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Comedian Louis C.K.: Finding Laughs Post-Divorce

On the FX series Louie, comedian Louis C.K. plays a divorced father of two — in other words, a guy just like the real Louis C.K. The series is a sequel of sorts to his first show, Lucky Louie, in which he played a married father of two — which he was at the time.

43:58

Other segments from the episode on July 7, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 7, 2010: Interview with Louis C.K.; Review of David Mitchell's novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet."

Transcript

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A 'Thousand Autumns' In The Land Of The Rising Sun

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Married life wasn't easy for comic Louis C.K., and neither is being a
divorced father, at least that's the impression you get from his comedy
series. He was a married father when he created and starred in the HBO
series "Lucky Louie," in which he constantly quarreled with his wife.

In his new FX series "Louie," he plays a stand-up comic who is divorced
and shares custody of his two young daughters, which pretty much
describes C.K.'s current situation.

Earlier in his career, he wrote for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien, "The
Late Show with David Letterman," and "The Chris Rock Show." In his new
show "Louie," we get to see his character at work, doing standup in a
small club. Let's start with an excerpt of him performing at the club.

(Soundbite of television program, "Louie")

Mr. LOUIS C.K. (Comedian): It's hard to start again after a marriage.
It's hard to really, like, look at somebody and go, hey, maybe something
nice will happen. You just don't – I know too much about life to have
any optimism because I know even if it's nice, it's going to lead to
(BEEP). I know that if you smile at somebody, and they smile back,
you've just decided that something (BEEP) is going to happen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: You might have a nice couple of dates, but then she'll stop
calling you back. Or you'll date for a long time, and then she'll have
sex with one of your friends, or you will with one of hers. Or you'll
get married, and it won't work out, and you'll get divorced and split
your friends and money, and that's horrible. Or you'll meet the perfect
person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow
together, and you have children, and then you get old together, and then
she's going to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: That's the best-case scenario.

GROSS: That's Louis C.K., doing stand-up from the opening episode of his
new series, "Louie." Louis C.K., welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a real
pleasure to have you back on this show.

Mr. C.K.: Thank you. I love this show. It's my favorite radio show, so
I'm very happy to be back.

GROSS: Oh, gee, thank you. Thank you so much.

Mr. C.K.: Yes, easily.

GROSS: So in your first series, "Lucky Louie," you were finding it hard
to be a family man, lots of friction with your wife. In the new series,
you're divorced, and so are you the real person divorced.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Yes, I am.

GROSS: So when you the real person got divorced, was there just a little
voice in your head saying you know, this can make a good new series?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: It took me about a year and a half to catch up to it. I
actually, you know, you never can look forward in life. Like, every door
you walk through, you think oh, that's the end of everything now.

So when I got divorced, I thought well, there goes my act. I mean, I've
been talking about being married for so long. And I also thought being a
dad was really part of being married. So – and then I got divorced, and
then everything changed, and I became a father in a whole new way and
found a whole new set of difficulties also.

So it took about a year for me to go hey, I'm accumulating stories here
that are worth telling.

GROSS: Are you doing joint custody?

Mr. C.K.: Yes, yeah, definitely. So I have the kids about half of every
week. And they're with me, just me in my apartment, and then they go
with their mom.

I mean, their mom is still a very big part of my life. We are sharing
raising the kids. So yeah, it's new.

GROSS: So when you decided to do your new series "Louie," about Louie
C.K. as a single man, single father. What were some of the first
situations that came to mind that you wanted your character to
experience?

Mr. C.K.: Well, the things that jumped out immediately that I dealt with
that felt unique to me or new to me were raising kids as just the dad,
which is, you know, when you're a father in a marriage, you sort of
become the mother's assistant, and you sort of get a list from her every
day, and you do, you know, you run down the list, and it feels very much
like a chore. And a lot of fathers live in kind of an avoidance. They
sit on the toilet for several hours a day...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: And, you know, just run errands that take all – oh, honey, it
took me 40 minutes to go to the post office, you know, and – but then
once you take it out on your own, I always loved being with my kids, and
I spent as much time as I could with them. I've never done any – when
I'm not working, I'm with my kids. That's always been. When we were
married, it was like that, too. I never went and played golf or hung out
with my friends because I really am attached to my children.

But once you become a dad without the mom there, you have to take it all
on, and you sort of activate male skills that you didn't know you could
apply to fatherhood.

I mean, I'm a filmmaker, and I direct movies. I produce TV shows. I
should be able to dress a couple of kids and get them out of the house
in the morning.

GROSS: But, but...

Mr. C.K.: Well, I mean, it's hard because you're fighting chaos
constantly. It's just a constant fighting of chaos. But I definitely
have a different style as a father than I did when I was doing it in a
partnership.

Now, it's – I let a lot of chaos happen because I kind of can – I can
handle it. When two kids are being completely berserk, and they're naked
and throwing food around, sometimes I just let it go because I can see a
future where they're going to be dressed, and they're going to be at
school. So I kind of let stuff go sometimes.

Other times, I clamp down on everything and say you just – anything, if
it's – sometimes with kids, you have to say if it's the thing that you
want, then you can't have it, based on that, based on the fact that you
want it because kids needs period of withholding constantly, you know.

But these are all things that I discovered on my own as a dad because
before, I just sort of was doing what I was told. And now it's, you
know, it's up to me. So that's exciting and overwhelming at the same
time.

GROSS: Do you find it challenging to be responsible for the lives of two
people or, as you put it in one of your stand-up routines, you're
responsible for somebody I have to make not die?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Yes, that's your primary responsibility is to deflect murder
and death off of your children. But on top of that, you have to make
them comfortable. You know, there's layers here. Make them comfortable,
maybe them not die, make them, you know, cool in the summer and warm in
the winter, and then there's actually raise them and do something.

That's the hard part because every parent, you're just trying to get
through the day. It's just the days of they wake you up at six. And
there's no time – you know, I'm a person who tends to fall into
depressions and sleep a lot and eat a lot. I can't really do that
because if my kids are with me, there's nobody there to cover for me.

So at six in the morning, they're next to my bed, waiting to seize life.
And I can't just go back to sleep. I have to get up and drag them to
school, you know, and pick them up at school.

The days that I have custody with them, I'm never working. I just drop
work, and I do kids. I pick them up at school, I feed them breakfast,
dinner, lunch, put them to bed, give them their baths, get their teeth
brushed, all that stuff.

GROSS: So what was it like for you to start dating again after your
divorce?

Mr. C.K.: Well, it was – that was one of the strangest things because
you sort of feel like you just got out of prison, you know, and they
give you the suit you were convicted in, and they give you a paper bag
with a few, you know, with a watch and a wallet in it. Maybe it's got
two silver certificates.

And then they give you, you know, some nominal eight dollars and a bus
ticket. And then you're like, what? And the cars are going way too fast.
You can't cross the street, you know, and you're considering going into
the hotel room and hanging yourself after carving your initials.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: You know, it's definitely like – there's not a lot of women my
age single. If they're single, it's because something happened or didn't
happen. So I started immediately, immediately, dating women that were
younger than me. That's a very strange dynamic. You know, and from their
point of view, it's like they're dating a dead person.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Like a corpse. I think that's how I see myself through their
eyes, the way they look at me. It's like is this guy – he smells weird.
He's sort of half-dead.

GROSS: But that's the thing that always gets me about men who date much
younger women. Does it make the older man feel younger or older?

Mr. C.K.: No, God, no, it makes you feel older. And actually, it's
interesting because you don't – I never – I used to look at older men
that date younger women and kind of go ew, or he must be really shallow,
you know, to need to be with somebody who he outweighs experientially
that much.

But what happens is that younger women really like older guys, and they
pursue you. Like, I didn't go after young women. I just stood there, and
here they came and said hey, I'm interested in you because they don't
look – it's kind of hard to describe. Like, I know why it won't work
because I've lived 42 years. If she's lived, whatever, 28 years, she
doesn't know how it's going to go. So she just goes hey, this is fun.

And women are more creative sexually. So they can look at a guy who is
decaying and see something in that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: You know, like the way that certain people like the fall, you
know, instead of the spring. But men aren't like that. That's kind, you
know, I think that's kind of what's going underneath.

GROSS: You know, in some of your standup, you're really funny about your
body and, you know, having what you describe as a bit of a belly or
whatever, which you actually lift up and show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Sure. Take a look, everybody.

GROSS: And you're really funny in describing me it. So dating younger
woman must, especially if they're, like, you know, very attractive, must
make you feel more self-conscious about things that you don't like about
your body.

Mr. C.K.: It sometimes – you know, I don't know. I have a weird thing
about me which is that I'm pretty self-confident. I don't – I definitely
look at my body, and I go yuck. This is, like, look at the lumps and the
irregularities and the mismatched, you know, the bottom doesn't match
the top.

I don't, you know, but I don't care. It doesn't bother me. It's not
something that makes me feel bad. I definitely see it, and I – you know,
objectively looking at my body, I'm not impressed, but if I'm with a
woman, and she wants to be with me, she must like me. I don’t worry that
much about – I definitely have sex with my T-shirt on always.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: I haven't had sex without a shirt on, God, since I was about
23.

GROSS: Is that true?

Mr. C.K.: Yeah, I just don't think it's fair. I mean, you know, let her
think she's with somebody decent, you know.

Like on the show, I do have sex sometimes on the show, and there's a
rule in my head that I have to be on my back because...

GROSS: Because you stomach flattens?

Mr. C.K.: Well, no, no, God, no. I don't think – I'm not laying back in
the bed thinking I look awesome right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: It's because I think I should always be the victim of the sex.
I shouldn't be...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: I don't think anyone wants to see me looming over her. I think
that's an upsetting image for most. And then also, the puppy – the
stomach I get. The mother-dog stomach that I get when I'm kind of – you
get the point. It's not good.

So yeah, on my back, T-shirt, I'm okay. I can hang with that. I can be
okay with a young woman, on my back, T-shirt on. Anything else, it's not
far.

GROSS: That's funny. All right. My guest is Louie C.K., and he has a new
series called "Louie" that's on FX Tuesday nights right after "Rescue
Me," and it's kind of a sequel to his earlier series "Lucky Louie." That
series was about being a married father, and this series is about being
a comic and a divorced father.

Louie, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic Louie C.K., and he has a new series, in which
he stars as a character named Louis C.K.. It's on FX Tuesday nights,
right after "Rescue Me," and in this one, he plays a comic and a
divorced single father.

There's a great scene in the second episode. You're playing poker with a
bunch of comics. One of the comics is gay, and so everybody's kind of
ragging on him, but they're also kind of curious about certain things
that gay people do and where they hang out.

And then you ask if he minds when you use the word faggot in a routine.
And I want to play an excerpt of that scene.

Mr. C.K.: Sure.

(Soundbite of television program, "Louie")

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) Does it offend you when I say that word?

Mr. RICK CROM (Comedian): (As Rick) What word, hello?

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) No, faggot.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Yes, does it bother you when
he says the word faggot?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CROM: (As Rick) No, it bothers me when you say it because you mean
it.

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) Yeah, but really, it's like, as a comedian, a gay
guy, you're the only gay comic I know. Do you think I shouldn't be using
that word onstage?

Mr. CROM: (As Rick) I think you should use whatever words you want. I
mean, when you use it onstage, I can see it's funny, and I don't care.
But are you interested to know what it might mean to gay men?

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) Yeah, I am interested.

Mr. CROM: (As Rick) Well, the word faggot really means a bundle of
sticks used for kindling in a fire. Now, in the Middle Ages, when they
used to burn people they thought were witches, they used to burn
homosexuals, too. And they used to burn the witches at a stake, but they
thought the homosexuals were too low and disgusting to be given a stake
to be burned on. So they used to just through them in with the kindling,
with the other faggots. So that's how you get flaming faggot.

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) So what you're saying is gay people are a good
alternative fuel source.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) That's how they get the term diesel
dike.

Mr. C.K.: (As Louie) Sorry, go ahead.

Mr. CROM: (As Rick) You might want to know that every gay man in America
has probably had that word shouted at them when they're being beaten up,
sometimes many times, sometimes by a lot of people all at once. So when
you say it, it kind of brings it all back up. But, you know, by all
means use it, get your laughs. But, you know, now you know what it
means.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Okay, thanks, faggot, we'll keep
that in mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's a scene from Louie C.K.'s new series, "Louie." So who is
the comic who is explaining what the word faggot means?

Mr. C.K.: That's Rick Crom. And Rick is a comedian, lives in New York
City, and he's just this guy who I met. I started in Boston, when I was
about 18 years old, doing standup. And in Boston, you didn't mean a lot
of openly gay people.

Usually, when people said I'm gay, the next thing they would say is
ouch, you know. People - it wasn't a very giving place that way. And
when I moved to New York City, he's probably the first openly gay person
I ever met, I think. It's possible. I don't know, but definitely the
first gay comedian I met.

Anyway, Rick, when I met him, I had that conversation with him about the
word faggot. I asked him about it, and he said pretty much that to me. I
mean, I wrote that scene, it's written. But he said it that way too,
that he didn't lecture me or say you shouldn't say it. He just said, if
you're interested, it's totally devastating, and he gave me that
information. And I never forgot it. I mean, I was about 22. I have said
faggot on stage a number of times since then, but I don't – I know what
I'm saying, and I know what it means now.

GROSS: So if you still use the word faggot on stage, how do you use it?
What's the context?

Mr. C.K.: Well, I feel like when I get asked that, I get defensive about
it. I start saying oh, well, no, it's okay that I say faggot because
this or that, but to be really honest with you, I'm not sure why I say
it.

I feel like I'm not sure I should be saying it. I say it sometimes, but
it's an open question to me, and that's one of the reasons that I had
this scene because I wanted – I thought that was something unique that I
could show as a stand-up is that we do wonder about this stuff.

It feels right when I say it because I'm just saying it to be crazy or
to be funny or to be extreme. But there are times I go, is this okay,
really? What does it mean that I'm hurting people that I don't know,
like, who are watching me on TV? What does that mean? And where are they
coming from when they get hurt? And is it okay to hurt people?

Sometimes I think it is. Sometimes I think it isn't. It's an open
question to me. I'm not sure. I'm not sure why I'm so often disgusting
on stage. I don't always know where it comes from. So that's one reason
I put this out there, to say, well, you know, I don't know either. I do
ask once in a while. I am doing the research.

GROSS: Who do you ask?

Mr. C.K.: Guys like Rick, you know, guys like Rick. And when I ask, I
talk to – I have black friends. Chris Rock is one of my best friends,
and we talk about racial topics on stage. You know, so I don't...

GROSS: So did you run things past him and say does this sound offensive,
or is this okay?

Mr. C.K.: No, I don't think that way. I don't think that way. I don't
think – like, I'm not worried about offending people. I feel like if I
say something...

GROSS: You just said you were worried about offending people.

Mr. C.K.: I know, isn't that interesting? I go back and forth. It's not
that I worry about it, but I think about it, and I don't – I think if
you're using nitroglycerin, you've got to read the label, and you've to
be responsible and know what the dangers are. But I do think that if you
know that something's dangerous, it doesn't necessarily mean you
shouldn't say it.

I think that to take hurtful speech that's running around the country
and take it in and then regurgitate it back out in the form of comedy in
order to take people to these dark places, my instinct is that that's a
good idea because it makes them laugh in scary places, and it makes them
think about them.

I don't think that's a bad – when Chris and I talk about race, we just
go to the worst places. And he used to call me and say how was it like
being white today? Is it still great?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: And I'd go, oh, you don't have - and I'd say it's so good,
Chris. You have no idea. I mean, I can walk down the street, and cops
just are friendly to me, and you know, I get the benefit of the doubt.

I said that to him once, that I can get in a time machine and go to any
period in history, and I'll be treated with politely. And I said Chris,
you'll never be able to do that. You can't go past 1975 in a time
machine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: But then I go, I can't go in the future because I don't want
to find out what's going to happen to white people.

So these are all things that I arrived at by saying really inappropriate
things to my black friend Chris Rock and to other people, and I think
you've got to say them on stage to get to those truths, you know.

And to say it's awesome being white is a really arrogant, horrible,
disgusting thing to say. But because I said that out loud on stage, and
then I defended it and talked about it, I came out with a bit that I
always get told by black people is so interesting and so real and so
interesting for them to hear that perspective.

So that again, say yeah, I'm a fat faggot, and then find out what gay
people feel about it and then say it, talk about that. I think that's
all positive. Talking is always positive. That's why I talk too much.

GROSS: I never heard that explanation of the word faggot or flaming
faggot before. Is that, like, etymologically true?

Mr. C.K.: I don't know, and I've actually read things online where
people are saying that's not accurate. I don’t think it matters. I love
that on all sorts of websites and gay blogs and stuff that this scene
has sort of, like, stirred up conversation, which I think is just
healthy.

And this scene is about a guy who believes that to be the true origin of
the word, and it's about his feelings about it and what impact it has on
me.

If it's not the real explanation of the word faggot, I don't think it
matters. The point of the scene isn't to be accurate. It's not a news
show. It's an exchange between characters.

GROSS: My guest Louie C.K. will be back in the second half of the show.
His new comedy series "Louie" is on FX Tuesday nights after "Rescue Me."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with comic Louie C.K. He
created and stars in the new FX comedy series "Louie." He plays a
standup comic who's a divorced father with joint custody of his two
children, which parallels C.K.'s own life. He was married when he
created his 2006 HBO series "Lucky Louie," in which he played a married
man constantly bickering with his wife.

When we left off, we were talking about a scene from "Louie" in which
Louie is playing poker with several comics, one of whom, Rick, is gay.
Louie had asked Rick if it was okay to use the word faggot in his act.

Do you have poker games like the one in this scene with other comics?

Mr. C.K.: Yeah. Not has much as I used to. It's hard for me, because
everybody's smoking and I'm 42 and I can't stay up all night and play
poker anymore. But those - that game - there's a guy in the game, Eddie
Brill, who's really there because we play poker at his house every
Monday. I don't go to that game very often anymore.

But that is something - comedians do get together sometimes and play
poker. Rick and I had that conversation at the Comedy Cellar. And that
scene starts with him telling us stories about a gay club, a sort of
floating club called City Jerks in New York City. And what I love about
Rick is that he's very centered in his sexuality. He's very confident.
But heterosexual men are very not confident about gay - like when they
hear about it, they giggle like little girls. And there's been a lot of
times at the Comedy Cellar where he'll tell stories about gay gatherings
and all the hetero comedians who think they're so tough just turn into
little children and they shriek.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: And they go, really? Is it really like that? What's it like?
And he just says well, it's like this. And it's funny because, you know,
gay men have to - they're put sort of a crucible. And I'm going speak -
you know, it's not - I'm just taking liberty in saying this. Gay men
have to go through something to own their - who they are. They get beat
up. They get ostracized. Whatever they go through, if they survive it,
they come out very confident people.

They come out having been tested and having to really figure out who
they are to get through it, because I think that's how you get through
any kind of a test is by really finding your strength and believing in
yourself. So a lot of gay people who are still standing and still
strong, that's who they are.

Heterosexual men have never been put through that test. We don't get -
nobody goes, oh, my God, you like women? And you don't have to defend it
for your whole life. So we're not so sure about our sexuality. I think
that's one reason why heterosexual men attack gay people or are afraid
of them because they're now confident and they've gone through this, but
we don't know who we are sexually. We're a mess. So I think that that's
why the two sides of the sexual barrier is such an interesting conflict.

GROSS: Since we're talking about your feelings about your body...

Mr. C.K.: Yeah.

GROSS: I want to play a clip from the series "Louie" in which you're
talking about feeling like you're in bad shape. And this is from an
episode in which you think, like, maybe there's something wrong, and you
go see a doctor. And the doctor is an old friend of yours who's played
Ricky Gervais, and he's really funny in it. But anyways, you're worried
about your health. You're worried about your body. And so here is some
of the standup that you do in that episode.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Louie")

Mr. C.K.: My days start poorly because of the shape I'm in, because now,
also, I'm 42, so I'm getting - I'm really on the decline. There's never
going to be another year of my life that was better than the year
before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: That's never going to happen again. I've seen my best years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: And when I wake up in the morning, I just sit there, and I'm
like, oh. Like it's an awful way to start your day. Every day starts
with me, like, my eyes open, and I reload the program of misery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: I just open my eyes, remember who I am, what I'm like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: ...and I go, oh. All right, I guess. I guess do it. I don't
know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: I guess. Oh, my God.

GROSS: That's Louie C.K. doing...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...standup from his new series "Louie."

So what really gets you most depressed about getting older - and really,
42 isn't very old.

Mr. C.K.: No, it's not, and I definitely have a heightened sense of the
decay of my body. I think - it's fascinating to me. It doesn't bother
me, really. Like it's - I feel like I'm definitely - I think that that's
true what I say in that clip. I don't think I'm going to get better. And
I do think the decline is pretty exponential. But I'm so happy to be
getting to see it, you know? I like being witness to things. It's
interesting. And it's much more interesting to be fighting the fast
death of your body than to just be young and be able to do anything.

When you're on the upswing and you just can't really get hurt in a way
that you're not going to heal from, I just think life is less
interesting. When you realize that you've got about 12 days left and
they're not going to be as fun as the last 12, it kind of puts you in a
really heightened place. I like it, so I don't wake up and get - I mean,
definitely, waking up is the hard part. Waking up and starting to move
your muscles for the beginning of the day is hard. But, yeah, I know
there's people listening who are, you know, 58, 62, that are just saying
just shut up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: You're 42. You have no idea how springy you are right now and
how elastic your limbs are. I'm sure it's going to get harder. But I
feel more capable as a person than I did in my 20s and 30s. I look back
at that person and I just kind of shrug, like, what was the point of any
of that?

GROSS: So did you lose weight after separating from your wife?

Mr. C.K.: Yeah, I did. Because I went on the road and did standup for a
good, solid - you know, I mean, that's what - it took me four years to
get back on television, and during that time, I've been doing standup
and touring heavily and doing standup specials. That became my - I got
this new obsession to do a different hour of standup comedy every year
and shoot a special and then throw the material away and start fresh.
That's how I've been spending the last four years. And to do that, you
really have to be at a top physical shape. And I've trained in boxing
gyms with boxing trainers and sort of approached every special as the
fight, you know, my new title fight.

So, yeah, I didn't have a goal to lose weight or to look better, but I
lost weight because I was trying to get more stamina and trying to get -
you know, when you're boxing, you have to think under pressure, and
that's what standup is like. So it was a good kind of metaphorical
training.

GROSS: So you actually trained with a boxer, not just lifting weights,
but doing boxing.

Mr. C.K.: Yeah, I did, and then sparred and stuff. I trained with Micky
Ward for a while, who's this guy they're making a movie about. I think
it's called "The Fighter." I'm not sure. But Micky Ward is this amazing
Iris boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, and he - Micky is famous for
fights he had with a guy named Arturo Gatti, where they went - they did
three fights that are considered, by some people, the best three fights
in history.

They just pummeled each other for 12 rounds every time, and they had a
draw and they each won one. So they were just so perfectly matched. And
I can't imagine how he did it. And so I met him, and what I learned is
that it's, ah, it just - Micky will tell you, it's just training. You
just got to train. You just got to be in shape. That's all it is. It's
just getting in the gym and being dedicated enough to do the grunt work
and the boring, constant training so that you'll be fit enough to take
the beating.

It's no great - he didn't go to the North Pole and have an ice forest
like Superman. He just worked out. So that's why I asked him to train,
and he travelled with me a little bit. He came on the road with me, and
we trained together, and I tried to draw from him and learn how to do
that.

GROSS: My guest is Louie C.K. He created and stars in the new FX comedy
series "Louie."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is comic Louie C.K., and
he has a new series on FX, right after "Rescue Me," which is called
"Louie." And he plays somebody named Louie C.K., who is a divorced
father and a father of two, and also a standup comic.

So since you play yourself, or a character with the same name as
yourself in the series, do you wear your own clothes?

Mr. C.K.: That's a funny question. Yeah, I do. I wear - always - I just
get dressed and go to the set. And, you know, it's just pretty much, I'm
a guy that'll wear T-shirt and jeans, and sometimes I throw a Polo over
the T-shirt. And if it's cold, I throw on a sweatshirt. That's it.
That's me. And I've tried throughout my career to - I'd loved to be a
guy in a suit. I thought when I started doing standup, I would wear
suits because I just love that look of a dude in a suit, but I can't -
If I put on a suit I just start melting, and it comes out, you know, the
shirt comes out of the pants and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: I don't have a waist, so the pants go down to my, you know,
halfway down my legs, and I can't pull it off. I need to wear cotton,
and I need to wear simple, cotton clothes. So that's - on our show, we
don't have any makeup. Nobody wears makeup. And I always try to get
people to wear their own clothes, the other characters, also - though if
there's somebody who's a specific kind of character we do - we dress
them.

We have a very - a great wardrobe person. She's really smart, but I
don't need her for me. Nobody touches my head when I'm working. I don't
get makeup. I don't get hair. I mean, people don't walk around with
coiffed hair and even facial tones and crisp, new clothing. It's just
not reality. So - and it's not compelling on film to watch, either. You
know, I grew up watching films in the '70s, you know, watching
characters like Popeye Doyle on, you know, the "French Connection."
They're just sweaty, gritty people. So I guess that's the way I see
myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So there's one episode where you're wearing a suit. You show up
for a date, and you're wearing a suit, and she's shocked. And she
thinks...

Mr. C.K.: Yes.

Right ...what is this, some kind of formal thing? And you're making all
kinds of excuses. And you do look very uncomfortable in the suit.

Mr. C.K.: Yes. Yeah, I had - that was the first thing I thought. I mean,
what I wanted to do in the...

GROSS: You kind of look like your parents said to you, you have to wear
a suit for this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Yeah, it's like I'm going to the prom.

GROSS: Yes. Exactly.

Mr. C.K.: And that definitely was a good way to show - and, you know,
the guy that I am on the show is definitely me without any of the
anything I've learned. It's just me making horrible mistakes that I
don't make in real life, but that are inside of me. They're the things I
would do if I didn't think for a second. And wearing a suit to pick up
a, you know, kind of an alt chick in the Lower East Side who's wearing
a, you know, a T-shirt and jeans is a mistake I could make if I didn't
think for a second. Yeah.

GROSS: Now, there's an episode in "Louie" in which the comic Nick Di
Paolo costars and...

Mr. C.K.: Yes.

GROSS: ...he's on stage saying really nasty things about, not only
Obama, but anyone who supported him or still supports him.

Mr. C.K.: Sure.

GROSS: And you get into a big political fight with him that ends up in a
physical fight with him.

Mr. C.K.: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Then you go with him to the ER after he's injured in that fight.
And in the ER you have a genuine heart-to-heart conversation about the
difficulties of marriage. And I found that a really interesting scene,
because obviously - I mean, these are such divisive times, and people
who disagree politically sometimes find it really hard to be together at
all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: Yes.

GROSS: And I thought this scene just kind of got to that, and also got
to what you still had in common and the kind of emotional depth that you
could still share together. And I was hoping you could talk about
writing that scene and why you wrote it.

Mr. C.K.: Well, that was a really important one to me because, you know,
Nick and I used to be roommates. We were both comedians from Boston. I
mean, I grew up in Newton, which is a pretty liberal place, and in he
grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, you know, which is just a place. And
we both ended up in New York at the same time and we shared an apartment
just because we were - we knew each other. We barely knew each other.
And Nick has always been very conservative. And I've always been - I
mean, as I grow older, I'm both things.

But - so Nick and I always had these great conversations where he would
start on the total opposite end, I would start on the opposite end, and
we'd find either middle ground or we'd find - you know, I learned a lot
from him. I learned a lot about conservative thinking from him, and it's
made me able to watch conservative shows, and I know where they're
coming - I know where heart is, and I can see it. I don't think of them
as the enemy.

But anyway, Nick and I have this - I had this idea that we get in a
political fight where it gets physical. That never happened with us, but
that, to me, was just interesting to see a fight because of politics
between two guys. And in order to do that, I made myself the more
unreasonable guy. I didn't want - because I am the more liberal, I
didn't want to have him be such a jerk that I'd beat him up. That would
be just kind of like a fake heroic thing. So I call him a Nazi over and
over again, and I call him Himmler and tell him to go to a rally and
stuff just for saying - questioning Obama's leadership. And that's not
fair. But I wanted to be the unreasonable one. It was more interesting
to me.

And his arguments are actually reasonable. He says in the thing that
because my argument to him is why don't you give us a turn? You've had
Bush for eight years. Why can't you just give liberals a turn now? And
he says, well, you're not giving us a turn to complain, that whenever
anybody puts down Obama, they're called a Nazi, and that so - you got to
complain when Bush was president. Why don't we get to criticize now?

It's a very valid point, I think. But I just call him a Nazi again, and
he throws water in my face. And the we fight like a couple of 42-year-
old guys, just grunt and then fall down, get out of breath very quickly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: So, but anyway, and then, yeah. We go to the hospital because
my friend got his hand hurt. I don't care that we're not agreeing, and I
go and I take him to the emergency room. And we start talking about what
we really share, which is we're both plus-40. He doesn't - he's married
happily, but he has no children, and his wife and he have passed that
sort of point where they can have kids and now they're faced with just
each other till one of them is going to lose the other. And that's -
there's a melancholy feeling to that. But I envy it, because I'm alone.

I have my kids and that means a lot to me, but I do miss having somebody
there all the time. So, you know, you could have that, both those
conversations with a human being. I like - I did like showing that.

GROSS: So in the series, at the end of the credit sequence, you’re
eating a slice of pizza and then you just walk downstairs into the
Comedy Cellar, this kind of, you know, brick walled downstairs, small
club...

Mr. C.K.: Yeah.

GROSS: ...where you’re doing standup. Do you play those kinds of places
anymore?

Mr. C.K.: Oh sure, all the time. I mean that's where you develop
material. You know, almost every night that I'm in New York City I go
down to the Comedy Cellar and just do 10 minutes - 20 minutes, sometimes
half and hour. And the audience is often like people who don’t even
speak English, just people who kind of wandered downstairs so it’s a
real challenge.

I mean I do - when I'm really making a living I go do concerts in
theaters, but you don’t really get a, you know, you get a good reaction,
but in a club when they're just sitting there eating falafel, it’s just
a more honest response.

So yeah, I do clubs. I do the Cellar all the time. That's my life.

GROSS: So that's how you develop your material.

Mr. C.K.: Yeah.

GROSS: To see what gets laughs when it's not even your audience.

Mr. C.K.: Yeah, and I mean you can't. There's no practicing comedy. You
have to just go out on stage. So that's where I go on and I develop and
I keep the chops up too. I have to stay good. If I don’t do comedy for
two weeks I completely forget how to do it and when I go back out it's -
I'm a little shaky, so.

GROSS: So you are part Mexican, part Jewish, part Catholic, part Eastern
European.

Mr. C.K.: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You were born in Mexico, spent the first few years of your life
there, before moving to the states.

Mr. C.K.: Yeah.

GROSS: How do you identify ethnically and religiously?

Mr. C.K.: Well, I don’t. I don’t identify. I think ethnic identification
is kind of a mess now. Like people are so, they really want to identify
people. I was with my friend visiting a friend of mine who had kids and
they were watching some show on Nickelodeon. And there was a black young
kid in the show, and one of them was trying to say which kid. She said
that kid, that one. And I said you mean the black one? And she said oh,
that's mean to say he's black. I go no it’s not. He's black. And I
realized I've kind of stumbled into something.

I don’t know what she's been taught. Well, you’re supposed to say
African-American. But the kid hasn’t opened his mouth. He could be
French. I mean to me that would be prejudice to say African-American. I
don’t know where he's from. He might be Canadian. So then what do you
call him? Well, he looks black so I’ll call him black. Well, you could
call him a person. You could say that guy, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: But it's just this need to identify is kind of strange to me.
And I'm Mexican. My dad's Mexican. But I'm white - and most Americans
aren't aware that there's white Mexicans, there's indigenous Mexicans,
there's black Mexicans. But, you know, I think racial identity is a very
mixed bag. My Abuelita lives in Mexico in the city. All my relatives on
my dad side are Mexicans.

Well, but are they brown little people that mow lawns? No. They're
educated. All my uncles are doctors of something or the other - PhD's
and they have lighter skin and they're half their relatives are from
Europe and half their relatives are indigenous. I don’t know. I don’t
even; reaching back some of them are Hungarian. My grandfather is
Hungarian, Jewish and migrated to Mexico, married a Catholic woman,
raised a bunch of kids that look Hungarian Mexican. One of them came
here, married my mom who is an Irish woman, doesn’t care about religion,
but went ahead and raised us Catholic for a little while anyway. So, I,
you know, I don’t know.

GROSS: So when people meet you but they only know you from your
characters on TV, what mistakes do they make about who you really are?

Mr. C.K.: I think some of my earlier material, where I was a lot more -
well, when I was a young father I did really coarse material about my
children because I was very frustrated in having children and the
struggle of being a parent. So I said a lot of awful things about my
kids. So I think that some people think that I don’t like my kids or
something, and that's definitely not true. They're the whole world to
me. But other than that, I don’t know, people seem to know who I am.

I don’t put on that much of a character. I'm pretty honest on stage. So
probably I'm - I'm a distilled version of myself on stage. I'm
definitely more quiet and I'm not a loud brash jerk in my real life,
unless I get a few drinks in me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: But otherwise, it is me.

GROSS: Louie C.K., it’s been great to talk with you again. Thank you so
much.

Mr. C.K.: Thank you very much. I love doing the show.

GROSS: Love having you. Thank you.

Louie C.K.'s new comedy series "Louie" is on FX Tuesday nights after
"Rescue Me."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews David Mitchell's new historical
novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet."

This is FRESH AIR.

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A 'Thousand Autumns' In The Land Of The Rising Sun

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Before he became an award-winning novelist, David Mitchell lived in
Japan as a young man teaching English. To write his latest novel, "The
Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," Mitchell returned to Japan for four
years and did historical research in the Netherlands.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says all that leg work paid off.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: The critical word on David Mitchell is that he walks
on water. Mitchell's first novel - written before he turned 30 - was
called "Ghostwritten," and, like his more recent triumph, "Cloud Atlas,"
it's the kind of multi-stranded, inter-textual narrative that
automatically gets the label experimental slapped on it. Now, his latest
novel, called "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" swerves into the
traditional realm of historical fiction.

The reader reaction, so far, has been ecstatic, I think, partly, because
the suspicion lingers that experimental fiction may be too heavy on
gimmickry and rather light on story and substance. For a post-modern
wunderkind like Mitchell to pull off a straightforward old-fashioned
tale like this one, is akin to that perhaps apocryphal story about
Michelangelo auditioning before the pope for the job of painting the
Sistine Chapel by drawing a perfect circle, freehand.

Far be it from me to give the creatively buoyant Mitchell a dunking in
the reviewer's vat of vinegar, though I do have one small brackish water
balloon to lob. Overall, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" is a
beautiful novel, full of life and authenticity, atmosphere and
characters that breathe. It manages to do what the best historical
fiction always does - make a reader melancholy, thinking about all those
other true life stories from the past that have melted into air.

You know right off that this is going to be an extraordinary novel
because of its setting. "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" opens in
1799 on an island called Dejima in the harbor of Nagasaki, Japan. As our
title hero, Jacob de Zoet, first describes it, the fan-shaped island is
man-made, some two hundred paces long around its outer curve and
erected, like much of Amsterdam, on sunken piles.

Dajima is the province of the Dutch East Indies Company, and its tiny
stone bridge over a tidal moat constitutes the sole gateway between
samurai-ruled Japan and the outside world. Young Jacob has arrived there
to serve five years as a bookkeeper, after which he hopes to have
amassed enough money to marry the wealthy fiancée waiting for him back
in Amsterdam.

This island outpost of progress is packed with spies, prostitutes,
sailors, slaves and con men. It's a sliver of the feverish modern world
ruled by commerce, wedged up against resolute feudalism.

Pious Jacob withstands the usual temptations but falls hard for a young
Japanese woman he meets, cute, when she runs into his warehouse chasing
an ape carrying a severed human leg. I'll skip the explanation —
Mitchell revels in, among other things, exuberantly screwball plot
twists. Instead, I'll simply say that the woman, Orito Aibagawa, is a
midwife whose face was partly disfigured by an accident involving hot
oil.

She's a wonderful wry creation, but - and here comes my only criticism
of Mitchell's otherwise superb novel - when Miss Aibagawa's adventures
take over in Book Two, the novel mutates into a Gothic pastiche,
complete with supernatural villain, blood sacrifices and a labyrinthine
prison. Mitchell apparently can do everything when it comes to fiction
writing, but he should have resisted this detour into the land of
"Twilight."

Fortunately, it's a wrong turn that's soon righted. Mitchell's
chameleon-like gifts as a novelist are on display everywhere else here:
in pages-long drunken conversations over cards; in the delicate
negotiations between the Japanese hosts and their Dutch business
partners; and in the fabulous action scenes.

This is a novel in which we're treated to an earthquake, a typhoon and a
naval battle worthy of Horatio Hornblower. It's the reveries, though, of
the exile Jacob de Zoet, that make the most indelible impression. At a
decisive moment in the novel, Jacob runs after Miss Aibagawa to tell her
he loves her. He's propelled to make this outrageous declaration, we're
told, by the inner whisperings of the Ghost of Future Regret. What a
wonderful phrase: the Ghost of Future Regret — the same ghost that
should be whispering in your ear, right now, if you have any doubts
about reading this strange and singular novel.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" by David Mitchell. You
can read an excerpt of the book on our website, freshair.npr.org where
you can also download Podcasts of our show.

(Soundbite of music)

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: The new film "The Kids Are All Right" stars Julianne Moore and
Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose children have decided to track
down their mother's sperm donor.

On the next FRESH AIR, we talk with director Lisa Cholodenko. Also
journalist Joe Achenbach describes our electricity grid, which is based
on outmoded 1960s technology that discourages the use of renewable
energy.

Join us.

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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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