On his comedy album Hilarious, Louis C.K. describes the time his older daughter was bitten by an Italian pony. "How do you more break a little girl's heart than a pony bite? That's like being raped by Santa Claus." It's a typical C.K. bit: It's raunchy and a little bit sad, and it is fundamentally about his heroic efforts—and failures—to be a great dad.
Fatherhood is also central to his TV show, Louie, which is loosely based on his life as a divorced dad of two little girls. The show is a meandering, sometimes surrealist ride, which doesn't follow the beats of a traditional sitcom. Slate talked to C.K. about the second season of Louie, which premieres on Thursday, June 23 (FX, 10:30 p.m. EST); about how he manages to direct, write, edit, and star in the show while taking care of his kids; and about why he is standing up for Tracy Morgan after the 30 Rock star has been accused of homophobia.
Slate: Your identity—both as a character, a stand-up, and a person—seems to revolve around your being a father. What was the core of your identity before you were a dad? How did you define yourself then?
Louis C.K.: That's a good question. I don't really remember what it was like before. Whatever I had going on, it was bullshit. It wasn't important. It's kind of a nice thing about being a dad. My identity is really about them now, and what I can do for them, so it sort of takes the pressure off of your own life. What am I going to do, who am I? Who cares, you've got to get your kids to school. So I like it that way.
Slate: Are the bits you do about your daughters generally true? Did your daughter actually get bitten by a pony?
Louis C.K.: My daughter really did get bit by a pony, and so that was true, and I felt like a piece of shit, and she really was very positive about it. I do feel a lot of times like I'm out of my league with my kids in terms of what my responsibility is. Those parts are true. As far as when I make them behave badly on stage and in my show, that's all fiction. My kids are really easy. I often worry that they're too easy to deal with. They're really nice people. But that just wouldn't be as entertaining, so I just leave that part out.
Slate: In an episode from the first season of Louie, a single mom your character meets at a PTA meeting tells you, "Just by showing up, you're father of the year." Do you think you have more freedom to talk about being a dad because there are fewer expectations placed on fathers in general?
Louis C.K.: It's funny—in life, those roles have all changed. There's a lot of fathers who take care of their kids, there's a lot of mothers who have careers. But in culture, those roles are still the same. When I take my kids out for dinner or lunch, people smile at us. A waitress said to my kids the other day, "Isn't that nice that you're getting to have a little lunch with your daddy?" And I was insulted by it, because I'm like, I'm fucking taking them to lunch, and then I'm taking them home, and then I'm feeding them and doing their homework with them and putting them to bed. She's like, Oh, this is special time with daddy. Well, no, this is boring time with daddy, the same as everything.
If I do something for my kids, I get a medal, because most fathers don't. If a mother makes a tremendous effort for her kids and does incredible things, no one gives a shit, because she's a mom, and that's what she's supposed to do. It's like giving a bus driver a medal for driving straight ahead. Nobody's interested. And that's really not fair, but it is the way it is.
Slate: You write, produce, direct, edit, and star in Louie, and you also have joint custody of your two daughters, so you're a single dad when you have the kids. What's a typical week like for you?
Louis C.K.: It's pretty crazy. Starting with the first shooting day, I get up at 6 in the morning and go to the set. Shoot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., get a little bit of time to myself, but not much, then either go out and do a set to keep my chops up onstage, or I go home and edit. If I'm not done writing the series, then I have to do a little writing. I often bring my laptop to work and write and edit during the shooting when I have breaks. So it's a pressing, difficult day until 7 o'clock. I also meet with all the production people and make decisions about future shoots. Then I get home at 9 or 10 and collapse and go to sleep, get up the next morning, same thing, usually three days in a row.
Then on the fourth day, I'll shoot half a day, and then pick up my kids at school. I take them home, do their homework with them, feed them dinner, put them in the tub, get them in bed. Then I'll edit while they're sleeping. Next morning, get up at 6:30, feed them, make them lunches, get them to school. Then usually I'll try to sleep while they're in school. Then I'll either do postproduction, or writing, or logistics with my production people.
Slate: From your stand-up persona, it seems like in your spare moments, you are a pretty dark thinker. Are you happier keeping incredibly busy?
Louis C.K.: Oh, definitely. I like being active, it keeps my brain going. And it's all worthwhile stuff. I love working on the show, even though the pressure is enormous and it's very exhausting. And the kids put a lot of pressure [on you], and they're hard to care for sometimes. It's all positive, it's just too much. The only thing that gets me down is failing at it. When it gets quiet, I get a little empty.