting.
You’ve been saying lately that you’ve quit the internet.
I don’t look at any of it now.
I don’t believe you.
Obviously I sell my shit on it: my stand-up tickets, Horace and Pete. I just don’t look at any web pages.
So if you’re not looking on the internet, what do you jack off to? Are you one of those weirdos who buy porn on DVD?
Here’s a weirder option: Take a little longer and try to get your imagination frothed up to where it gets you off. What a strange exercise! I hadn’t done that since 1998.
And how’s that going for you, masturbation-wise?
It’s gone pretty well. I kinda like it. It also means: Maybe store it up for a while and wait until you actually have a sexual urge. I don’t know what it’s like for women, but for a lot of guys I know — and myself — masturbation is an anxiety release. If I’m trying to get some work done and getting irritated, just go rub one out and it calms you down. It’s a shame to do that as a swap-out for real sexual connection to your virility and your sexual drive. I don’t have a perfect record, but I am trying to see if I can just let a sexual urge be. Having an internet prohibition really helps. I sometimes have gone to jerk off when I’m not even hard. I’m in a bad mood, so let’s put on Google and find something to get me off. That’s happening every second around the world.
There’s a lot of bored masturbation going on.
Boredom is a big word. Boredom is depression in some cases; maybe it’s ennui, whatever that means. When you take a thing like the internet out of your life, so many things come up as you go through your day. You go, Wow, I spent an awful lot of time doing useless shit on the internet. I’d rather not know what happened all day in the news is the other thing. I read the physical New York Times in the morning and then I pick up the Post at some point. And I watch TV and listen to the radio.
It seems like the internet has been good to you, though. When you talked about how everything is amazing and we’re all miserable, or about why cell phones are the worst2 — those things got shared 10 million times.
That’s true. There’s a positive and negative version of the viral thing. That version you just described feels like a positive. But then there’s this other version where people want to feel upset, so when the story is about “racist comments by a comedian,” that kind of thing, people are like, “Oooh, I don’t like racism,” so they leave a comment and pass it along. That’s very powerful — that impulse to read something that upsets you. It becomes click-bait. The click-bait is such a lucrative piece of business that no one is leaving it alone. That’s one of the reasons I did Horace and Pete the way I did.3 The idea was that if I don’t let it get sucked up in the click-bait, will people spread it on their own. I was more excited to have it spread from the Twitter accounts of people with 400 followers instead of the people with 400,000.
You think the internet is devolving?
The internet’s been around long enough that it’s in its high-school phase. You know, elementary school is just reflex and fun. It’s, “Oh, look at that! Oh, look at me for a minute!” It’s little fights that don’t add up to much. Then middle school becomes this “cool” thing, who’s in and who’s out. But high school is like, I hang out with this group of kids by the red lockers at the end of the hall and we all like Dungeons & Dragons. You can find somebody you like online. There are people who watch Horace and Pete. Somebody who catches something on BuzzyWuzzy for a second, they’re not going to be compelled either way.
The idea of click-bait and what you see as online misinformation — is part of what you’re thinking of the Gawker items from last year?
No. I don’t care about that. That’s nothing to me. That’s not real. For me, Horace and Pete was derailed in terms of its trajectory by this idea that spread online that it was canceled and that I lost money.5 A good friend of mine who’s a movie producer emailed me and said, “Hey, I’m really sorry about Horace and Pete.” Having to disabuse people of this thing could really hurt me with something like the Emmys if people perceive the show as a dead project. I took that pretty fucking personally.
You didn’t feel any compulsion to address the Gawker stuff? I’ve never seen you talk about it.
Well, you can’t touch stuff like that. There’s one more thing I want to say about this, and it’s important: If you need your public profile to be all positive, you’re sick in the head. I do the work I do, and what happens next I can’t look after. So my thing is that I try to speak to the work whenever I can. Just to the work and not to my life…(read more)
*This interview was condensed and edited from two conversations. A version of it appears in the June 13, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.