Writing Comedy: Spotlight On Louis C.K.

Are you writing comedy screenplays? Perhaps with an eye to work on a top-rated show like “Louie?”

Here’s how Emmy-nominated auteur and comic Louis C.K. describes his meeting with John Landgraf, President of FX (via A.V. club), and how he pitched and sold his own comedy series.

Writing Comedy Professionally Requires Being Able To Pitch

The pitch and negotiation for the show was interesting.

In this instance, both parties have leverage–and so the pitching goes both ways.

Let’s break the story of the meeting up into pitches to show the evolution of the deal:

The First Pitch

I got a bunch of interest from NBC, Fox, and the networks. [Then my manager, Dave Becky] had me meet with John Landgraf, who runs FX.  I said I wanted to do a sketch show.

The Second Pitch

He [Landgraf] said:

‘No, we want you to do what you do onstage, which is talk about being a dad and stuff.’

I was like ‘Well, that’s got a high price tag on it over at NBC. They’re offering to pay me half a million bucks just to write the thing, let alone the cost to make it.’

The Third Pitch

So he [Landgraf] called me at home and talked to me for about three hours about his model for making television. And he said, ‘We just take a little bit of money and we throw it at somebody who is funny. We can do this without asking anybody, we can make this deal right now.

You don’t have to pitch anything, and I’ll just write you a check, and we make a pilot.’

The Fourth and Final Pitch

I said, ‘The only way this is interesting to me is if you literally wire me $250,000. I’m not pitching you what the show is about. I don’t want to write a script for a pilot, and I don’t want to show you anything until it’s finished.

So if you give me $250,000, I’ll give you a pilot in two months.’

Landgraf agreed.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to compete with the major networks if money was the most important factor to C.K.  But what he had to offer was creative control—and for C.K., that was the winning pitch.

What can we learn?

When pitching a decision-maker, consider motivations besides money.

Often, the primary reason a decision-maker is considering your pitch is because they see the project as a way to generate income.

However, many people are motivated by goals besides money. If you can figure out what the decision-maker really wants, you can customize your pitch to be more compelling.

Here are some other possible motivations:

  • Being first (this is often key to pitching a celebrity)
  • Publicity (e.g., magazine cover stories or getting attention for a favorite charity)
  • Shoot in a specific location (e.g., close to home or in a vacation spot)
  • Bump in credit (e.g., from supervising to executive producer)
  • Transition fields (e.g., from writing to directing; acting to producing)
  • Favor for friend or family (e.g., casting the decision-maker’s best friend)

Kudos to C.K. for asking for exactly what he wanted, and to Landgraf for giving it to him and facilitating the creation of this award-winning show.

Can you think of other goals that motivate a decision-maker besides money? 

How High is Your Screenwriting IQ?

Screenwriting IQ Quiz

Over 2,359 screenwriters have already taken the pop quiz, scoring an average of 73%. Can you do better?

Take Pop Quiz

Discussion About Writing Comedy: Spotlight On Louis C.K.

  1. Pete Chatmon

    Great information. If we can call talent decision makers too, I’d say prestige and career renewal. Something more character driven might showcase an actor’s talents and inevitably renew the way they are viewed within the industry, leading to more of the work they would like to do…

  2. Stephanie Palmer

    Excellent suggestion. Thanks, Pete!

  3. Cynthia Atuhaire

    I love Louis CK a true comedic genius 🙂

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Agreed, Cynthia!