Louis C.K. is widely recognized as one of the best stand-up comics working today. A former writer for The Late Show With David Letterman, The Dana Carvey Show, The Chris Rock Show, and Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Louis C.K.'s stand-up really took off in the last few years after over twenty years in the business, and his FX show Louie is a cult hit. On December 10, C.K. released a live stream of his show, "Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theater," with an experiment in mind. If he charged $5 through PayPal for his show, how much money could he make? Would people steal it in droves, or could he actually make a decent profit?
Louis CK: Live At The Beacon Theater Priced At Almost-Stealing
C.K. priced the special, in which you get two downloads and two streams of the performance, at an extremely affordable price, basically daring people to justify stealing it. The production cost of the special was $170,000, which he says was basically paid off by ticket sales for the show (although he subtracts that total from his sales figures later).
In this New York Times blog article, C.K. says he has sold more than 110,000 copies, and after the production costs and money spent on his website and Paypal's fees, he says he's cleared $200,000 off the special. The stream is non-DRM (Digital Rights Management), so it can be freely shared between computers after it's downloaded.
Here's some outtakes that C.K. put on his website that also serve as a sort-of trailer for his special (warning, as anyone knows with Louis C.K.–some bad language)
C.K. seems pleased with the results so far, as he says in the same article:
What seemed to satisfy him most, Louis C. K. wrote, was that "we can safely say that the experiment really worked." He added: "If anybody stole it, it wasn't many of you. Pretty much everybody bought it.”
Louis C.K.'s Stand-Up And Appearance On Reddit
As a great gesture for fans, C.K. got on Reddit and answered questions, and much like his stand-up act, he didn't hold back. C.K. has a delivery that lets him get away with some controversial subjects, he takes the sting out of them with a logic that not only rings true but is also very funny.
Some of the highlights from his Reddit thread include:
When asked about the creative control he has on Louie, on FX:
I got it by demanding it and refusing to do the show any other way at all and by having the leverage that I was completely willing to walk away without doing the show and by agreeing to an extremely low budget so that they could offset the risk of giving me this freedom becuase they are risking less money.
I have had conversations with them about very few moments in the show but zero battles.
When asked about whether or not he really edits that show all by himself (with some editing of his answer on my part):
yeah I do the whole thing. On season 1 I had an editor and we shared it about half. But season two i edited without any help. It was f*****g hard. and yes, i sit at the macbook and just put it together from start frame to finish.
About overseeing the profits of his special and the pirating issue (response is edited):
Im not going to say yet what it's making. It's so damn interesting though to be doing this. I feel like i have a front seat to a really cool… thing. I don't even know what it is. I think it's really interesting that i brought the price so close to stealing and made the movie so easy to get and made it so clear that it's a human offering it that it sparked a debate about pirating.
to steal from someone and not feel bad, you either have to be a sociopath or view the act differently. One way is to remove "Someone" from the equation. You're not stealing from a person…seeing the people who have fought about it on pirate bay and that there is a crisis of conscious and everything that's been written and to see that i've gotten paid. Just so interesting and hope-giving and cool.
Louis C.K., Despite Success, Using All The Tools Possible To Find An Audience
One thing that comes across in his stand-up specials and his TV show Louie is how much of a basic, average, everyday guy he is. And he's selling his own special that he directed himself, spent his own money to produce, and now he's selling it on his website like a garage band looking for some seed money. Now, to be fair, C.K. has more resources than most up-and-comers, but the fact is, he doesn't have to do this.
Ultimately, I'm glad there's a guy like C.K. who uses his popularity to experiment with the system. He doesn't appear driven by money or fame but what he can accomplish and discover. Taking less money to make Louie the way he wants, ultimately editing it himself, shows that. I'll be buying his special as much out of appreciation as I am just a fan of his work.