Comedian-actor Louis C.K.

Emmy-winning writer-comedian-actor talks about whether Americans could handle being told the truth more often and his new film.

Louis C.K. got his comedy start at an open mic night in a Boston club. He's since enjoyed success doing stand-up and as an actor, producer, director and Emmy-winning writer. Selected by Variety as one of "Ten Comics to Watch" in '00, he's performed in sold-out theaters, had his own HBO and Showtime specials and worked with the likes of Conan O'Brian and Chris Rock. He's also written and shorts and features. He next appears in the film The Invention of Lying, NBC's Parks and Recreation and has an upcoming FX series.



Tavis: Louis C.K. is a very funny comedian, producer and Emmy-winning writer whose credits include The Chris Rock Show, Saturday Night Live, and the screenplay for the film, Pootie Tang – sa da tay. His latest project is the upcoming film, The Invention of Lying, which opens in theaters October 2. Here now some scenes from The Invention of Lying.
Tavis: Tell me about The Invention of Lying, Louis.
Louis C.K.: Well, the movie is directed by Ricky Gervais and Matt Robertson. They also wrote the screenplay together. It’s about an alternate universe kind of where nobody’s ever told a lie. Like it’s never occurred to anyone to do it. So this guy gets the power to lie and, because no one’s ever done it, anything he says is pure gospel. It’s a really well done premise.
Tavis: Yeah. Imagine that. A world without lying.
Louis C.K.: Yeah.
Tavis: So what do you make of what our world would be like if nobody could lie?
Louis C.K.: Well, there wouldn’t be any pretense, there wouldn’t be politeness, there wouldn’t be, you know, imagination. People don’t tell stories. People don’t make up stories in that world. So the way they depict it in the film, it’s very kind of drab and people just get what they can. You know, you work and you get some money and then you die, so that’s kind of what it would be like.
Tavis: That’s the trade-off for being able to lie through our teeth like we do.
Louis C.K.: Yeah, exactly.
Tavis: We got all this wonderful creativity because lying is an option.
Louis C.K.: I don’t know. I’ve tried to do away with lying in my life in the last few years, but it’s hard.
Tavis: How’s that working for you?
Louis C.K.: It’s really difficult, it’s really difficult. But in the end, if you can do it, if you can seize it as a rule, it actually starts to get better. Like all the moments where you used to lie, if you tell the truth, you find something on the other side that’s very exciting.
Tavis: Since you’ve been there, what’s on the other side (laughter)?
Louis C.K.: Well, loneliness and poverty. No, but there’s a release – you know, there’s a lot of old sayings about – I think it’s Mark Twain or somebody. They just give everything to Mark Twain – that if you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. So it does simplify life that way.
Tavis: I’m not asking for specifics unless you want to offer them. It’s, I guess, a noble effort on your part to try to do away with lying. But on those occasions when you find yourself lying, what kinds of things are you lying about?
Louis C.K.: Well, when I was younger, I lied all the time, because once you understand the power of lying, it’s really like magic because you transform reality for people.
Tavis: Right (laughter).
Louis C.K.: If you did something wrong and somebody says, “Did you do that?”, you just go, “Nope” and you didn’t do it, but you spend a lot of energy maintaining that universe that you’ve created through lying and it’s hard. Like I had a friend recently say to me, “Did I do something to offend you?” and I was tempted to lie and say, “No, of course not” and continue our false friendship that never really quite worked.
But instead, I said, “Well, yeah, you alienate me every time I talk to you. You don’t treat me like an equal and I hate being around you.” So I just said it and he was a little stunned, but we worked it out and we’re closer now. So I think, in the end, the truth is better. It’s harder, but it’s better.
Tavis: Could we handle being told the truth more often? Could we actually handle it? I mean, your friend was stunned when you told him the truth. Everybody talks about the virtue of being a truth-teller, but I wonder if we could actually handle being told the truth.
Louis C.K.: I think we could if we did it all the time. I don’t know about it as a virtue. I’m not sure because the truth is ugly, so most of the time it’s not a happy thing. But I think we could if it was a habit. I’ve started to try to make it a habit. Sometimes you try to find – you pick a truth. That’s one thing you can do.
Tavis: Yeah, pick a truth.
Louis C.K.: Yeah. I have two kids and my oldest is seven years old. She recently said to me that she heard of her friend’s grandparents got put in an oven in Europe. That’s all she was told. I was like, oh. She said, “Is that true? Do people put each other in ovens?”. She asked it that simply. I kind of wanted to say, “Nope, it never happened.”
But I also didn’t want to tell her, “Oh, yeah, sure. That was Hitler in the 40s and, anyway, all these millions of people were killed. Now we just blow them up and it’s not even on television because you’re watching “Survivor.” But I picked the truth that I could say, which is, “I don’t know if I should tell you that right now.” Like rather than making something up, you can also tell somebody, “I need to hide the truth from you for a couple years.” She said, “Okay.” She was like yes, please.
Tavis: I hear your point and that might be a strategy that works for kids rather than adults.
Louis C.K.: Well, I don’t know. Could you hear that from somebody? If you asked somebody a direct question about something with high stakes and they said to you, “I don’t want to tell you. Not ready to know.”?
Tavis: Yeah, that’d be tough for me. I want to know.
Louis C.K.: Yeah, me too. I love the truth. I wish I could know everything ever, like that would be my wish – that’s what I hope heaven is, that they tell you who shot JFK and all that stuff.
Tavis: (Laughter) You want to know everything, the truth about everything.
Louis C.K.: Yeah.
Tavis: When did you know that you were funny? When did you know that you were gonna make a living out of being funny as a standup, funny as a writer? When did the funny occur to you?
Louis C.K.: Well, funny was from when I was a kid, I think. I was an awkward kid. I wasn’t popular, but I could break a class into laughter. I did that a few times when I was little.
I think the first time I ever got a laugh, I was in third grade and the teacher was showing us the different parts of the skull. The skull has like three bones in it. I forget them all, but he named the first two bones and he said, “Does anybody know the third bone?” and I said, “The noggin” and everybody laughed and that felt incredibly good. That was to me an addiction right there.
Tavis: So you’ve been hooked ever since.
Louis C.K.: Yeah. And I didn’t know you could make a living at it, but nothing else worked out.
Tavis: Did I read – I’m sure I read this somewhere and I don’t believe everything I read, but I think this is true. English is not your first language?
Louis C.K.: That’s right. Spanish.
Tavis: How (laughter)? I don’t mean how. I mean, I know how. I’m just like I never had any idea.
Louis C.K.: I’m curious what makes that so surprising to you.
Tavis: I mean, because you’re – I guess it’s the way that so many of us got introduced to you comedically. You know, it’s possible, obviously. I just never thought of you – I don’t know. I didn’t process it that way.
Louis C.K.: Well, it’s interesting. My dad is Mexican, so I’m Mexican. I’m half Mexican. It’s always been interesting to me. It’s been an interesting part of my life experience. Yeah, my dad was Mexican and moved here – well, he came here to go to summer school and met my mother, who’s American.
But anyway, we lived there for a lot of years. I was born here, but we lived there from when I was like a baby until I was about seven years old and that’s where still my grandmother and everybody in my whole family is there. But because of the way that I look, I wouldn’t be pegged as a Mexican, which is interesting because I’m more Mexican than a lot of people that are known as Mexicans, you know.
There’s a comedian named Carlos Mencia who’s very famous for being Hispanic. He’s Honduran, German, from California, never lived anywhere else but California. I lived in Mexico, my dad’s Mexican, I have a Mexican passport, I have citizenship there.
Tavis: (Laughter) And you’re writing Pootie Tang.
Louis C.K.: That’s right.
Tavis: I think that’s probably why it didn’t connect for me.
Louis C.K.: Well, Mexico is – and I’m not trying to say this like you don’t know anything, but what I understand is that Mexico is like here in terms of racial makeup. There’s a lot of white Mexicans. Actually, my dad’s Jewish, Hungarian, Mexican. You know, Mexico is the land of immigrants like here, but they have more brown people because they didn’t slaughter the Indians like we did, like they didn’t do as thorough a job of genociding their Indians, so the face of the Mexican is more often brown.
Also, people experience Mexicans as that brown guy that comes over and works in my house, or whatever it is. They don’t realize that they’re surrounded by millions of white Mexicans and also a lot of white Mexicans who stay in Mexico because they’re having a great time because white people went everywhere.
Tavis: So the moral of the story is that we’re surrounded by Louis C.K.s that we know not of.
Louis C.K.: That’s right. Lot of white Mexicans. My cousins all look like me, but they don’t speak English.
Tavis: And the Louis C.K.? How did that become your moniker?
Louis C.K.: My Hungarian grandfather’s name was – it’s a mess. It’s Szekely in it. Sounds like C.K., though, so I just cut it down.
Tavis: Yeah. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.
Louis C.K.: For sure.
Tavis: I’d have a hard time introducing you tonight.
Louis C.K.: No, you don’t want to see that.
Tavis: Yeah (laughter). I love – all my friends know this. I love Pootie Tang. I mean, it’s a classic to me. What do you make of that now, with some years behind you, looking back on it?
Louis C.K.: Well, it’s funny. I didn’t know we were making something that people just love that guy. There’s something about that character that people just love, and I love Pootie Tang. I don’t think about him as much as I used to. It was a hard movie to make. The studio thought they were making like a real Austin Powers and it wasn’t. I was making a very weird little movie, but I didn’t expect so many people to like it.
To me, that’s my favorite way for a movie to be popular is this underground thing that most people don’t know about, but people that do are very passionate about it. I’m happy that it’s out there.
Tavis: I knew you, we’ve met before, but having a chance to sit and talk to you, I learned more about you than I ever knew about your background and I know where the name comes from (laughter). I feel like we’re friends now.
Louis C.K.: Yeah, we are friends. I hope so.
Tavis: Well, nice to meet you, friend.
Louis C.K.: Nice to meet you.
Tavis: (Laughter) Louis C.K., glad to have you on the program.

Louis C.K.: Thank you.

Last modified: August 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm