Comedian Louis C.K. is a YouTube sensation. Footage of his appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien has been viewed more than a million times in the past month, making it March's No. 4 most-viewed online video, according to ViralVideoChart.com. TIME sat down with Louis to discuss the clip "Everything's amazing, nobody's happy", how comedy is in the eye of the beholder and why America needs a reality check.
Why do you think the clip has resonated with so many?
I did that [appearance] in October soon after the first big market tumble happened. I kind of knew I should do it when I did Conan that day. That was material I was actually saving for my next special. But I thought, this really means something right now. When I did it, nobody had lost any jobs yet. It was just, things looked like they were about to get ugly. People were afraid that capitalism was failing and so to me, the idea was, maybe that's not terrible. As long as it's happening there might be a good view of it. It seems to mean more to people [now] because millions of jobs have been lost and companies have folded.
So you've got a lot of material to work with now.
The gravity of the situation is much deeper than it was. It was kind of an easy, playful thing to say back then. So what? What do we need all this for anyway? But I was in Seattle recently and I said, "Capitalism is dead, the economy is screwed up. Oh well." Everyone's like, "Yeah, we all lost our jobs yesterday." Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks laid off a good 30,000 each in one day. I was literally looking at an unemployed audience. You have to be aware of who you're talking to in an audience. It's no f---ing around anymore. These people, they're still coming to shows, they're still enjoying comedy. I've met a lot of people who've lost their jobs and they still have a sense of humor.
It's funny how many different ways you can react to that clip. I even read something by a marketing expert who said, "Louis CK is on to something. We have to figure out how we can to get consumers to really appreciate our product; there's no brand value anymore." Does that surprise you? That even the marketing industry's like: "Yes!"
Conservatives too. There was an AM radio guy, he said, "Yes, this guy's right. He's right that Obama and the leftist media are trying to make you feel like things are worse than they really are. He's right that Obama needs to stop with the stimulus package." It's not at all what I meant. But he grabbed onto it and so did all these other conservatives and some websites, saying this guy has to be a conservative. This is a conservative point of view.
I guess I don't look at it that way. Maybe it is, I don't know. I've also had some anarchist kids saying "Yeah, he's saying, "Screw capitalism. Screw the government!" I like that a lot of people have different views of this. I think it's great. I read the comments on the YouTube because it's fascinating to me. I don't think anyone who's written a comment has really understood what I meant by the whole thing.
What message did you want to convey?
You know what's interesting about that clip to me? It's really about me, it's not about other people. Like the story I tell Conan about the guy sitting next to me on the airplane when the Internet shuts down suddenly, and he says, "This is bulls---," and I go,"How can you be angry? People owe you something that existed a minute ago?" There wasn't anybody next to me on the plane, that was me. People don't talk to me on airplanes. [Laughs] Anytime you see a bit where some stranger does something to me, it's me.
The fact is, I was really upset that the Internet shut down. I was livid. Then I caught myself wait a minute, what are you upset about? This was incredible that it was possible even. It was like an epiphany to me, I started seeing things differently. "Take a breath and calm down, this is as good as they make these right now. This is as good as it is, and it's pretty goddamn great." And the same thing with the planes, they're hurling tons of metal with people in it all over the earth, all day, every day, 24 hours a day, safely. It's because these people are dedicated geniuses that we're all landing safely but somehow it doesn't make us happy. Too bad.
We just want to know where our jetpacks are already.
If you had a jetpack, you'd be like, "I have the sh----est jetpack. I can't believe I got this jetpack. Who's your service provider? Did they make the new one? Hate this thing, it sucks." Then we'd all sit there and talk about that.
The stuff we fill our lives with, it isn't necessary. It's so far from like, "I buy food for my kids and we eat it and we don't freeze in the winter." It's so far from that. Part of me feels like if people go back to basics they'll start to see that. You have a job and then you don't even make enough for the s--- you even own. You don't even get the pride of saying I have this job and because of it I have this car. I have this job and because of it I have custody of this car but the bank is paying somebody else for, and if they ever come calling I'm gonna go to jail. It's really a s--- life I think we're living right now. I feel bad for people because I see it on their faces all the time. So that's really more of what it was about. I didn't mean to say, "We're a s--- generation." I meant to say, "We're a s----y generation." [Laughs.] One or the other, I dunno.
Louis CK will be performing in Tampa on Mar. 19th. To purchase tickets for his national comedy tour, visit LouisCK.net.