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Louis C.K. is a standup success, but will he ever return to the movies?
In 2001, Louis C.K. was a disillusioned filmmaker. Despite rave reviews, his feature directorial debut, Tomorrow Night—a brilliantly bizarre black-and-white comedy in which a nerd with a fetish for rubbing his ass in ice cream falls in love with a retired widower whose husband has been torn apart by wild dogs—had failed to find distribution. "It won't ever see a theater, I don't think, unless I die," he says now, "which I will, so maybe!" His second feature, Pootie Tang, an extended version of a Chris Rock Show skit about a black crimefighter with his own made-up language, had been yanked from his control by the studio, substantially reshot and recut, opening to mostly negative reactions and low box office.
Six years have passed, and several standup specials and one HBO show later, he is, if not yet a household name, a pretty good comedy-success story. "I just decided this year to make standup my full-time job," he says. "It's really fun to just do comedy. I never did that before. But when I did this tour, I did a lot of material I wrote through the year and refined on the road; I started with nothing, so now that I know I can do that, it's like I just figured out how to write a book."
Fame brings its own pitfalls, like the flattery of imitation; it's been noted by Mad Magazine and Joe Rogan, among others, that Dane Cook's repertoire now includes some jokes very similar to those that Louis was doing first. But Louis takes it all in stride, saying, "I don't believe for a second that Dane sat down in the back of a club and said, 'I'm doing that joke next time I go onstage.' If it was a steal, it was a soft steal, and creatively, those things do happen. I think the fact that he's some people's not-favorite guy made it easy for them to just say that's what he's doing."
Much as he professes love and respect for Rogan, he feels the joke-theft debate is a waste of time. "Join the Peace Corps or something. Get over it. There's missing children that Joe Rogan could be stumping for."
Though discreet and diplomatic in many ways, he's very open about his own family life—in recent years, his routines have involved him calling his children some nasty names, as he vents onstage about parental hardships that many people think about, but few will admit to. One wonders what his daughters will think when they grow older and see Dad's tirades. Louis says he's prepared.
"I'm not ashamed of that material; those are honest feelings that I had. My babies don't suck; my daughters are great people. I love them both deeply, but as a parent, there are moments when you feel like they belong in a garbage can covered with lye. If my daughter says, 'Why would you say that about me?' I'm just gonna go, well, you didn't let me sleep for five nights in a row, and you suck the life out of me intermittently, and I couldn't get out of it because I love you."
His wife isn't always forgiving. "That just exists in our house, that she hates it," he says, "and I do it anyway."
But at the age of 40, which Louis describes as "half-dead," he feels like the time to censor himself has come and gone. "I think as long as you're saying something that's really how you feel, people can take it," he observes. "People only get offended by people they don't like. If you like somebody and they're aesthetically pleasing to you, then they can say whatever the fuck they want. It's kinda not fair."
Like Ann Coulter, perhaps? "She's just disgusting, but it's because of the look on her face and the way she moves her hair away from her eyes. I wanna punch her in the nose, but she could be saying anything. If Ann Coulter were a left-wing environmentalist humanitarian, I would still go, 'Shut the fuck up!' She's bananas, but I think it's great that she exists."
So having made it in standup, is there any chance Louis C.K. might return to filmmaking? Though he doesn't see Hollywood hiring him soon, he just bought a 16 mm camera. "I really like shooting film," he says, "because digital-video stuff? It all looks exactly the same. I can look at anything these days and go, 'Yep, that was shot on the fuckin' DVX 100.' Filmmaking isn't really being done anymore. The goal is to make a movie at some point."
It doesn't hurt his chances that Pootie Tang has become a cult hit now, though it remains a disappointment to its creator. "I met John Mayer, and he said every rock & roll tour has Pootie Tang in the bus," he notes, dryly. "I don't get it, but, y'know, hooray."
Louis C.K. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $25.
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