On "Louie" you actually run off and jump on a speedboat to avoid confronting your father.
That episode is me making fun of my own not dealing with it. In the show, I made it seem like a fear thing, but I don't think that it's fear-based for me. F. Murray Abraham as the uncle character is a huge caricature of what some of my Mexican relatives are sometimes like, these guys who were raised in this Mexican upper class and have servants and shit. It's ridiculous.
In general, do you hold on to grudges, or do you forgive people?
No, I don't hold on to grudges. I don't have a grudge in my life. I forgive people. I just don't believe that you owe anybody in your life a relationship. It's healthy and fair to opt in or out, and it's actually more fair to do that than to hold people's feet to the fire for everything they've ever done.
You once said that you'd look at your mom watching TV after a day at work and you decided you needed to get into that box and make it better for her. Is that hindsight or really a thought you had?
Yeah, I remember thinking that. TV is a public utility, and I get mad on behalf of people when TV is bad. I don't mind when it's just tragically, terribly bad, because that's just someone really taking a big swing and missing, but when TV is just OK, I get really upset. I remember I was talking to a TV executive who's a good guy, smart man, and he was talking about a show that I hated, and he said, "You know, they have a competent cast, and the scripts change enough, and it goes down easy." That drove me crazy, because you should be trying to be unbelievably great.
So you had that level of sympathy: "My mom deserves better than this."
Oh, fuck yeah.
So it's not like in your act where you're like, "Mom, you're a loser."
My mom was a role model to me; she still is. She's still ahead of me.
Got up every day, went to work, provided for you guys . . .
Yeah, and came home exhausted. She was always cheerful. She never laid down rules. She would win by being smarter and making sense and telling us to make the right choices, but more so it was that she was an example. The emphasis she put on working and taking care of your family is something I followed, but also the fact that she enabled me to take care of myself. I love being in the kitchen, cooking and washing the dishes – I do it every day – and part of that is because I did it for myself when I was a kid. She's my biggest role model.
Did you get your idea of how to be a father from your mother, then?
Yeah, I think so. I try not to lord it over my kids .
The fact that you're their parent?
Yeah, "because I'm your father" is just a cheap cop-out, and it robs the kid of an opportunity to understand something. I engage them. A lot of parents don't talk to their kids. I learned that from my mom. I provide for them but also let them experience their disappointments and their difficulties. You're not going to keep your kids from harm, not in a million years. All their life is going to be is harm. It's narcissistic to try to give your kids a utopian life - when they leave your house, they're going to be in a world of shit. The only thing you can give your kids that's going to be of any use is a mechanism for dealing with all the awful shit that's coming. Then it won't be that awful. As a matter of fact, it will be great.
What got you to the place where you were in junior high, dropping acid and smoking pot all the time?
I was a mess. My parents were divorced, I was living in a suburb of Boston and a lot of people were getting fucked up. It was what kids did, it was so common. I made a friend who I thought was the coolest person alive, and he taught me how to get high. Skipping school and going to Harvard Square with him and going to used-record stores. A lot of what they say is true – drug culture gets kids into drugs. We'd listen to music by cool grown-ups that get high.
I really liked Led Zeppelin. I really liked Jimi Hendrix. The Grateful Dead, for one minute, I got into. I really loved classic rock. Pink Floyd, you know, drop acid and listen to fucking Pink Floyd. Yeah, Led Zeppelin. It's all their fault [laughs].
Were you more focused in high school?
In high school, I only had two good years. Sophomore year, I relapsed back into taking drugs. All my friends dropped out of high school after sophomore year. I had stopped doing drugs completely and I had a great half of a year, but my friends were all getting high and all had mathematically eliminated themselves from moving on to junior year. So all of my friends, from the morning through the day, are getting fucked up at one kid's house. I'd be smoking a cigarette outside of school, and here's my friend going, "We're all at Neil's house getting high," and I'm like, "All right." So I started going back. I was going through a pretty bad depression.
What had prompted you to quit drugs in the first place?
My mom told me to cut it out. She just said, "You can't do this anymore, I can't help you have this life anymore." I felt bad; it was so unfair to be putting her into stress. Also, I wasn't enjoying my life anymore, I really wasn't. I wasn't feeling anything anymore. Part of the reason people do drugs is because they can't access their feelings, or there are certain feelings that are too much for them to access, so they do drugs to shut down. When I was younger, before I did drugs, I wanted to do creative things, write and stuff like that. I had a lot I enjoyed about life, then it all became about getting high. It was so empty.
So I quit doing drugs with no help – I only look at this now because I'm a parent. I just stopped. I wasn't on heroin, but I smoked tons of pot. I drank, I did a lot of crazy shit. I certainly wasn't coping with life normally, then all at once I went to this other extreme of dedicating myself to schoolwork, so I left a pretty bad pit.
But then you started again.
Yeah, I started getting high again and I stopped going to school completely, and then I had a homeroom teacher who organized a meeting with my mom, and my poor, single, working mother came to school, and they told her I hadn't been coming, and she was like [defeated voice], "Oh, Jesus Christ." She was just tired; she couldn't even fight anymore. She said, "What are you doing?" and I just told her the truth. I said, "Everybody's down the street. But the real problem is, I'm having a hard time being in school. I just hate it." I told them all, "I won't do this anymore." And then the teacher said to me, "Listen, you can't do nothing. If you don't want to go to school, what do you want to do?" And I said, "I want to make movies and television." And he said, "If I can find something like that for you to do, would you do it?" And I said, "Of course I would." Long story short, that guy got me an internship at a local-access cable-TV station.
Where you learned to shoot and edit video.
Yeah, that's where I did all that. That guy saved my life.
You don't write down your comedy sets, and the wording can differ dramatically from show to show, even on the same night. What do you like about that approach?
I had an acting coach named Bob Krakower, and he said something to me that I always remember, which is if you perform something twice and you do it differently each time, that means you're doing it well, because you're focusing on the intention and not the mechanics. I've always thought about that in stand-up: Whenever you have success, which is getting a laugh, you're going to keep doing it, and it's a path that gets grooved in deeper and deeper, but it starts to lose its luster after a while. Sometimes with certain bits, I realize they're getting kind of crusty, so I go, "Forget how you say this bit, go back to the wordless idea, and express it as if you never said it before." If you do that with a joke five times and then mix the five versions, you get this amazing thing.
That may be where the "genius" part comes in.
I'm just studying it and figuring stuff out. The only way to learn that stuff is by failing; all this is learned by having bad times. You have to be willing to have a bad time. People that need to feel like a star and like they're succeeding every time will not ever get better. But if you are willing to feel bad, do badly, have a stale, boring version of yourself out in front of everybody, you can find this stuff in the muck that's very useful. What I just told you about comes from having gotten really stale and having written a joke and having it stay thin and shitty until it wasn't getting laughs anymore.
When you sit down to write "Louie," what are your work habits?
When it's time to write, I have one computer that has no ability to get on the Internet. Because the ability to just move your finger less than a millimeter and be looking straight into someone's pussy or at the new Porsche, or a whole movie – To Kill a Mockingbird, let's just sit here and watch the whole thing! – it's too much. So if you put a couple of moves between you and that, you've got a fighting chance. When I hit a stopping moment in what I'm writing, a moment of agitation – that itch always leads to a brand-new thing, to inspiration. But if you bail out and buy a product online, you're robbing yourself. It's terrible, so I sit there: "Fuck, fuck." The worst thing happening to this generation is that they're taking discomfort away from themselves.
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