Louie, comedian Louis C.K.'s brilliantly awkward sitcom that kicks off its third season Thursday on FX, centers around a divorced, middle-aged comedian with two kids and a generally miserable outlook on life. For anyone who's seen the prolific comic perform stand-up or knows about his background, it sounds a lot like, well, Louis. The show's similarities to his life are changing, though. "It's really not drawing from my life anymore," C.K. insists while speaking on a conference call to a group of journalists.
Rather, C.K., whom our own Rob Sheffield recently described as a "jerk genius," explains that in an effort to have the show "keep going," he's started to introduce elements that delve into fictional territory. A prominent example this season includes the emergence of his character’s ex-wife, a "put-together" woman whom up until now was spoken of often but never seen. "She’s not anything like my real ex-wife," he contends. C.K.’s usually downtrodden character also finds a rare moment to actually enjoy his life while in Miami. "I spend enough time onscreen looking hangdog and depressed," C.K. says, "so I think it was OK to let me smile and chase the chicken for awhile."
According to C.K., fans can expect a heavy helping of guest star appearances this season, including Academy Award winner Melissa Leo and legendary comedians Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld. Leo, who appears in the second episode, was picked by C.K. for her resemblance to the sort of women he knew while growing up in Boston. Seinfeld, C.K. explains, appears in a three-part episode at the season's end and steps out of his comfort zone. "What he did was very different than what you're used to seeing Jerry do," C.K. says, reluctant to offer any additional details.
Since the show's inception, C.K. has taken a notoriously hands-on approach to Louie; he remains the show's writer, director, executive producer and lead actor. However, he recently relinquished his editing duties to industry vet and frequent Woody Allen collaborator Susan E. Morse (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters). "The editing was one thing that was really starting to suffer with my overload," C.K. admits. "I feel like I was turning in episodes that could have been cut better." Naturally, C.K. says he still winds up taking a final editing swipe at each episode.
C.K. has also taken the same DIY attitude to his stand-up career: last December, the comedian self-released his special Live at the Beacon Theater via his website, making it available to fans for $5. In less than two weeks, it had grossed over $1 million. Now the comedian has taken this ax-the-middleman approach a step further: C.K. is selling tickets to his upcoming 39-city stand-up tour, which kicks off this October, exclusively on his website. To prepare for this massive undertaking, C.K. and his agent visited every major city in which the comic planned to perform to find a venue willing to adhere to his self-ticketing system. "It was kind of a risk," he says. "If [Live at the Beacon Theater] didn't work out, it was just gonna be this file sitting there that nobody wanted. But in this case, these are shows in 25-or-so cities that would have been empty." The gamble has paid off: the tour, C.K. says, has already sold nearly 100,000 tickets and grossed over $4 million.
However, with all the massive paydays and critical acclaim, C.K. says, come some pitfalls. "It's kind of awkward to eat alone in a restaurant because everybody's looking at me," he says. "How do I cope with being recognized and being asked to take pictures?"
"I'm used to it now," he concludes. "No big deal. It's part of the job."