Louis C.K. doesn’t really hate Kansas City … anymore
Forget what you’ve read or heard. Louis C.K. doesn’t hate us. The comic, writer and director — star of FX’s Louie and the self-produced Horace and Pete — is set to play a nearly sold-out show in Kansas City, the place he has famously (to Kansas Citians, anyway) derided over the years. Ahead of that Sprint Center date (Thursday, July 7), The Pitch reached him by phone, and he finally said how he really feels about KC.
The Pitch: In your recent conversation with New York magazine, you said something that struck me: that some things have no real solution. You said, ”Sometimes something just sucks. … People need to be listened to.” You also said that you’ve quit the internet. Do you feel like maybe life sucks a little less without the constant barrage?
Louis C.K.: Yes, I do think that the internet is kind of like having your water tap on high all the time, and you need to have some control over it and not have it coming full blast all of the time. I think the internet has its place. Obviously, it’s an amazing way to communicate and research and stay connected with the rest of the human race. But it needs to be taken in pieces. I mean, I haven’t quit it 100 percent. It’s not my pastime anymore. It’s something that I’ll go to. I don’t do it on my phone or on the street, but if I’m home, I’ll sit at a desk in front of a computer and have a sense of what I want to go look at. I think that’s just a lot better way to take it.
And, yeah, there’s plenty of things in life that you don’t have a real way to fix it, but just sharing it with other people is proven to be the best coping method, I think, out there. It’s just saying to somebody that’s really listening: “This fucking blows.”
When something fucking blows, who do you call?
Oh, jeez, I have my mom, I’ve got my friends. And I think everybody does this. It’s just a constellation of support, so you have different people that you call depending on what blows at what particular moment. There are just certain people that you go, “That person is going to commiserate really well with me right now.”
You’ve made some comments recently about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Were you surprised that those comments were as roundly circulated as they were?
Yeah, that stuff gets thrown around a lot, and then it gets thrown out just as quickly. There’s so much demand for new shit to click on, that when something gets out — this person said this about that. … With newspapers or magazines, there’s only so much room for everything. But on the internet, it’s infinite how much space there is. You don’t even knock one story off to take another on. It’s a cheap way to make income, I think, for a lot of sites: just throw something up as soon as it gets out. Why not? So I’m not surprised. It’s just how things work out.
Are you surprised how much people hang on your words?
I don’t think they do hang on much. I think if it’s spread wide — the stories that go out on the internet, the quotes — things get reprinted in a lot of places, and then the next day it’s forgotten. I think there’s an illusion that it’s spread wide, but I don’t think it is that wide. I think there’s a sense that some things that I say will get clicks, so why not? Throw it out there and see who clicks on it.
I find it fascinating you work out in boxing gyms to sharpen your comedy instincts. How did you come to the realization that would help?
Because boxers don’t have anybody helping them, and they have to navigate and endure a boxing match usually for about an hour at a time. And they have to be able to take a beating and not only recover from it but actually beat the guy. And the thing that always fascinated me watching boxing was when you see a guy getting punched in the body and face, and you see that person start to sag and look like it’s over for them, and then they end up finding a reservoir of energy somewhere and coming back and beating the other guy. That to me has always been like, how the fuck do you do that?
Because more often that you think, when you’re doing stand-up, your body is what ends up taking you out of the game. Your body and your constitution and your inner strength is what makes you give up. Even creatively. Your brain needs your body to back it up, and if you’re onstage talking to thousands of people, you need to be on the balls of your feet, and you need to also be able to lay back and have control of your energy going up and down. And always onstage when you get to about 70 minutes — most of my shows hit around 80 or 90 minutes — when you get to about 65-ish, the audience is kind of ready to quit. They get tired and they get distracted and you need to have more energy than them and be able to go, “No, no, no guys. We’ve got more to do. This is going to be worth sticking with.” That all comes from being in shape and having some practice at endurance.
You’ve built this intimate relationship with your audience through playing comedy clubs and the TV show, but now you’re playing bigger venues like the Sprint Center, which is 20,000 seats. How do you feel about playing a venue this large? How is making a connection in a building like this different?
You know, I didn’t think I would like playing rooms that size. But it’s about experimenting. I started in comedy clubs and then I started doing theaters, but I always thought, “I’ll stick to 1,200- to 2,000-seat theaters. But then I started playing places that are 2,500, 3,000, 3,500, it just gives you a different feeling. When you add space, you take away some physical intimacy, but you add people, so the crowd has its own size and energy and they add this buzz to the room that makes the room smaller again.
That kind of happens gradually. But when I did Madison Square Garden last year, I did three shows there that were sold out — and that’s what made me go, “I kind of fucking like this. This feels good.” So we only played arenas in places that have that kind of intimacy, where we can set the room up to feel like that. Madison Square Garden is a huge room, but it’s intimate. So I used anecdotal data from other comedians and from my agent, who’s booked a lot of rooms this size, to select rooms, including Kansas City, where it stays hot and I can talk to a giant bowl full of people at its best.
And there will be screens also, which once you settle in and watch the dude, the big thing about the big screens is you’re present with the performer, but you’re getting to see facial gestures and small moves that if you see me in a 2,000-seat theater without screens, that you’re not going to quite see those, not from the back seat.
Is it harder to read a room?
No, it’s just different. It takes a little time to get unity out of the room. You have to give it time to happen. Usually what I tell other comics when they first do big rooms, is it’s like starting this giant engine. When you start your car engine, it goes vroom and you’re running. But a giant Boeing aircraft engine starts, like, doo, doo-doo-doo, and it takes awhile. So when you do a big room, you gotta give yourself a few minutes to get the crowd to a cohesive unity. And once you do, it’s like you’re anywhere else.
Watching Horace and Pete, you get a definite level of unease. In art, generally, what comforts and discomforts are you into?
That’s a good question. I like discomfort very much. I’ve always had an instinct with comedy, and with drama, that, when you hit a moment that makes you go, “Oh, shit,” and kind of makes your stomach drop down lower than where it was a second ago, you’re in a great place. You’re in a place worth exploring and staying with. And Horace and Pete had a whole lot of that.
You’ve said that you don’t want to date someone who knows who you are, that it’s isolating. How do you end up making personal connections now?
Like anybody else, life is kind of random. You meet somebody through somebody, or you run into somebody. I don’t mind that. I know people know who I am, and whatever, that’s OK. In a way, it can be an advantage because it fills in something that they know about you, although the person that I am as a public person is not the same as knowing me in person. But that’s the same challenge that you have meeting anybody — that their first impression of you is somewhat right and somewhat wrong. I do OK. I meet folks. It’s not too bad.
I have a feeling that you’re doing OK, but that quote sounded like it must be hard to meet somebody who doesn’t know you.
It’s hard no matter what your life is. It’s hard to meet people and make true connections. So it’s uniquely hard for different reasons. For me, it’s challenging to already be known to the world before I step into it. For someone else, the challenge is different.
You’ve said you were at your sharpest doing stand-up between 2006 and 2011. What do you think is better about your approach now?
I think it’s how much dedication and time you put into it. Any work that I do is going to be better if I can focus on that work more. So, right now, I’m just touring and doing shows. Like, this weekend, I’m off the road, but I’ll be at my local club here in New York doing a bunch of short sets just to make sure that material is as good as it can be for the road shows. That’s why I was best at it then: Because it was my only job and I was dedicated to it. So that’s what I’m about now. And also, I think I’m better at it because I’ve been doing it longer. So I’m benefiting from all of the years that I’ve done it. So I think I’m better at it than I was then because I’ve been at it longer.
And you’re sharper because of more focus on stand-up?
Yeah. I’ve lived longer. I have more to say. I’ve had more shows, so I have more experience. I have more perspective on it, and, this year, I’m dedicated to it. I’m putting all of my effort into it. All of that, I would hope, culminates into a very good show.
So you’re on record saying you maybe don’t hate Kansas City, which kinda makes me sad. You’d given us a badge of honor that other cities didn’t have.
Listen, it’s just as fun to take it away from you as it was to give it to you. This is all for my amusement. I don’t know how that started. I don’t remember the first time that I said it, but I love Kansas City. I really do. There are some cities that I feel neither here nor there about, but I’ve spent some time there. Anywhere that you work as a club comic, you go live there for a week. Like now, when I go to Kansas City on this tour, I’m going to be in and out. I’ll probably be on a plane to Oakland, the next city, before the night is out. But in my history, I’ve gone to Kansas City and moved into a hotel for a whole week and gone and done the radio shows there and go do Stanford and Son’s. Is that still there?
So I’ve done that. I’ve lived in that hotel there. Done the club. There’s a nice hotel downtown that I like. It’s kind of retro-y hotel in Kansas City. I forget what it’s called.
The President Hotel, maybe.
It might be that one. I don’t remember. But there’s great music in Kansas City, and I remember going running in Kansas City and seeing different neighborhoods by going jogging around. There’s plenty to do there. But anytime you spend real time in any city, you build up both animosity and love for it. I grew up in Boston, and I love Boston because it’s home, but I fucking hate Boston because it’s home. I’ve for all intents and purposes lived in Kansas City for a week at a time on numerous occasions. I don’t know why I just started to giggle to myself to always use Kansas City as a place that I hate when I want to talk about hating a city.
Again, I think Kansas City is a cool enough and tough enough place to take the joke and not care what some asshole comedian has to say about them.
I like that you take pleasure in taking back the insult.
Yeah, there are people who will definitely be happy to know that I don’t hate Kansas City, and there will be people who are very disappointed. Look, if you’re from there, you probably hate it. If you live in Kansas City, you must hate it because that’s where you get stuck in fucking traffic, that’s where your fucking pain-in-the-ass things happen every day. That’s where the roads are shitty or whatever. I’m just saying this about anywhere. Everything that I hate about my daily life happens here in New York City. So, when somebody comes here and says this is a shithole, I’m on their side.
One thing I’ve never had there is bad shows. I’ve always had great shows in Kansas City. That’s why I always go back there to work. Always.