At age 44, Louis C.K. is widely recognized as one of the most prolific comedians working today. Having just released his second comedy special of 2011, titled “Live at the Beacon Theater,” C.K. has managed to maintain his successful television show on FX (Louie) while raising two young daughters as a single dad. What’s impressive in this scenario, if you’re not the type to read too much into credits, is that C.K. has managed to do all of it pretty much on his own terms.
In a recent interview on Reddit.com, C.K. went to a direct format to reach his fans. They posted live questions, and he responded in real time. While the concept isn’t new, the type of honesty and care attributed to his answers (aside from the characteristic jibes at his fans) showed just how DIY C.K. is with every aspect of his career. When asked about how he managed to sign a television deal with FX and still retain so much control over his award winning show, he responded, “I got it by demanding it and refusing to do the show any other way at all and by having the leverage that I was completely willing to walk away without doing the show and by agreeing to an extremely low budget so that they could offset the risk of giving me this freedom because they are risking less money.”
After Lucky Louie, his short-lived show on HBO, which was cancelled before its second season, C.K. could have changed his mind about the type of control he wanted over every single one of his projects. Up until then, he had at least commanded respect as a writer for late night talk shows, blockbuster comedians and even as a director for his cult classic film, Pootie Tang.
Instead of deciding that a prosperous career for a comedian would naturally turn into stints on popular television shows or writing for the general public, he continued to pursue jobs that would allow him almost complete control. C.K.’s first comedy album of the 2011, Hilarious was independently taped in 2009 with his own money. It took until 2010 and 2011 for the television special and album to be released respectively.
C.K. says his decision for independent productions stemmed from his previous comedy specials, which were all produced and paid for by television networks. Part of the reason C.K. started veering away from big market media projects was because of the lack of commitment they seemed to have towards his releases. HBO never really gave Lucky Louie a formidable marketing campaign. His television specials never generated as much income as most large market projects did. As a result, C.K. decided to sell his most recent special (which again was a completely independent project) though his website for $5 without help from anyone else.
When told prior to the release that this video format - a direct download without special encryption would allow for his special to be torrented (aka STOLEN) much easier (or illegally pirated online through peer-sharing networks), he told NPR’s Terry Gross, “If I make a profit, that’s terrific. If I don’t and I’m outraced by the Internet thieving or whatever it is, it’s not that big a loss to me. It’s OK — a lot of people saw the video, and it was interesting. This has been such an education for me; and I’ve got the money back already. I broke even, and then some.”
Just four days after the official release date of “Live At The Beacon Theater,” C.K. has already posted an online statement on his website saying he’s made his money back. “As of today, we’ve sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you $20 for the video.”
The torrenting trend has been an ongoing battle between content owners and the general anonymous public. The purpose of posting his special on his own website was to circumvent any extra costs that would no doubt have been tacked onto the production if he went through a network. C.K. isn’t the first artist to offer his own media for sale, but he is perhaps the only one doing so with a wildly successful career and television show (for which he was recently nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.)
Louis C.K. has admitted that his combined work as a director, producer, writer and single father of two girls kind of puts him in workaholic mode the entire time. Earlier this year in an interview with SanDiego.com, C.K. ruminated, “Doing the whole season is really hard, doing as much as I do. You just kind of give yourself to, I’m going to be uncomfortably busy and panicked and stressed for a bunch of months, and then it’ll be over. But I’ve done it before so I know I can take it, and it’s worth it. I get a lot out of doing that. I like having too much to do a lot more than not having enough.”