In 2012, C.K. won a Peabody Award and has received six Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as numerous awards for The Chris Rock Show, Louie, and his stand-up specials Live at the Beacon Theater (2011) and Oh My God (2013). He has won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album twice. Rolling Stone ranked C.K.'s stand-up special Shameless number three on their "Divine Comedy: 25 Best Stand-Up Specials and Movies of All Time" list and, in 2017, ranked him fourth on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.
C.K. was born on September 12, 1967, in Washington, D.C., the son of software engineer Mary Louise (née Davis) and Luis Székely, an economist. C.K.'s parents met at Harvard University, where his mother was completing her degree in a summer-school program. They were married at St. Francis Church in Traverse City, Michigan. C.K. has three sisters.
C.K.'s paternal grandfather, Dr. Géza Székely Schweiger, was a surgeon. Székely Schweiger was a Hungarian Jew whose family immigrated to Mexico, where he met C.K.'s paternal grandmother, Rosario Sánchez Morales. Sánchez Morales was a Catholic Mexican. C.K.'s mother, an American with Irish ancestry, grew up on a farm in Michigan. She graduated from Owosso High School in Owosso, Michigan. She attended University of Michigan and graduated from Ohio State University Phi Beta Kappa. C.K.'s maternal grandparents were M. Louise Davis and Alfred C. Davis.
When C.K. was a year old, his family moved to his father's home country of Mexico, where his father had earned a degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico prior to graduating from Harvard. C.K.'s first language was Spanish; it was not until after the move back to the U.S. that he began to learn English. He claims he has since forgotten much of his Spanish, however, he still carries a Mexican passport along with his American one. At age seven, C.K. left Mexico with his family to move back to the United States and settle in Boston. Upon moving from Mexico to suburban Boston, C.K. wanted to become a writer and comedian, citing Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and George Carlin as some of his influences. When he was 10, his parents divorced. C.K. said that his father was around but he did not see him much and when he remarried, C.K.'s father converted to Orthodox Judaism, the faith of his new wife. C.K. and his three sisters were raised by their single mother in Newton, Massachusetts. The fact that his mother had only "bad" TV shows to view upon returning home from work inspired him to work on television. C.K.'s mother raised her children as Catholic, wanting them to have a religious framework and understanding, and they attended after-school Catholic class until they completed communion. C.K. has said that his father's whole family still lives in Mexico. C.K.'s paternal uncle Dr. Francisco Székely is an academic and an international consultant on environmental affairs who served as Mexico's Deputy Minister of Environment (2000–2003).
C.K. attended Newton North High School, and graduated in 1985. He graduated with future Friends star Matt LeBlanc. After graduation C.K. worked as an auto mechanic and at a public access TV cable station in Boston. According to C.K., working in public access TV gave him the tools and technical knowledge to make his short films and later his television shows. "Learning is my favorite thing", he said. He also worked for a time as a cook and in a video store.
C.K.'s first attempt at stand-up was in 1985 at an open mic night at a comedy club in Boston, Massachusetts, during the apex of the comedy boom. He was given five minutes of time, but had only two minutes of material. He was so discouraged by the experience that he did not perform again for two years. He and Marc Maron later reminisced about their early careers and friendship on Maron's WTF Podcast. As Boston's comedy scene grew, C.K. gradually achieved success, performing alongside acts such as Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke, and eventually he moved up to paid gigs, opening for Jerry Seinfeld and hosting comedy clubs until he moved to Manhattan in 1989. He performed his act on many televised programs, including Evening at the Improv and Star Search. In 1993, he unsuccessfully auditioned for Saturday Night Live. In 1996 HBO released his first half-hour comedy special.
C.K. has performed his stand-up frequently on shows such as Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Lopez Tonight, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. In August 2005, C.K. starred in a half-hour HBO special as part of the stand-up series One Night Stand. Inspired by the work ethic of fellow comedian George Carlin, who had committed to dropping all of his existing material and starting over every year, C.K. launched his first hour-long special, Shameless, in 2007, which aired on HBO and was later released on DVD. In March 2008, he recorded a second hour-long special, Chewed Up, which premiered on Showtime Network on October 4, 2008, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy or Variety Special. C.K. has said that, "Failure is the road to becoming a great comedian."
On April 18, 2009, C.K. recorded a concert film titled Hilarious. Unlike his previous specials—which had all been produced for television networks—Hilarious was produced independently, directed by C.K. himself, and sold to Epix and Comedy Central after it was complete. As a result, it was not released until late 2010. It was published on DVD and CD in 2011. It is the first stand-up comedy film accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. In a 2010 interview, C.K. talked about how, after his divorce, he thought, "well, there goes my act." He alluded to the way that his marriage had been central to his act and his life, and he said that it took him approximately a year to realize "I'm accumulating stories here that are worth telling." One element in his preparation for stand-up was training at the same boxing gym as Lowell, Massachusetts fighter Micky Ward, trying to "learn how to ... do the grunt work and the boring, constant training so that you'll be fit enough to take the beating."
On December 10, 2011, C.K. released his fourth full-length special, Live at the Beacon Theater. Like Hilarious, it was produced independently and directed by C.K. However, unlike his earlier work, it was distributed digitally on the comedian's website, foregoing both physical and broadcast media. C.K. released the special for $5.00 and without DRM, hoping that these factors and the direct relationship between the artist and consumer would effectively deter piracy. At the end of the special, the release of a new album, recorded at Carnegie Hall the previous year, is mentioned. As of December 21, 2011, the sales of the special from C.K.'s website have earned him over $1 million.
The success of the special prompted other comedians, including Jim Gaffigan, Joe Rogan, and Aziz Ansari, to release their own specials with a similar business model. On May 11, 2012, C.K. additionally made two audio-only downloads available for $5.00 each: WORD – Live at Carnegie Hall (and the audio version of his first HBO stand-up special, Shameless), as well as an audio-only version of Live at the Beacon Theater. C.K.'s fifth one-hour special, Oh My God, was recorded at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona, and premiered on HBO April 13, 2013. It is also sold and distributed using the same model as C.K. used for Live at the Beacon Theater. C.K. released his sixth one hour special Live at The Comedy Store recorded, unlike his past few specials, at a club, The Comedy Store in West Hollywood. C.K. said he intended the material as an exercise in creating an act that hearkened back to his early days in comedy clubs. The special premiered exclusively on FX on May 28, 2015.
C.K. became the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden three times in a single tour in 2015. Audio from the tour was released by C.K. on his website as Louis C.K.: Live at Madison Square Garden through the pay what you want model. His stand-up special 2017 was filmed in Washington, D.C. and released on April 4, 2017, through the streaming service Netflix. C.K.'s next stand-up special is slated for similar distribution.
In 1984, when C.K. was 17, he directed the comedic short film Trash Day. The New York University Tisch School of the Arts showed an interest in him as a filmmaker, but he instead decided to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
C.K.'s early writing jobs included the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Chris Rock Show. He has been quoted as describing his approach to writing as a "deconstruction" that is both painful and frightening. His work for The Chris Rock Show was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for writing three times, winning "Best Writing in a Variety or Comedy Series" in 1999. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for his work writing for Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In 1998, C.K. wrote and directed the independent black-and-white film Tomorrow Night, which premiered at Sundance, marking his feature film directorial debut after making several shorter films, including six short films for the sketch comedy show Howie Mandel's Sunny Skies (1995) on the Showtime cable network. C.K. self-released Tomorrow Night in 2014. He had an early acting role in the independent comedy Tuna, alongside Nick Offerman, in 2000. C.K. wrote and directed the feature film Pootie Tang, which was adapted from a sketch that was featured on The Chris Rock Show and featured Chris Rock in a supporting role. The film received largely negative reviews from critics, but has become a cult classic. Though C.K. is credited as the director, he was fired at the end of filming with the film being re-edited by the studio. C.K. has co-written two screenplays with Rock: Down to Earth (2001) and I Think I Love My Wife (2007).
In June 2006, C.K. starred in and wrote Lucky Louie, a sitcom he created. The series premiered on HBO and was videotaped in front of a studio audience; it was HBO's first series in that format. Lucky Louie is described as a bluntly realistic portrayal of family life. HBO canceled the series after its first season. He appeared in three films in 2008: Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Diminished Capacity, and Role Models. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for writing on his 2008 special, Chewed Up. From 2009 to 2012, C.K. played Dave Sanderson, a police officer and ex-boyfriend of Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) in the sitcom Parks and Recreation. He also co-starred in the romantic comedy fantasy film The Invention of Lying, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais, in 2009.
In August 2009, FX picked up C.K.'s new series, Louie, which C.K. stars in, writes, directs, and edits. The show, features stand-up routines blended with segments partially based on his offstage experiences which address his life as a divorced, aging father. The show premiered on June 29, 2010. In season three, episodes dealt respectively with a date with an unstable bookshop clerk (played by Parker Posey); a doomed attempt to replace a retiring David Letterman; an aborted visit to C.K.'s father; and a dream-reality New Year's Eve episode in which C.K. ends up in China. These episodes were ranked in critic Matt Zoller Seitz's favorite 25 comedy episodes of 2012. Seitz called the episode "New Year's Eve" "truly audacious". C.K. has been nominated five times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (2011–2015) for his work in Louie and won two Emmys in 2011 for the Louie episode "Pregnant" and for his special Live at the Beacon Theater.
The show was renewed for a fourth season; with a 19-month hiatus after season 3 to accommodate C.K.'s roles in David O. Russell's American Hustle and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine in 2013. During the 2014 Television Critics Association presentations, FX Networks' John Landgraf reported that Louie would return in spring 2015 for a shortened fifth season of seven episodes—compared to the 13 episodes of prior seasons. The fifth season premiered in April 2015 and the possibility of a sixth season remains unknown, as an announcement said the series would take an "extended hiatus" in August 2015; C.K. stated in January 2016 that he "just doesn't know" whether it will return or not.
C.K.'s production company, Pig Newton, where he works with partner / producer Blair Breard, has a contract to develop and executive produce pilots for FX Networks. In January 2014, an announcement said C.K. would produce and co-write a Zach Galifianakis-created comedy pilot for FX Networks. The 10-episode single-camera comedy, titled Baskets, premiered on January 21, 2016. It features Galifianakis as the main character, a struggling clown named Chip Baskets in a pilot episode written by Galifianakis, Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel.
In May 2015, an announcement said that C.K. would write, direct, and star in a film titled I'm A Cop to be produced by Scott Rudin, Dave Becky, and long-time associate, Blair Breard, with a budget of $8 million. He scrapped the project. In November 2015, C.K co-starred in the biographical drama film Trumbo as a composite character based on five different screenwriters who were blacklisted in Hollywood for their alleged ties to the Communist party during the 1940s. It was announced in January 2016 that C.K. and actor/comedian Albert Brooks would co-create, co-write, executive produce, and provide the voices for the two main characters in an animated series pilot for FX. The following January, the series was announced to instead be premiering on TBS in 2018 and is titled The Cops, following two Los Angeles patrolmen.
On January 30, 2016, he released the first episode of the tragicomic drama series Horace and Pete to his website, without any prior announcements. C.K. directed, wrote, and starred in the series as bar owner Horace, alongside Steve Buscemi, who portrays co-owner Pete. James Poniewozik of the New York Times said of the series "it may best be described as a Cheers spec script by Eugene O’Neill: a snapshot of a family—and a country—suffering a hangover decades in the making". The self-financed series received a significantly positive reaction from critics, who largely focused on the performances of the veteran cast that includes C.K., Buscemi, Edie Falco, Steven Wright, Alan Alda, and Jessica Lange and C.K.'s writing. C.K. has expressed his interest in a second season.
C.K. also developed with FX the series Better Things, starring Pamela Adlon. C.K. co-wrote, co-produced, and directed the pilot. The show is about a single working actress mother and her struggles to raise three daughters. It premiered in September 2016. He next voiced the lead, Max, a Jack Russell Terrier, in the animated comedy film The Secret Life of Pets. The film was co-directed by Chris Renaud of the Despicable Me series, and was released on July 8, 2016. It has grossed over $875 million worldwide. C.K. directed the film I Love You, Daddy in secret, shooting entirely on black and white 35 mm film. The film follows a television producer and writer played by C.K. called Glen Topher whose teenage daughter, played Chloe Grace Moretz, is seduced by a much older film director (John Malkovich), causing Topher to become disconcerted. The film also features Charlie Day, Adlon, Rose Byrne, Edie Falco, and Helen Hunt. It premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival in September, whereupon The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gave the film a four-star review, calling it a "very funny and recklessly provocative homage to Woody Allen, channelling his masterpiece Manhattan."
As a voice actor, C.K. portrayed Brendon Small's estranged father, Andrew Small, in Home Movies, appeared several times on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, and voiced The Horrifyingly Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity in two episodes of Gravity Falls.
C.K. was a frequent guest on The Opie & Anthony Show, which also featured his Lucky Louie co-star Jim Norton. C.K. was also a part of Opie and Anthony's Traveling Virus Comedy Tour with other comedians in 2007. He has appeared on Sirius XM's Raw Dog Comedy show, and in 2007 hosted a three-hour phone-in show on the service at the request of Opie & Anthony, during which he advised callers on their relationship troubles. By May 2011, C.K. had hosted over 107 hours of radio with Opie & Anthony. During an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on The Opie & Anthony Show, C.K. repeatedly asked Rumsfeld whether he is in fact a reptilian space alien who "eats Mexican babies". Rumsfeld declined to comment. The video has since gone viral. In the Louie episode "Barney / Never", Opie, Anthony, and Norton (along with comedian Amy Schumer) play the on-air talent of a stereotypical wacky morning radio program into which C.K.'s character is calling to promote a gig in Kansas City.
C.K. has been an occasional guest on The Bob & Tom Show, a showcase for comedians. He also worked with Robert Smigel on TV Funhouse shorts exclusively for Saturday Night Live, with topics ranging from politics to surrealism. C.K. hosted Saturday Night Live on November 3, 2012 and was subsequently Primetime Emmy Award-nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. He returned to host the show on March 29, 2014 and May 16, 2015 and received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for both episodes. On April 8, 2017, he hosted Saturday Night Live for a fourth time. One of the sketches in which he appeared engendered controversy because of similarities to a short film by actress and comedian Tig Notaro, titled Clown Service.
He executive produced the pilot for the Amazon Video black comedy series One Mississippi, starring Tig Notaro, in November 2015. It was ordered for a full season by Amazon.
C.K. innovated direct-to-consumer distribution of his and others' work, selling tickets via his website in DRM-free format. In this way, C.K. sold tickets for his stand-up tour, circumventing large ticket outlets (e.g., Ticketmaster), creatively bypassing their overhead and the venues they control. C.K. has said the ticket outlets create barriers to consumers, whereas direct distribution is easy — and has effectively "closed the gap between how easy it was to steal it [versus] how easy it was to buy it."
In 2011, by selling Live at the Beacon Theater on his website, C.K. earned a "million dollars in matter of days, half of which he [gave] away to his staff and charities." Recipients included the Fistula Foundation, Green Chimneys, the Pablove Foundation, Charity: Water, and Kiva. In 2016, he selected the Fistula Foundation as the beneficiary of his Jeopardy! Power Players Week appearance.
C.K. has cited Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby as being comedy influences.
C.K. and artist/painter Alix Bailey married in 1995. Together, they had two daughters. They divorced in 2008, with C.K. and Bailey sharing joint custody of their children.
About political partisanship, C.K. states, "Some things I think are very conservative, or very liberal. I think when someone falls into one category for everything, I'm very suspicious. It doesn't make sense to me that you'd have the same solution to every issue." He sent an e-mail to those subscribed to his mailing list in March 2016, criticizing then-U.S. Republican Party presidential election candidate Donald Trump, likening him to Adolf Hitler and calling him an "insane bigot," but added "He's not a monster. He's a sad man." C.K. later referred to the e-mail as "irrational" and claimed he should never write his opinions again.
On March 19, 2012, Gawker, a gossip and scandal-mongering blog, first reported on sexual misconduct by a "beloved comedian", who at the time was not specifically named. On May 15, 2015, Gawker reported a rumored incident at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal from several years ago, according to which, Louis C.K. brought two women to his room and started masturbating in front of them without their consent. C.K. dismissed the rumours in a June 13, 2016 interview, saying "I don’t care about that. That’s nothing to me. That’s not real." In an email to the Daily Beast, which was published on June 30, 2016, Roseanne Barr wrote "These allegations [against Louis C.K.] have been leveled and talked about for years. I do not have first hand knowledge, though have heard women make these allegations.”
In a Daily Beast interview published on August 23, 2017, comedian Tig Notaro, whose TV show One Mississippi credits C.K. as an executive producer, talked about C.K.'s refusal to address the rumors, saying "I think it’s important to take care of that, to handle that, because it’s serious to be assaulted." A scene in One Mississippi mirrors these allegations, with a female character who is forced to sit in a work meeting with a man who covertly masturbates in front of her. On September 10, 2017, when C.K. was asked by The New York Times about Notaro's statements in her Daily Beast interview, he replied, "I don’t know why she said the things she’s said, I really don’t. I don’t think talking about that stuff in the press and having conversations over press lanes is a good idea." Regarding whether the sexual misconduct allegations have any validity, he responded, "No. They’re rumors, that’s all that is." He refused to make any further comments, saying, "If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real."2000: The Short Films of Louis C.K. (DVD) (out of print)
2001: Live in Houston (CD) (out of print)
2006: One Night Stand (DVD)
2007: Shameless (DVD/video download)
2008: Chewed Up (CD/DVD/video download)
2010: Hilarious (Epix - CD/DVD/video download)
2011: Live at the Beacon Theater (video download)
2012: Word: Live at Carnegie Hall (audio download)
2013: Oh My God (video download)
2015: Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store (video download)
2015: Louis C.K.: Live at Madison Square Garden (audio download)
2017: Louis C.K.: 2017 (video download)