Monday, July 9, 2012

Louis CK and the Stand-up Comedy Experience

I've been a life-long fan of comedy in many forms. This seems like a strange statement, since I'd expect that most people enjoy humour of some kind or another. In terms of television and film genres, I'm probably the harshest critic of comedies. I enjoy a well-written, absurd sitcom, or a good stoner flick or buddy caper, but the material has to be intelligent and relateable. I don't have to laugh out loud in order to appreciate comedic stylings, I just have to find the wit fresh and, in most cases, edgy and unpredictable. Most of the time I stick to more serious and dramatic genres, but every once in a while it's nice to smile, laugh, and enjoy masterful comedic writing and acting.

As a child, it was cartoons and silly movies. Growing up, it was pre-teen sitcoms and slapstick comedies. As a teenager, my comedic tastes shifted mostly to stand-up comedy and adult sitcomes, Seinfeld being my absolutely favourite. The stand-up comedy showcase Just for Laughs was a major favourite on my daily television routine, and a lot of the comedians I watched on that show helped shape my comedic tastes, showing me topics and delivery-styles that I naturally find funny, but more importantly, revealing the kinds of comedians and comedy that I dislike, assisting me in my constant battle to avoid things that I know I won't like.

Although I can appreciate some kinds of racial humour, I typically try to avoid comedians that only talk about race and the differences between cultures. I find that sort of humour repetitive, unoriginal, and most of the time boring. I find Russell Peters to be the worst offender of this. Also, I usually don't enjoy female comedians. I quite enjoy comedic actresses like Kaitlin Olsen (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Gillian Jacobs (Community), but I find female stand-up comedy quite tricky to enjoy. I generally don't have anything against females and there shouldn't be a trace of sexism here, but I find that 90% of female comedians that I've observed all speak about the same issues, without spicing it up with original takes on old topics like dating, self-image, and of course, womanly bodily functions (you know what I'm talking about). I fully admit that females can be entertaining comedians, I just feel like most of them are trying too hard to be offensive and 'keep up with the boys'. Anyways, somewhere along the way, I grew out of Just for Laughs and stand-up comedy in general, sticking just to sitcoms and the odd comedy film.

Lately, however, I've found myself once again gravitating towards stand-up comedy. Some of my favourites include George Carlin (though he isn't always strictly comedy), Jerry Seinfeld, Donald Glover, Dane Cook (his classic stuff), Mitch Hedberg (who I'll dedicate a whole post to, one day), and Louis CK, who based on first impressions, I never expected to like. The aspect of stand-up comedy that I enjoy the most is a popular one: Everyone loves that feeling, when a comedian pin-points a human habit or experience that everybody can relate to but no one ever talks about it. Hearing that your daily routine quirks aren't so unique can be hilarious, if the delivery is right. I also like the overall structure of stand-up comedy. Of course, there's planned talking points, but without a script, there's always a feeling of unpredictability and magic when a really good comedian hits the stage and just goes for it. Other than Henry Rollins, who isn't strictly comedy, I've never been to a live comedy show. Aziz Ansari (from Parks and Recreation) came to Vancouver, and hearing of this definitely piqued my interest, now I'll be checking for upcoming performances of other comedians that I enjoy.

I've been aware of Lous CK's existence for quite a while now. I first caught his terrible sitcom, Lucky Louie, on comedy channel a few years ago. While I appreciated his type of humour, the style of the show (on a set, with a laugh track), turned me off. Then, years later, my friend Cash Darrian showed me a few clips of Louie's stand-up comedy. I was instantly hooked. His subject matter choices, delivery and rhythm, and brutal self-deprecation immediately caught my interest. Since then, I've watched his comedy special, Chewed Up, and became an even bigger fan. I'll be the first to admit that his comedy isn't for everybody. He plays himself off as an 'everyman' style comedian, definitely not a rich, famous celebrity. He taunts and abuses many types of people, but no one gets it worse than himself.

His usual topics include: his age/weight/health, being a middle-aged divorcee, being a father, and any absurd human practices that he can think of. He isn't shy about swear words, even the really offensive ones, and he even touches upon the use of 'faggot' and 'cunt' in his Chewed Up set. There is nothing smooth or stylish about Louie's delivery: he shouts, stumbles, and laughs his way through his material, having as much fun as the audience. Sometimes, his sort of vulgar humour falls flat and seems forced. What I like best about Louis CK is that he has no illusions about himself or his station in life. He seems to be as real on stage as he would be in real life. And I'm always a fan of bringing up taboo topics that shock and offend the general population. I think the world is much too uptight about some very ridiculous things, especially swearing and sex, and people like Louie help to point out this absurdity and get people talking, and hopefully laughing, about it.

Louis CK's latest project is a half-hour show simply called Louie. I struggle to call this thing a sitcom. Sure, it's humourous, at times, but it can also be quite random, weird, and dramatic. It very clearly comes from the demented mind of Louis and does not play along with typical sitcom set-ups or rules. Currently, Season 3 is airing and I haven't had a chance to see any new episodes. Though I haven't seen every one, I'm familiar with a lot of episodes from the first couple of seasons. The typical episode will involve a theme, such as growing old, religion, getting into shape, and he'll cover these issues in a variety of ways. Each episode doesn't have a clear narrative path, with a neat beginning, middle, and end. It's more like a scrapbook of conversations, stand-up comedy, and odd scenes. It's hard to explain in writing, but watching Louie, you'll likely feel like you're watching something you've never quite experienced before. It can be funny, but probably only if you appreciate self-deprecation and very awkward situations (much like Curb Your Enthusiasm). I even stopped watching the show for a while because I tried to watch it in marathons and I just couldn't handle how brutal Louie gets treated, by himself and others, in the series.

I recently caught the episode 'God', which revitalized my interest in the show. This episode features a very humourous stand-up bit about God's true nature, and also an eerie short-story style piece involving Louie as a child, learning about religion. It's creepy, though-provoking, and unlike any other 'sitcom' I've experienced. So, if you're in the mood for brutual, unapologetic humour that breaks all the rules and still makes you think and laugh, check out Louie and the comedic stylings of Louis CK. Oh, and a special shout-out to his role as Dave the police officer on Parks and Recreation, his straight-man delivery in this role is a treat.

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