"Chris [Rock] hired me because he thought I was funny," says Louis. "He said, 'Don't write for a black show. Just write funny stuff like you wrote before' But people think I'm the guy who works on black shows. I've gone on meetings in L.A. where people think I'm black. They're like, 'What are you doing here?' That's the white perception."
Louis made a name for himself as one of the original writers for Late Night with Conan O'Brien. His quirky humor fit perfectly with the show, and some of his skits stayed in heavy rotation long after he'd left. One of his bits was "Staring Contest," in which Conan would face off with his sidekick, Andy. Something bizarre would always happen behind Conan to distract Andy, like a monster handing a lady some cash in exchange for a baby. "It was so much fun, once I came up with the paradigm for it," Louis says, "to just sit down and come up with staring contest ideas."
The comedian's work with The Chris Rock Show earned him an Emmy in 1999. One of his popular skits centered around Pootie Tang, a likable badass who could express himself without saying anything comprehensible. "It was a huge hit," says Louis, and eventually led to the movie Pootie Tang, which Rock starred in. Though not all the reviews were positive, Pootie has got a slow-burning buzz that hasn't stopped. "Everyone in the cast gets mobbed all the time," says Louis.
Louis has also been doing stand-up since the '80s, and he loves the immediacy of performing live. "On stage, you have your hand on the throttle," he says. "You can change suddenly, come up with a brand-new thing. Nothing feels like that. When I'm writing, I'm in a constant state of blue balls because nobody's seen it yet." In 2000, Louis made Entertainment Weekly's "Ten Comics to Watch" list. This week, he'll be performing in Houston at the Laff Stop.
One of Louis's challenges is finding a backdrop for his odd ideas. "I used to think about the idea of a racist farm, where the animals are racist and the sheep go, 'Bla-a-acks,' and the cows go, 'Jeeeews.' It made me laugh to think about it but some people would just draw a blank." So he ended up couching the stand-up joke in a story about a racist guy that grew up on a farm. Then, says Louis, "I had a way in."
The comedian recorded his first CD, Live from Houston, at the Laff Stop. "I love Houston," he says. "It's a great town for comedy." This time around, he's hoping the crowd'll be raucous. "You get a boost from young kids there to see fucked-up shit," he says. "If they show up, I'll be more fucked up, and everyone will have a better time."