Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What's so funny about Louis C.K.

One thing that changes as we get older is the idea of what makes us laugh. The only thing I laughed at when I was a kid that I still laugh at now is Warner Bros. cartoons. I didn't know back then that the opera singer in "Long-Haired Hare" is rehearsing a part from "The Barber of Seville." Or that Bugs Bunny does a spot-on impression of the conductor Leopold Stokowski. All I knew is that Bugs drives that fat opera singer crazy*, and the opera singer beats him up, and Bugs gets his revenge by making the guy sing one long note until he turns purple.

*What do they do in Mississippi... when skies are drippy...

That was funny when I was 6, and it's even funnier now, knowing what I know, understanding the little details as an adult. But most of the time, what's funny changes. You grow up, and you go through things, and you learn a few hard lessons, and maybe you start to understand Dave Barry's definition of a sense of humor: "A measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge."

Which brings me to Louis C.K., who, at the moment, is the funniest person on the planet.

Last week he was on with Jay Leno. Here are three clips. They get better as they go.









If you go on YouTube you can find dozens of Louis C.K. clips. You should be warned of two things: One, they're full of extremely bad language, and two, if you start watching it might be hours before you stop.

Louis loves his kids but a lot of the time he doesn't like them. He understands exactly how lucky he is but he still complains. He longs for just a little real human connection but he's too awkward, or too lazy, or too numb, to make it.

Of course, in one sense, it's an act*. I don't know if any of the stories are true. It felt a little weird when I read an interview with him about this clip that went viral last year, and it turned out the guy complaining about wi-fi on the airplane wasn't another passenger -- it was Louis himself. That's a small thing, and I'm sure there's a good comedic reason for telling the story that way, but it makes him feel a touch less authentic.

*Speaking of an act -- go back and watch Jay Leno in those clips. Part of his job, of course, is to make the guest look good. But Jay is so awkward here -- he's got a really funny guy right next to him and he barely knows how to have a conversation. "So, hey, you're out on the road, right?" Jay Leno, when he was a regular guest on Letterman, was a great comedian. I don't know what part of himself he sold to get the Tonight Show and hold onto it. But it was too big a price.

The older I get, the more honesty matters. I don't want to get schmoozed by somebody who just wants to sell me something. I don't want people to tiptoe around what they're trying to say. I don't want melodrama or artifice. Just be real. What strikes me the most about Louis C.K. is that I'd still want to hang out with him even if he wasn't funny. He seems like a regular guy, in dumpy clothes, who has some interesting things to say about his life, and maybe yours.


What's funny as you get older, I think, depends on what you need. We watched "The Hangover" last night. Parts of it were really funny. But it wasn't as great as I'd heard. Probably because it wasn't the kind of funny I needed. Maybe you need something over-the-top and outrageous if you need to forget yourself awhile.

And maybe you need something like Louis C.K. if you need to remember -- remember that life sometimes sucks at the same time it's great, and everybody struggles with love and family and figuring out your place in the world, and it's OK to be honest about that, and laugh about it.

19 comments:

jaybird said...

no see clippies...

Anonymous said...

I like his sex bits. Also I don't attend church.

tommy tomlinson said...

Hmm... I see them fine on here. Lemme try to figure it out. In the meantime, here's a link to another place where you can see them:
http://www.thecomicscomic.com/2010/12/small-talk-comedy-on-the-road-spoiled-rich-kids-and-white-problems-louis-ck-tells-jay-leno-whats-wha.html

tarhoosier said...

The first 30 seconds is Ford commeeercial(s)

Anonymous said...

Have you seen his show on FX? Hilarious! He once had a show on HBO but it was canceled after one year (I think he took some jokes too far for his bosses' liking). FX has the entire first season of "Louis" online almost completely commercial free. Check it out. Like you alluded to, even when parts of the show aren't funny (aren't meant to be I think), they're so damn interesting because of the things he says.

celticjack said...

Tommy...Can't believer you're citing this episode and totally ignoring WB treatment of Wagner--Bugs as Siglinde, Elmer as Siegfried--"Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit..."

Gotta be the high point of WB cartoonology..

tommy tomlinson said...

tarhoosier -- Sorry about the commercials... they come w/the NBC links. Is everybody else seeing the clips OK?

celticjack -- We could have an entire discussion (and maybe we should) about the best WB cartoons. My top 5:

1. "Duck Amuck"
2. "Rabbit of Seville"
3. "Long-Haired Hare"
4. "High-Diving Hare" (Fearless Freep! That's my boy!!)
5. The "Wabbit season! Duck season!" trilogy

"What's Opera Doc" (the one you mentioned) is probably next on the list... not quite as funny as my top 5, but still brilliant. There are probably 50 WB cartoons that I'd call brilliant. They had more greatest hits than the Beatles.

JAT said...

So I assume you are plowing thru episodes of his "Louie" sitcom on Netflix, if you haven't seen them before...the 1st ep in particular killed me...

Anonymous said...

Tommy,
I get the Warner-Bros bit.
Who's Louis CK?

Anonymous said...

Husband and I love Bugs Bunny cartoons. That's why we can't wait to attend the Bugs Bunny concert with the Charlotte Symphony this May, where they will be playing the orchestral music along with the cartoons. Do you plan to go to that? That's definitely our kind of funny.

tommy tomlinson said...

Anon 1:02 -- Are you not seeing the Louis CK clips? If not, look at the third comment on this post -- there's a link to the clips. I'm not sure why some people are seeing them and others aren't. A browser thing, maybe?

Jeff -- "Louie" the series is pretty amazing. Uneven, but the best stuff is really good. What I admire about it is that there are long unbroken scenes (the poker scene comes to mind), and long stretches where he's not trying to be funny. He's really taking some chances there.

tommy tomlinson said...

FYI, I'm hearing the clips come up in Firefox but not in Internet Explorer. Does that track with what everybody else is seeing (or not seeing)? And any ideas on a fix?

Andy said...

Bugs bunny cartoons were awesome and have always been enjoyed by children and adults for completely different reasons. None of the modern cartoons will ever even come close to these...however, I feel that you can't leave out the Road Runner series. I've seen some of those a dozen times and still laugh uncontrollably!

Mary Ickert said...

Great post Tommy. I always enjoy the way you put things. You have a great way of describing what the rest of us are sometimes thinking. Louis C.K. is one of my faves. I just wanted one of his stand up's the other night on Netflix. He is great.

jaybird said...

yeah can see in Firefox but not IE.

Charlie said...

When I first heard Louis CK my kids were younger and I thought FINALLY a guy is telling it like it really is. Been a fan ever since, I hope he comes here and we can all go see him live.
You might also like the WTF podcast by Louis CK contemporary Marc Maron. It's got a similar style and is wonderfully honest and from the heart (also can be filthy).

Anonymous said...

Louis CK has mastered the art of comedy, and artists use lies to tell the truth

GeminiJef said...

I guess I am the only one who doesn't get Louis C.K.'s humour. A lot of it is his delivery, which seems cold, drippy, and depressing. That isn't funny to me. It's only sad. However, I often find myself on the outside looking in, wondering what all the fuss is about. Chalk another one up for me not getting what the people like.

Anonymous said...

He hits about .100 on my funny meter. Then, when I saw him on SNL he wasn't funny at all. I really don't get the guy.