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Comedian Louis C.K. Laughs Through Difficulties.

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.

This interview was originally broadcast on July 7, 2010. A new season of Louie premiered on June 23 at 10:30 PM on FX.

42:37

Other segments from the episode on July 8, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 8, 2011: Interview with Louis C.K.; Review of television shows "Torchwood" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Transcript

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Comedian Louis C.K. Laughs Through Difficulties

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting
in for 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 argued with his wife.

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

The first season of "Louie" just came out on DVD, and the second season
is seen currently on Thursday nights on the FX Network. Earlier in his
career, Louis C.K. wrote for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "The Late
Show with David Letterman," and "The Chris Rock Show." Terry spoke with
Louis C.K. last year, and we should point out that the first 10 minutes
of their conversation ventures into adult territory. But like his
comedy, it's also very truthful, which is why he's so funny.

In this scene from the first season of "Louie," for example, Louis is
performing standup in a small club, but if they had honesty clubs, Louis
could be saying the same stuff there, too.

(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: 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 didn't
– 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.

GROSS: So when you decided to do your new series "Louie," about Louis
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 a 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 on 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: 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,
make 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, and 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 of,
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 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 your 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
fair.

GROSS: That's funny.

BIANCULLI: Louis C.K., speaking to Terry Gross in 2010. His TV series
"Louie" has started its second season on the FX channel, and the first
season is now out on DVD. More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with comedian Louis C.K.
They spoke last year, during the first season of his TV series "Louie."

GROSS: 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.: No, faggot.

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

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CROM: No, it bothers me when you say it because you mean it.

Mr. C.K.: 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: 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.: Yeah, I am interested.

Mr. CROM: 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 throw them in with the kindling, with the other
faggots. So that's how you get flaming faggot.

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

Unidentified Man #1: That's how they get the term diesel dyke.

Mr. C.K.: I'm sorry, go ahead.

Mr. CROM: 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 that 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 meet 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 as written. But he said it that way too, that
he didn't lecture me or say you shouldn't say it. He just said, hey, 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 that 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 do 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 got
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 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, to 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.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Mr. C.K.: Yeah. Not as 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 though sort of a crucible. And I'm 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 strengths 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 -
it's such an interesting conflict.

BIANCULLI: Louis C.K., speaking to Terry Gross last year. The second
season of his TV season "Louie" is now showing on FX. And the first
season has just come out on DVD. We'll continue their conversation in
the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross,
back with more of Terry's 2010 interview with comic Louis C.K. He
created and stars in the comedy series "Louie," which currently is in
its second season on the FX network. And the first season of "Louie"
recently came out on DVD.

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
by 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
are 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. 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 does get 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 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." But Micky Ward is this amazing Irish 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, some, 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: Did he ever accidentally really hit you in the face?

Mr. C.K.: No. No. I never sparred with Micky.

GROSS: Oh. Okay.

Mr. C.K.: I was more, like he, there was a, I sparred with a woman in
his gym once, this woman, Canadian, a native Canadian. I don't know what
you call a native, you know, like a indigenous Canadian woman from like
Newfoundland who was out boxing kick boxers. She was very tough and she
beat the hell out of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C.K.: But Micky I never got to spar with. Also he can't take shots
to the head anymore because all of his retinas are detached. His head is
a mess from the beatings he's taken. So, but, yeah, I mean I think that
was part of getting older for me was learning that it's not about having
a really hot spirit and being really cool and hoping you catch a wave
and be a star - all those silly things that drive people when they're
younger. When you get older you realize I just have to work hard. I just
have to really be dedicated and work hard and try and not leave anything
to chance. Wake up early. Go running. Go to the gym. Get in shape. Pour
over my notes. Think about my standup. Challenge myself. And I started
making things harder for myself on stage instead of easy and that made
me a better comedian.

BIANCULLI: Louis C.K., speaking to Terry Gross last year.

More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2010 interview with comedian Louis
C.K. his TV series "Louie" is now in its second season on the FX
network.

GROSS: 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 try - like I'd love 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.

GROSS: ...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 pilot was...

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 and 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 their 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 then 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 liked - 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, I 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 an 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 prejudiced 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.: There's just this need to identify that's 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's 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 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's 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 -
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 some people think that I'm not 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: Louis 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.

BIANCULLI: Louis C.K. speaking to Terry Gross in 2010. Season one of his
sitcom "Louie" has just come out on DVD, and season two is televised
Thursday nights on the FX cable network.
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'Torchwood' And 'Curb': Two Summer TV Treats

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli.

This month, while the broadcast networks are taking it easy, some cable
competitors are serving up lots of excellent, unusual television. The
action starts this weekend with a new version of the British sci-fi
series "Torchwood" and the Larry David comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

"Torchwood" is a show that may not even be on many people's radar. It's
a British show, which ran for three seasons and was imported and shown
here by BBC America. It's a sci-fi series about a sort of overseas "X-
Files" unit, run by a cocky hero who is not only irreverent and
American, but immortal. And a time traveler. And bisexual.

It's a spinoff character and series from "Doctor Who," the long-running
British fantasy show that is still around - and has been around so long,
it launched the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It started as a
kids show, but in the hands of writer-producer Russell T. Davies,
"Doctor Who" became more for adults - and Davies also is the man behind
"Torchwood."

So if you're sneering at the idea of sci-fi and fantasy, you shouldn't -
not if it's in the right hands. In the past, I've had to try to persuade
people to watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Lost" and "Battlestar
Galactica" and "The Walking Dead" as genre shows that had something to
say and said it cleverly. The same goes for "Torchwood," which begins
its new incarnation Friday on the Starz cable network.

In this new version, John Barrowman remains in place as the star of
"Torchwood," and he soon meets up with one of his most feisty and
dependable team members, Gwen Cooper, played by Eve Myles. But the rest
of the "Torchwood" team died at the end of last season, so for this
year, the survivors come out of hiding and move to America, the center
of a new global threat that sounds harmless but is just the opposite.

All of a sudden, all across the planet, people stop dying - starting
with death row prisoner Oswald Danes, played by Bill Pullman, who
survives his own execution. In a montage of channel-surfing that's
disturbingly credible, the media instantly come up with a catchy name
for this inexplicable new phenomenon.

(Soundbite of TV series, "Torchwood") (Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Actor #1: (as reporter) The survival of Oswald Danes turns
out to be the first incident in a much bigger story breaking live this
morning.

Unidentified Actor #2: (as reporter) When the Kentucky medical authority
made a chance comment that it hadn't recorded a single death over 24
hours...

Unidentified Actor #3: (as reporter) Seventeen more authorities reported
the same thing. The story exploded on social network sites.

Unidentified Actor #4: (as reporter) (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Actor #5: (as reporter) Miracle trending as the number one
topic.

Unidentified Actor #6: (as reporter) Maine to California, the story's
the same.

Unidentified Actor #7: (as reporter) For the past 36 hours no fatalities
has been reported.

Unidentified Actor #8: (as reporter) No fatalities has been reported.

Unidentified Actor #9: (as reporter) No one has died.

Unidentified Actor #10: (as reporter) Not one person in the United
States of America...

Unidentified Actor #11: (as reporter) Not a simple death.

Unidentified Actor #12: (as reporter) Miracle day.

Unidentified Actor #13: (as reporter) Miracle day.

Unidentified Actor #14: (as reporter) Miracle day, that's what it's
being called.

Unidentified Actor #15: (as reporter) Miracle day.

BIANCULLI: As usual, the media are missing the real story. When no one
dies, what does that do to population growth? To the spread of
infectious but now nonlethal diseases? To war and terrorism and thrill-
seeking and so many other things? "Torchwood" - the task force and the
TV series - takes all of this very, very seriously and doesn't presume
it's some sort of natural phenomenon. So if someone engineered this so-
called miracle, the big questions soon become: Who and why?

The acting, as well as the writing, is really strong here. Barrowman, as
Jack Harkness, is an old-school swashbuckler with new-school sass, kind
of like a bisexual Bruce Willis. Bill Pullman, who usually plays the
likable hero in films like "Independence Day," portrays a creepy,
odious, pedophile murderer here – yet, one who, thanks to the media,
finds both a voice and a mission. And Lauren Ambrose, who was so
wonderful in "Six Feet Under" as teenager Claire Fisher, gets a meaty
adult role here as an opportunistic agent who offers to represent the
executed, but not dead, killer.

I've previewed the first three episodes of "Torchwood," and they left me
hanging and eager to see more. So give it a chance, please. And if you
want to catch up, BBC Home Video is releasing the entire three-season
British version of "Torchwood" on DVD and Blu-Ray July 19th.

And now for something completely different. On Sunday, HBO presents the
eighth-season premiere of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," one of
the funniest and daringly different shows ever made for television. It's
been a long time since we've seen the exaggerated TV version of Larry
David in action - the last time was in November 2009, when he taped the
"Seinfeld" reunion show and lost his chance to reconnect successfully
with his estranged wife Cheryl, played by Cheryl Hines.

The new season begins with an episode called "The Divorce," echoing the
comedian's real-life divorce from his wife, Laurie, four years ago. But
I haven't seen that episode. HBO and Larry David are holding their cards
close to the vest and instead have sent out three random, nonsequential
episodes from the new season.

The story arc this season takes Larry to New York, and one of the three
episodes I've seen explains why but I won't spoil it. It's enough to say
that if you missed Larry David as the self-appointed policeman of all
things that irritate him - one of the new episodes calls him a social
assassin - get ready for a lot more moments of outrage and a few that
may make you uncomfortable.

When his friend Marty Funkhouser, played by Bob Einstein, reaffirms his
Jewish faith and leads Larry and his friends in prayer at dinner, Larry,
who's also Jewish, quickly reaches his limit of religious tolerance.
Others at the table include Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin and Larry Miller.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

(Soundbite of singing)

Unidentified Actor: (as character) Amen.

Ms. SUSIE ESSMAN (Actor): (as Susie Greene) Amen.

Mr. BOB EINSTEIN (Actor): (as Marty Funkhouser) Now the wine.

Mr. LARRY DAVID (Actor): (as self) What?

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Okay.

(Soundbite of singing)

Mr. DAVID: (as self) No way. No way. That's enough. Come on. No. I'm
hungry.

Mr. EINSTEIN: (as Marty Funkhouser) Well, you can't drink the wine
without the prayer.

Mr. DAVID: (as self) Oh, you can't? Really? Watch this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Actor: (as character) I'm with Larry on this.

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Yeah. Here's to the drinking.

Mr. DAVID: (as self) To the five-man club championship. Here. Here.
here.

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Here, here.

Unidentified Actor: (as character) Now you're thinking. No doubt.

(Soundbite of glasses clinking)

Mr. EINSTEIN: (as Marty Funkhouser) Cheers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Everybody eat up. Come on.

Mr. DAVID: (as self) Oh. Did you guys hear about this? You know, the,
that, what's the chicken place in Westwood, the Palestinian one. Al...

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Oh, Al Abass(ph).

Mr. DAVID: (as self) Al Abass. That's original chicken. They're opening
up a second location. Right next door to Goldblatt's deli.

Ms. ESSMAN: (as Susie Greene) Over my dead body.

Mr. EINSTEIN: (as Marty Funkhouser) I'm sure that wouldn't bother them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Even if you agree with Larry David's TV alter ego on
principle, he always ends up going too far. For me, his "Curb Your
Enthusiasm" character ranks up there with John Cleese's Basil Fawlty in
"Fawlty Towers." They're both guys whose ability to embarrass themselves
while persisting in venting their outrage against the world ranks them
among television's most original and entertaining comedy characters.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at
npr/freshair. And you can download podcasts of our show at,
freshair.npr.org.

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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