I’ve been following Louis CK’s career with some interest ever since he first popped onto my radar a few years ago. I had never heard of CK before seeing him on the TV show Parks and Recreation, despite his first HBO special airing way back in 1996. It has taken CK a while to find a wider-audience, largely due to his unflinching dedication to carving out the career he wants.
Before we discuss any of his personal achievements it should be said that first and foremost, CK is just plain hilarious. I cannot think of another comic of the last five years who has made me laugh as repeadedly and consistently as Louis. His material is painfully self-depricating, to the point where I sometimes worry how his honesty affects his personal life (what will his girls think when they are old enough to be exposed to his rants?). During his standup shows he can often appear quite angry, sometimes at those around him, but more frequently at himself. Yet in interviews he comes across as personable and content with his life.
This character that he has created, this ‘likeable loser’, has translated from his standup to his TV show, Louis (and its predecessor, Lucky Louis). Louis was (and is) a significant success for CK. Made on a budget small enough to allow CK to retain complete creative control, it is unlike anything before seen on television. Its funny and frequently poignant, yet the most exciting thing about it is that it is getting made at all.
The unprecedented creative freedom that CK retains has allowed him to create the show he wanted. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is sad and sometimes it is just plain weird. Yet somehow it all fits into a framework that few would have bet money on being critically successful. If CK had had to justify every single thing that happens during Louis (for instance, a young Louis being forced to sit through a graphic explanation of just exactly how Jesus suffered on the cross), the show would likely not be as great as it is.
Which bring us to what is perhaps Louis’ most exciting (and closely followed) success. For his latest standup special – Live at the Beacon Theatre – CK decided to forego all traditional distribution routes (DVD release and TV broadcast) to distribute independently online. While he may not be the first artist to attempt self-promotion in this way (Richard Herring, who has been self-distributing his own DVDs for years, springs to mind), he is certainly the first of his stature to attempt this and succeed so completely.
Within twelve days of releasing the new show, CK had made over $1,000,000 dollars. If you visit the show’s website (https://buy.louisck.net/news) you can see how he has spent that money. Its great to see that he has picked up on how important many people (myself included) consider his latest success. Live at the Beacon Theatre was released DRM (digital rights management) free, meaning that once you buy it, you can do with it what you wish. Yet he has still made plenty of money.
This should be treated as a shot across the bow for traditional media distributers and the big dogs of digital distribution (yes, Apple, I’m looking at you). If CK had decided to take an easier route and distribute through iTunes, for example, the chances are we would have had to pay at least double and would have been restricted to playing the show on the computer we used to purchase it. Yet Louis has shown us – and hopefully other artists – that you can dispense with all the uneccessary infrastructure, charge a reasonable amount of money (five dollars) and still make a tidy profit.
In an ideal world, what Louis has done here will become the standard way for media to be distributed, but we can at least hope that CK and artists like him can work outside the system, and perhaps even force that system to evolve over time.