Woody Allen, Louis C.K., And The Power Of The Handwritten Note

If you want to form a relationship with your hero or land a dream gig, take a note from Louis C.K. and put real pen to paper.

It's almost too adorable to be true: the immortally comic Woody Allen reaches out to the comically mortal Louis C.K. Allen wants C.K. in his next movie. So as C.K. tells the New York Times, he goes into Allen's office to read for Blue Jasmine.

The character he read for was a total jerk—spousal abuser, the works—and he knew he wasn't right for the part. C.K. says it was "very emotional" for him; he'd been waiting for that email his whole life. Then, two weeks later, Allen's assistant brought over a package: pages from the script and a letter from him. This is what it said:

"You were too sweet a guy to do the other one, but this is one you could do. If you don’t want to do this, we’ll do something, someday."

C.K. reads the lines—the part is a failed romance for the lead, "one of those awful stories that women carry around"—and he's laughing out loud. His reply?

I hand-wrote him a letter saying unequivocally yes, and sent it off.

The anecdote is a small part of an excellent interview—the comedian also unpacks the grind inherent in building an audience and the power success lends him in negotiating with networks—but deserves a closer reading for what it says about how to do business.

These are two of the funniest people of the last half century. How do they work out how to work together? By email, yes, but after that first unsuccessful reading, the role that C.K. did get came about with a certain analog gentlemanliness. They didn't type to one another; they wrote.

What's noteworthy anymore?

As John Coleman writes for HBR, the handwritten is valuable for the reasons that it's given way to type: emails, tweets, and texts are essentially costless and we send them endlessly. The average corporate email account sends or receives 100 emails per day—which is why when we talk about email, we're really talking about making triage choices between signal and noise.

But a handwritten note is rare. According to the U.S. Postal Service, people get one personal letter every two weeks. As Coleman notes, they're costly: you have to take the time to think on every word and write it out, you have to fumble with stamps, and put the thing in the mailbox. And therein lies the inky rub: all those costs convey value to the person you're writing to.

Not for the asking

Since letters take forever to write and send off, Coleman says, you don't make asks with them; they're best for telling people you care about them:

...The beauty of a well-crafted handwritten note is that it can show deeper investment and appreciation than a simple thank-you can. It can follow up on a conversation, remind someone they're not forgotten, raise new issues, or even include a gift...that carries its own meaning.

These are all good things. And they show that while we apologize for sending mass emails—something about the bcc rings with impersonality and arrogance—we can delight in crafting a single, thoughtful handwritten note. It might even get you the part of a lifetime.

The Joke’s on Louis C.K.
Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They're Also More Important Than Ever.

[Image: Flickr user Kyle Pearson]

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3 Comments

  • Justindkerr

    True. True. True. There is nothing like receiving a piece of "real" mail amidst all the junk mail. I'm stoked that the USPS now has the FOREVER stamps so it is easy to send mail without worrying if postage rate has changed. Oh, and I just started using a new service called Black Sheep Postal Service which actually hand-writes the card for you and mails it for you. So now no excuses for not sending that thank you note!

  • Bruce Apar

    OK, I get that the author is edgy and unorthodox and all that cool stuff, but it would be a tad easier to Baer if he were properly edited. His precious writing style is colloquial (to put it kindly) to the point of distraction; not to mention garish grammatical fails like, "all those costs convey value to the person you're writing to." That's just too "to."