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One-Man Show

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Then again, one-man production has its own pressures—ones he describes with a mix of braggadocio and anxiety. “I have a huge abyss I’m staring into. We have stuff to shoot for another two or three weeks, and then there’s just nothing.” That’s seven episodes unwritten—not to mention the difficulties of acting and directing simultaneously. “Sometimes, right before we start shooting something big, I get an awful pit in my stomach because I know it will be hard. And then I’m in it and I’m so— ” He suddenly beams, goes rapt, his cautious expression lifted off like a mask. “And then it’s done and I go, ‘Jesus fucking Christ, I’m exhausted.’ ”

Even if the second season hits every one of its goals, he tells me, it guarantees nothing for the future. At HBO, he learned how much his survival was contingent on his patrons—executives like Chris Albrecht, who signed off on “an ATM of projects” until he resigned in 2007 after a domestic-violence scandal, and now FX’s Landgraf, about whom he says, “I want to make him some money.”

After Louis signed, Landgraf sent him DVDs of The Shield, FX’s celebrated cop drama. Louis promptly began to procrastinate. “I was supposed to be writing, and instead I just lived for The Shield,” binge-watching seven seasons, marveling at the deep story arcs, the unforgettable performances. During the years it aired, The Shield’s creators were “like the Beatles” to their small set of fans, he says. “And it’s all gone now! Michael Chiklis is back to being a monster. The guy who played Wagenbach? I’ve never seen him again. That’s perfect success for a show. And it’s gone. Now they are back to trying to pay their rent.”

We stop at a red light. He turns and looks me in the eye. “That’s not bad news. That’s just realistic.”

We pull up to his Upper West Side apartment—a swanky place he rented, he explains, through a series of savvy negotiations during the economic crash. It’s big enough for his daughters, who are 6 and 9, to scooter in, with an area for them to perform shows. He shows me a sewing machine he got one of his girls for her birthday and holds up a tiny sweater he made using it. “I’m turning my kids’ future into their present,” he explains. “Because all this won’t last.”

He has custody of his daughters for half the week. During those days, he’s entirely off the clock, with no paid child care—a situation that initially caused some tension with his crew. “The marriage is over. But I’m a father with my kids alone. I don’t run errands for their mom anymore. I buy them pillows. Keep them in socks. And I cook for them, I cook all their meals.” (He places this in contrast to his father, who left when Louis was a child: “I imagine he’s seen my show. I haven’t really talked to him about it.”)

The mistake so many parents make, he tells me, is to go into mourning for the life they’ve lost. “All those early bits I did calling my kid an asshole came out of not knowing how to handle it. You distill those feelings in stand-up.” But as his children get older, he says, he’s become more confident about his role—something he wants to incorporate into the show. “They’re amazing now. It’s nice to be with them. It’s delightful. And you know, it also doesn’t last very long.”

I ask what his ex-wife thinks of the show. “I have no idea,” he says. “I haven’t asked her.”

Against a wall there are two guitars. A clarinet lies on the mantelpiece, near Louis’s Emmy for The Chris Rock Show. In the foyer, there’s a metal cabinet filled with pricey cameras—his one vice, he tells me. “To me, art supplies are always okay to buy.” There’s also a desk with three huge monitors on which he edits the series. He pulls up an iTunes playlist and clicks on a theme he describes as “Monkish, Thelonious-y.” We listen together for a minute, the music rising, getting at once sadder and more exciting. “Isn’t that great? And now I’ve got to write a scene that fits it.”

Then he selects a scene with Pamela Adlon. It’s a classic New York real-estate nightmare, with the two haggling with a manic Russian Realtor. Adlon appears in only three episodes this year because she’s tied to Californication. “I’m way behind. It’s terrible,” he says, brooding again about deadlines, about being “stuck in the mud,” as he did last season. He has a cache of “serious e-mails” from Breard, saying, “You’re in a lot of trouble; you need to stop making us wait or we can’t make a show anymore.’ ” (In a phone conversation, Adlon says she’s confident Louis will pull it off, describing him as having “his own kind of discipline. Like a college kid cramming for a final.”)


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