How to Make a Million Dollars, Be Honest, and Reject the Status Quo in 12 Days. Or, how Louis CK does his “thing”

Louis CK is a fantastic comedian. He’s funny, honest, crude, and challenging during his shows. His style of social commentary and humor will make you laugh while realizing he’s insulting you and challenging our way of life. Which, he admits, he freely does as well. At the bottom of the page I’ve linked a clean version of a clip of Louis CK on Conan, talking about how much social media has impacted our ability to live life in front of us. Before I go on, let me be clear that he can be incredibly vulgar in his live stand-up, but I also believe he speaks the truth in a lot of areas. He also just won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album, solidifying his status as one of the best comedians today.

Most importantly though, Louis CK has gained a lot of press for the method he used to distribute his latest comedy film, Live at the Beacon. Instead of following the “normal” rules, Louie and his team filmed, produced, directed, edited, and released the film all in house. The only place to buy “the thing”, as he calls it, is at his website. Because he saved so much money on production, fees, marketing, and paying record companies, he’s offering the film for $5. In comparison, Dane Cook’s Vicious Cycle film sells for $20 on Amazon ($25 most other places). Louie says that he was strongly advised not to go this route, because releasing a non-drm protected film would make it easy to share via social media and torrents, losing him money. Louie said this about torrents:

To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.

Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way.

To me, and apparently lots of people, this willingness to cut out the gatekeepers and make it easy for his fans to connect, is refreshingly honest. If you look over his site, you can also see that it’s pretty simple, and the content was written by Louie himself. 3 days after releasing the film, Louie wrote a post about how well the experiment had gone, and felt comfortable to give more context for why he wanted to release the film his way.

As of today, we’ve sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely.

This is incredible, right? That Louis CK’s experiment went so well, that he bypassed the gatekeepers of production and pricing, and customers responded to his honesty by overwhelmingly paying to appreciate his art and dedication. We’ve seen this a few times before (Pearl Jam, Radiohead), and it always seems to go well. Radiohead was especially brave in simply telling their fans to “pay what you want” for their album In Rainbows. Using this model, In Rainbows generated more sales in 7 weeks than their previous major label release, Hail to the Thief.

But that’s not the end. Live at the Beacon had sold over 200,000 copies and made a million dollars after 12 days. No, really. See?

Louie wrote another post on his site, expressing his gratitude and wonder at how well the experiment was going. He also stated his intentions for how he was going to use the money. It’s a bold statement:

People are paying attention to what’s going on with this thing. So I guess I want to set an example of what you can do if you all of a sudden have a million dollars that people just gave to you directly because you told jokes.

Here’s what he’s going to do:

  • 250K to production, website, and hosting costs.
  • 250K to the people who work with him and helped on the film and show.
  • 280K to charity.
  • 220K for himself and his kids, to pay rent and do terrible things that are none of our business.
If you want to read his entire post, click here.

So what does this mean for us? For starters, this is another example that we don’t have to sit around and wait for permission, waiting to be picked by the gatekeepers. Ask yourself what makes you happy and is worth doing, and go do that. The web has made it incredibly easy to share your art, whatever that may be. Use WordPress, Etsy, Flickr, Vimeo, Blurb, Soundcloud, or any of the hundreds of services available. The time for excuses is over.

The other memorable aspect of Louis CK’s experiment was his honesty and openness about the whole “thing”. I know I used to get uptight about people taking advantage of the writing I published, but that’s a dead-end road. Louie didn’t let that fear change the way he connected with his fans, and relied on their honesty. I believe the way that he released the film and communicated with people compelled them to be a part of his tribe. You can certainly count me in that number. He had their permission to be a part of their lives and provide laughter, and we all want him to continue that.

For you, me, and others that have small tribe we’re a part of, keep doing the work, being honest, and accessible. Keep showing up, hitting publish, and contributing. Remember that Louie didn’t accomplish this all over-night, he began his stand-up career in 1986. His 1st performance at comedy club was in 1984, but he felt so poorly about his performance that he didn’t try again until 2 years later. So yes, here he is, America’s most talked about comedian, after 25 years on the job.

We need to get to work. 

As promised, here is Louis CK on Conan, talking about social media. Enjoy!


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