When Dane Cook appeared on an episode of Louie in August and the two comics shocked viewers by hashing out their real-life joke-stealing feud over Lady Gaga tickets, fans didn’t know what to think. Sure, it was brilliant, surreal theater, but what was real and what was fake? How did this encounter come to be, and did this on-screen rapprochement represent an off-screen conciliation? Well… sort of. In an expansive interview with the The A.V. Club, Louis C.K. revealed the circumstances that brought he and Cook together. (Watch it again here.)
Dane and I have this weird conflict that everybody but us talks about. For four f—ing years that’s all anybody would ask me about. Before I got this show, I was the guy that Dane Cook stole from. I mean every interview I did was about Dane Cook, and I hated it. I hated the whole thing. But there it was. And I knew Dane hated it. Dane and I had a little bit of an exchange through email when it first started. Neither of us was satisfied with the other’s point of view, really, but we just sort of lived with it for all these years. Last year I had Robert Kelly on the show playing my brother. Robert and Dane are very close friends, and he was opening for Dane somewhere on the road when I asked him to come and shoot a scene with me. So he told Dane he needed to leave his tour. I think he just told him he was going to be on TV, and Dane said, “Ooh, what show?” and he told me that Dane looked a little sad and that Dane said, “You know, the sad part is that I’d like to be in a TV show with Louie. I like him.” So when I heard that, it kind of stuck with me and I thought, “Why not put Dane in the show? How do I put Dane Cook on this show?”
I thought, “The only way it’s at all interesting is if it’s a direct f—ing confrontation of what we went through together.” … So I wrote thinking about his point of view and wrote it out and then I wrote him an email and I said, “Hello. I wrote something. It’s for my show. I want to shoot it. I’d love for you to play yourself; it’s about our thing. I think if you read it, you’d want to do it. I hope you do. If you don’t, I’ll get somebody else.” And I would’ve. I would have got an actor.
Their collaboration reminds me of the 2010 Super Bowl ad that David Letterman and Jay Leno agreed to do at the height of the Conan drama. Both men knew the bit would be funny, and that alone was enough to make it happen despite their chilly relationship. Similarly, Louis seems to respect Cook for coming on the show, but you can still feel the tension in Louis’ telling of the story…
He wrote me an email with a lot of notes that he wanted to protect his character by being a little funnier. He said, “I wanna portray myself as somebody who’s at peace with this, because I am. And as somebody who can get above things. I’m not an angry person. And I’m a funny guy, and I’d like some funnier lines to show that you and I can banter and that kind of thing.”
So I wrote him back and said, “No to all of that, I have no interest as portraying you as a level-headed person, not at all interesting to me.” I said, “This is really about you and me having this moment, and it’s going to be really interesting to people the way it’s written.” I’m also kind of an a–hole. I can’t take notes. I said, “I totally get that you don’t want to do anything. I would never fault you for that. But if you do this piece, you have to check all your concerns at the door and just come along for the ride.” And he wrote back and said, “I’ll do it.” …
You know, it’s funny, one of the suggestions he had made — I wrote it that he’s at Caroline’s comedy club, and I go see him at the club. But he said, “I don’t work Caroline’s. I work stadiums. Don’t you think it’d be funnier if you have to come and see me at this huge stadium and it blows your mind.” And I was like, “F— you! I’m not gonna f—ing write that you were at Madison Square Garden you f—ing megalomaniacal a–hole.” I was really insulted. I said, “No, no. It has to be Caroline’s.” And he was like, “Okay.” He was really cool about it. Then I was talking to my friend Vernon Chapman and I told him the story, and Vernon said, “How dumb are you? It’s a million times funnier, Madison Square Garden. How can you be so blind? Of course it’s funnier.” And I realized what an a–hole I was being. I really was letting my competitive ego f— the bit up.
Does the backstory of their thawed rivalry give you an even greater appreciation of the two men’s talents and personalities? I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Louis initially read the email where Cook suggested he only play huge stadiums, like MSG. Takes balls to press send on that email, Dane.