It doesn't matter how critically acclaimed or otherwise successful Louis C.K. may be today, he can more easily remember a time when things were not going well for him professionally-- in fact, he says that out of his almost three-decade long career, he's really only had about five "good" years with the last two of them being "great." It is not his self-deprecating sensibility that allows him to point out his flaws or failures, though; rather it is his perspective. In order to be writer with longevity, one must be able to stomach the ebbs and flows of the industry, let alone his or her own creativity. One must be able to criticize one's self, let alone laugh at one's self. And perhaps most important, one must always hold onto to why he or she writes in the first place and not get blinded by the lights here in Hollywood.
But maybe having a negative experience early on in a writing career is one that lends itself to such a mentality. For Louis C.K., whose first mark put him on the map of awful, exploitational movies (Pootie Tang), it certainly opened his eyes up to the true Hollywood system. Everyone loves you when what you're doing is working for them and making them money. But when you're not doing the job they want you to do, watch out!
"That was a good example of being in a very bad place and enjoying it," Louis C.K. admitted of being fired off the movie that he is still technically credited with writing and directing. "I was sitting in a chair...in John Goldwin's office in Paramount, and he was screaming at me. His face was really red, and I was sitting there going, 'Wow, I'm really a movie guy now'! In show business, being yelled at by a studio head. It was a thrill."
Louis C.K. had grown up dreaming of someday making his own movies, and by all accounts, such a colossal failure his first time out of the gate could have ended his entire dream, let alone opportunity.
"The first time I was known by a lot of people was because I made a bad movie. And I remember watching Roger Ebert say-- I grew up watching Roger Ebert doing movie criticism, and he said, 'I can't even say this is a bad movie, because it's not even complete. It's incomplete. It's not even a movie.' It was the worst. I think it's probably the worst review he ever gave to a movie. And I'm sitting there reeling. And the pain you feel from an experience like that is profound. But the great thing is that after maybe a week, it just goes away, and all you're left with is the forensic evidence of all the mistakes you made and all of the rocks that you've kind of crashed into, and you're left with this beautiful map of where all the dangers are, and you repair all the holes, and then you're so much better."
The journey for Louis C.K. happened to include a failed TV show before he could be "better," as well, but not to sound corny, that, too, was a part of his life he considered very valuable. Instead of trying to take his sensibility and style and try to shove it into a pre-formed mold, Louis C.K. saw the merit in just doing the show he wanted to do and not caring what anyone else thought. He saw how others getting involved in his ideas could lead to the "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario, ultimately dulling and muddying the product, so he decided to just listen to his instincts and hope that someone out there would trust them as much as he did.
"I shouldn't put a single ounce of energy into anything but making the show good," Louis C.K. said of concerns over his current series Louie and anything he may do in the future. "And every time you walk away from that you fuck the show up. So when we were making the deal, anytime they'd say, like, 'Well, can we be involved with the casting of the show?' I'd say, 'I don't want you to be.' And they'd say, 'Well, it's important to us to know who is in the shows that we have on television.' And so I’d say, 'Well, let's not do the show then.' So, you have to be willing to not do the show and not get the money and all that stuff. If you're concerned with, like, the success too much, then you run into all kinds-- you make all kinds of decisions and compromises that hurt the actual stories that you're telling."