26 minutes into a three-hour advice show Louis C.K. hosted in 2007, a guy named Blake calls up. Blake says he’s driving solo from Dallas to Oklahoma City that night and wants to know if Louie is going to just keep fucking around, or if he actually has anything good planned. At the end of the three hours Blake calls again, about to arrive in Oklahoma City, and says it’s been an “amazing ride.” I want to argue that Blake is being an understating piece of shit here, because this show is like…well…it’s like… REALLY amazing! It’s like the most Louis C.K.-y thing ever, and on top of that: it’s good. And beyond that, falling where it does in his career, it acts as a near-perfect summation of what makes Louie so unique. Let’s call it Louis C.K.’s Dianetics.
What the hell am I talking about? Good question. There’s a block of programming on SiriusXM satellite radio Saturday nights 8-11pm that they use to test out shows that might then be moved to different time slots. Usually a few people host them together, and usually they have a strong idea for what the show will be about beforehand. Louis C.K. agreed to host one night in 2007, but he had neither of those things. I actually couldn’t find the exact date, but he talks about getting his first iPhone that day and then sitting on a park bench trying to figure it out all afternoon rather than preparing anything for the radio show.
The show that night does start out with him kind of fucking around and insulting callers, even at one point lapsing into doing material (“Newscasters saying ‘the n-word’ is just white people getting away with saying the n-word.”) This beginning part especially is full of hilarious little Louis C.K.-isms:
-“Thanks, but I’d rather shit in a hat and wear it for the rest of my life.”
-“Your vagina smells like two onions…and a potato.”
-“An AIDS accident is when a bunch of AIDS crashes into some other AIDS, and some of it goes into your mouth.”
-“Shove a rock up your mother’s c*nt so when she gives birth to it, she will have finally given birth to something useful. Then you can hang out with that rock like it’s your big brother and get advice from it.”
-“I haven’t had sex in about 14 years. I should just cut off my penis and put it in an ashtray.”
-“America is a crime in progress at all times. We should give it back to black people and Indians and we should all go fuck our mothers.”
Eventually, after Blake kind of calls him out, he settles into a kind of ad hoc advice show format. He even says a bunch of times, “I want this to be like Dr. Laura or Dr. Phil, except those people are full of shit.” Listeners are encouraged to call in with their parenting and relationship problems and he will give them advice like an actual person and not someone trying to sell a book. A lot of people just call up with stuff they’re scared to talk about with anyone else. For example, one guy calls up to say that he likes to finger his ass and smell it every day when he gets home from work and he doesn’t know why and he can’t stop. I must have missed that episode of Dr. Phil.
One other crucial thing about this show is the timing. This is during the period where Louie was way past his “Look at me! I have a peach!” short-form absurdist standup and just starting to do his “I hate my kids” super-conversational standup. But of course, that didn’t really work right away. This is right after his HBO show Lucky Louie got canceled, but a few years before he got the then-unheard-of “take it or leave it” deal with FX that allowed him to do his current show. This is ALSO when he was still in his doomed marriage. So all stuff that has really driven his career since then, but this is when it was actually happening.
There are obvious parallels between being on the spot like that, i.e. having to do a satellite radio show for three hours without any preparation, and having to do the same thing in your career. And I’d even say that his work since then (standup and Louie) has been motivated kind of by that same thing, just a relentless self-examination that runs up against the limits of our own awareness and reason, and then getting out of it by just being super honest with yourself. He even says to a caller at one point, “I’m not gonna lie to you, man. I’m through saying what I don’t mean. It’s just not worth it anymore.”
The first thing you might notice while listening to this is that he says the n-word, f-word (not “fuck”), and c-word about 50,000 times each. This is something that’s kind of always been part of his act, at least since Chewed Up, which had the “hey, when we call someone gay, we’re not really calling them gay!” bit on it. For my money, that bit did not age well, mostly because it’s one of those ideas that real assholes can latch onto and use to justify their assholeness. But, the fact that he is on this show preaching about just trying to be a good person while at the same time calling boy bands fa**ots kind of prefigures stuff like the poker scene in Louie, about how if you’re gonna be a jerk, you should at least fully know what you’re doing. I’d say that’s a pretty good example of examining these irrational things we do (saying potentially hurtful words even in a context where you’re trying to be helpful) and then making hay out of being relentlessly honest about them.
A related characteristic of his standup since that point is that it’s hyper conversational. Like, in the technical sense of the word, where his bits about certain topics are just like exactly what someone would say if that topic came up in conversation. One friend of mine describes Louie’s standup process as, “coming up with new topics to be Louis C.K. about.”
And that’s no mistake – you might notice this was on the Opie & Anthony SiriusXM channel. I guess that channel is called something different now, but Louie used to go on that show all the time starting in I think 2004, it seems for the express purpose of developing the ideas that later show up in his standup. For example, on this show he takes a caller who complains that he can’t approach “the hot girls in the bar.” Louie talks to him and at some point asks the guy what he does, and he responds that he owns a landscaping company. This is basically verbatim the bit at the beginning of Hilarious where he goes, “Why are we trying to impress these weird hot bar girls so much? You own a landscaping company.” This is also kind of the payoff of the Chelsea Peretti storyline of the Louie pilot. Remember when she gets on the helicopter and flies away after he says, “why am I trying to impress you?”
So yeah, these O&A appearances are kind of like a peek into his standup notebook, and in another sense just a place to go where he can throw a bunch of shit against the wall and see what sticks. Because if you’re going to make scenes in your show that address really tough, touchy topics, you’ve got to practice somewhere. And if that Fat Girl scene in Louie is like a nice well-made cocktail, this is a bucket of crazy moonshine that will probably make you go blind.