Ever since Louis C.K. struck a deal with FX three years ago to produce his own show, comedians across the country have been telling their agents and managers, "I want the Louis C.K. deal."
At the heart of the deal is total creative freedom and control of the business aspects of the show. It also means a production budget much leaner than you'd expect for a comedian of C.K.'s caliber; he even said no to a budget increase for season three because he felt expectations would be set unreasonably high. The deal means that the star of the show would be doing all of the writing as well as the directing and editing (he hired Susan E. Morse to edit on season three) -- but C.K. wouldn't have it any other way, as he was doing the same for his stand-up specials long before Louie debuted.
Finally, "the deal" means he can push back production of the fourth season if he damn well pleases. And that's exactly what C.K. is doing. In a conference call yesterday, C.K. announced that despite the plan to debut a new season next year, he'll be taking a break from television production and will now, instead, premiere the new season in the Spring of 2014.
"The last three seasons have been this surge of fun and work and stories and it's been great," he said. "But I want the show to keep getting better. That's my goal, and I don't want it to be making the doughnuts, I want it to be something that comes from somewhere important and stays funny."
For younger readers who might not understand the "making the doughnut" reference: this was a wildly popular television commercial campaign for Dunkin Donuts, wherein a baker lived an empty, sleep deprived life making doughnuts early every morning because that was his job and not because he was passionate about making doughnuts. In retrospect, it was kind of a shitty ad campaign that juxtaposed horribly depressing images with a brand about which you were supposed to be excited -- but that was before the Internet, and more importantly, before Starbucks.
Anyway, C.K. further explained his position: "I always looked at Woody Allen as a great guide: had his own voice that was sought after because of his stand-up. And because of his stand-up, when he wanted to do something this way, they would let him do it." And it's not as if C.K. is about to vanish a la Dave Chappelle. He's in the midst of a national stand-up tour, he'll be seen in the next Woody Allen flick and he just released Tig Notaro's new album through his official site. Beyond the above, I'm sure he'll announce smaller projects between now and 2014; and if I'm wrong, that's fine, too. Maybe the dude needs a breather or some extra time to hang out with his two daughters or polish his Emmys or jerk off or eat ice cream in bed.
He made a smart move. Far too often, when comedians (or artists in general) gain an enormous amount of success -- be it in television, movies or on the road -- the pressure becomes unbearable and their product suffers-- or worse, their personal lives suffer, which makes their product suffer. By most accounts, an enormous $55 million contract with Comedy Central for two more seasons of Chappelle's Show and the perceived increased pressure of network executives is what drove Chappelle to flee to South Africa in the middle of season three production. "I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day, that's not the way it was," Chappelle said about that time in his life. "I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place?"
Similarly, hugely popular Ralphie May recently told Laughspin he'll be postponing most of his shows in November and December and will be entering a "mental facility" to deal with his ongoing depression and weight issues. Any comedian will tell you that May is one of the hardest working comics in the world. And anyone with functioning eyes or ears knows it, too. His tour schedule, which included theaters, arts centers and casinos, was rigorous, to say the least. And he's released an unprecedented amount of stand-up specials in such a short amount of time -- five in the last eight years, amounting to six-and-a-half hours of material. Not to mention, he's been working on his new podcast The Perfect 10. Dude needs a break.
May did the right thing: he recognized a problem and he's getting support. If all goes well, he'll return refreshed and excited, and he'll deliver many more years of laughs to his thousands of dedicated fans. In Chappelle's case, well, it seems like he just dabbles in stand-up these days. He'll do a show here and there, but even some of those shows were mired in controversy after hecklers did their best to ruin Chappelle's sets -- once in June in Austin and another time last July in Miami. So now, Chappelle mostly just lives on a 65-acre farm in Ohio with his wife and three kids -- which is great for Chappelle but not-so-great for comedy fans. There's been rumors of Chris Rock teaming up with Chappelle for a national stand-up tour, but as of right now, that's all it is -- rumors.
While C.K.'s decision to push back the fourth season of Louie will certainly give him time to breath, find new inspiration and write poignant, funny scripts (as he's done for three seasons), it's also going to drive anticipation and expectations even higher than normal-- which is exactly what he wanted to avoid with the aforementioned proposed budget increase. I have a feeling, however, C.K. will come out of this just fine and season four of Louie will surpass expectations. We'll have to wait and see. We'll have to wait... a long, long, long time.