HBO viewers luck out with loads of laughs from new sitcom 'Luckie Louie'

Published: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.


"Lucky Louie"

  • HBO, Sunday, 10:30 p.m. (reairs throughout the week)
  • HBO's new adult sitcom features Louis C.K. as a working class apartment dweller who must contend with an put upon wife, angry neighbors and a precocious daughter.

  • Louis C.K. is describing his departure from his upstate New York home for a cross-country blitz to hype his new HBO comedy, "Lucky Louie." He had kissed his two little girls and told his wife good bye.
    "I told her, 'I'm really scared, all this stuff I'm about to do,"' he recalls for a reporter later that day in Manhattan. "And she's going, 'You're really leaving us in the lurch.'
    "Then she kind of squinted at me: 'Oh, you're trying to express your feelings. You sure you have time for this now?"'
    Welcome to Louis' world, which, with some creative alterations (and a spelling tweak of his character's name), yields "Lucky Louie," a domestic sitcom in the tradition of "The Honeymooners" but with HBO-sanctioned frankness.
    "Lucky Louie," which premiered last week and airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EDT, stars the balding red-haired comic (who was a charter member of Conan O'Brien's writing staff and an Emmy-winning writer for "The Chris Rock Show," then made the 2001 blaxploitation spoof "Pootie Tang") as a muffler-shop mechanic and family man.
    Louie is well-intentioned but befuddled, and somewhat less than ambitious.
    His tiny, tough wife, Kim (played by Pamela Adlon), is a nurse who serves as the family breadwinner. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Lucy (Kelly Gould), who, like non-TV kids, is sweet, fussy, a chatterbox or in tears, depending on the moment - and who in one scene last week plied her father with so many "why" questions that finally he answered, "Because God's dead and we're alone." Which satisfied her.
    The 12-episode season was taped in front of a studio audience, capturing guaranteed-real laughs. In fact, the series is pretty much all-natural, Louis vows.
    "I wear my own clothes on the show and I never wear makeup," he says. "There have been times where I was up late with my kids, woken up at 4 in the morning by my zero-sympathy wife, gone to the set, pumped myself full of coffee, struggled through the day, and did the show that night."
    Just as well. His show, like his standup act, isn't so much an exercise in full-frontal jest as an effort to puzzle out some logic, however twisted, to the cards life deals us all. His insights are likely to prove funny and relatable - at least for anyone who has ever been in a relationship or been a parent, or the child of one.
    Louie's expectations are low, his dreams past their expiration date. He has no designs on changing the world. He'd just like to get a better handle on it.
    "I think he's just a guy who's trying to get through life, that's all," Louis muses. "Most people don't have any control over the elements in their lives, especially when they don't have a lot of money. You're with somebody, and you try to maintain that, and the rest of it becomes No Choices, led by circumstance."
    On this week's episode, for instance, Louie serendipitously helps his wife to her first-ever orgasm. Both are pleased by this unforeseen event. But soon enough the downside becomes evident to all: Louie is duty-bound to do it again.
    "On a later show, the toilet is broken and the super won't fix it. So we try to talk Lucy back into wearing diapers." Such is the humor of hard knocks and headaches.
    And it's faithful to Louis' life as it was, sometimes still is, and likely would have continued to be - that is, had he not found comedy.
    Growing up in Newton, Mass., with three sisters, a single mom and the Hungarian surname Szekely (which boils down phonetically to "C K"), the 38-year-old Louis remembers "telling large stories a lot, I used to tell a lot of lies. But my mother didn't want to discourage it, 'cause she thought it was a creative urge."
    After some aimless years (yes, he briefly worked as an auto mechanic), he found standup, which seemed to suit him: "You could get on stage and say whatever you want, even lie, without people thinking you're a sociopath."
    He had met his future wife at a New Year's Eve party when he was a teen and, on the spot, proposed to her. She said no. Then some 15 years later, they ran into each other and (as he tells it) reasoned that, by that point in their lives, they were each other's best shot for matrimony.
    "I have a marriage that's a bit of a chaotic mess," he says not uncheerfully, wearing the bemused smirk that's as much a facial feature as his red goatee. "But we're working on it. We're still slugging it out."
    Likewise, he's a devoted if challenged dad to his daughters, ages 4 and 1.
    "When I'm trying to get them both dressed and out of the house to go buy some stuff and then come home, it's just torture," he confides. "But I do it! And in the meantime I'm building relationships with them." Sounds a lot like his comedy act.
    And lest anyone suspect that, with his growing success, he's beyond the money woes that afflict his TV persona (Louie tells Kim "We'd have to raise 50 bucks to be broke"), he reports that, upon scoring the gig at "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" in 1993, he routinely squandered every paycheck.
    "And I didn't pay taxes," he goes on. "I put 12 dependents on my tax forms, so I would get back all my money. Now I'm on an installment plan to pay the federal government all my back taxes. But I believe that this first year of 'Lucky Louie' is getting me very close to that beautiful number: zero."
    Of course, Louis isn't one to count his chickens prematurely. Or, however many chickens hatch, to count on much applause for them back home.
    "No matter how big my career gets, in the end all I'm really doing is taking time away from my family," he explains. "I'm still just a guy who's pissing off my wife."

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