Judd Apatow’s new book of interviews with comedians, “Sick in the Head” (which came out in hardcover June 16) consists of conversations with 37 comedians over the course of three decades, from Gary Shandling and Michael O'Donoghue back in the late '80s to recent chats with Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer. Yet one of the most interesting back-and-forths is a 2014 interview with Louis C.K., arguably one of the most important and game-changing comics working in the industry today.
Within the interview, C.K. shared an anecdote about his second experience hosting “SNL” back in 2014, and the brilliant 9-minute monologue he gave, which touched on weighty topics like feminism and religion (despite containing nothing nearly as controversial as his polarizing child molestation bit from this year's "SNL" season finale)
Explaining how he has long revered “SNL,” C.K. told Apatow that he worked on the set harder than he had ever worked on anything in his life, wanting to do something that pushed the audience — "a really interesting monologue that’s like its own piece of performance,” as he put it -- ultimately coming up with a dark and challenging 12-minute set that, to his surprise, killed at dress rehearsal.
However, before the live show, Lorne Michaels called him into his office to discuss the monologue. As C.K. recalls of the meeting:
“It’s like meeting the president. It’s, like, very important. And [Michaels] says ‘So you did twelve minutes in the monologue. How much do you want to do on-air?’ I said ‘I want to do all twelve.’ and he goes, ‘You’re not doing twelve.’ He goes, ‘It was good but there was a lot of air in it, a lot of stopping and starting. I know there are cuts in there.’ My face turned red. I was angry. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I thought it was pretty good. And fuck you.’ I was really mad. And then later this woman comes in and says, ‘Uh, we’re one minute under.’ And so I go, ‘Then I’m doing twelve.’ And Lorne turns to me and goes ‘Calm down.’ I was really insulted. He said ‘I’ll give you seven and nobody’s ever done seven.’ And I said, ‘What if it goes long? What if I go over and end up doing ten or more?’ And he goes, 'Then we’ll know that you’re very undisciplined and unprofessional.’ And everybody laughed."
At this point, C.K. asked to watch the tape of his monologue from the dress rehearsal, and he came to the realization: “God damn, it’s not that good.” As he explains, “I had a whole fart thing. A whole thing about farting on a baby that fucking killed, and [Michaels] was like, ‘You’re winning without it. I wouldn’t do it.’"
So C.K. sat with writer Michael Che and successfully cut four minutes from his monologue right at the last minute. He recalls feeling intense pressure and nerves, the clock ticking as 11.30 approached. When the show finally began, he remembers: "I just started chuckling. I was like, This is fucked up. This is live television. This is fucked up. And I went out and it just -- it was all there for me and I was able to sail.The audience was at the right place. They looked a little critical but I felt like, It’s going to be okay. I’m going to bring this material and you’re going to like it. Fuck, did that feel good."
And of course, C.K., like so many who have passed through the hallowed halls of 30 Rock, came out with a renewed appreciation for Lorne Michaels’ singular genius, despite his initial resistance. “He knows exactly what he’s doing,” muses C.K. "He’s so smart, but he scared me. And I needed to go in scared.”