Evan Puschak looks at a single joke Louis C.K. tells about playing Monopoly with his daughters and takes it apart to see how Louis builds and delivers his material. By the end, you’ll likely have a new appreciation of the efficiency and power of Louis’ performance…every word he utters is doing work.
You know, more than anything else I think I’m obsessed with articulation, with the magic of putting things just the right way. There are 207 words in this joke and not a single one is wasted. They’re used either in meaning or in rhythm to contribute to the overall effect, an effect that lets us see the world from a different angle, and more importantly, makes us laugh.
Good phrase, “the magic of putting things just the right way”.
This four-minute bit by Louis CK puts me on the floor every time I watch it and then makes me feel really horrible.
Everybody has a competition in their brain of good thoughts and bad thoughts. Hopefully, the good thoughts win. For me, I always have both. I have like the thing I believe, the good thing, that’s the thing I believe and than there’s this thing. And I don’t believe it, but it is there. It’s always this thing and then this thing. It’s become a category in my brain that I call “of course, but maybe”.
I love his gestures throughout this bit…the material is great but the physical comedy really sells it. So so good. (And, of course, terrible.)
Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:
JW: You’ve talked about how you’ve had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It’s almost as though you’re writing material for them. What’s the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?
I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there’s a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, “Oh, I’m just not doing it, I’m not doing the right thing.” There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don’t know what that is, I’m really curious about that. I’m really curious about what people think they’re doing when they’re doing something evil, casually. I think it’s really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that’s really interesting, I think it’s a profound human question…
I think it’s really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it’s in defense of the common person against the rich that think they’re entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there’s not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.
At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie’s abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There’s Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie’s darker impulses. There’s standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie… except when he doesn’t, and the two characters blur and flip.
Louie is — despite its dick-joke dressing — a profoundly ethical show… Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.
I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, “this is like looking at my life in ten years.” Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn’t funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall — the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children — are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you’re both redheads with beards. It’s an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.
At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who’s more successful now than he’s ever been, who knows he’s good at what he does, but who’s never been certain that anyone’s ever loved him or if he’s ever been worthy of love.
Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what’s worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn’t even like very much?
“My kids used to love math! Now it makes them cry.” So tweeted Louis C.K. earlier this week. His opinion of the new math and standardized tests is echoed by a lot of parents who “have found themselves puzzled by the manner in which math concepts are being presented to this generation of learners as well as perplexed as to how to offer the most basic assistance when their children are struggling with homework.” Rebecca Mead in the The New Yorker: Louis C.K. Against the Common Core.
Farts are — I just refuse to be snobbish about certain shit with comedy. You know, farts come out of your ass and they make a fucking trumpet sound. That shit smelling gas comes out of your ass and it makes a toot sound. What the fuck is not funny about that? It’s perfect, it’s a perfect joke. It has all the elements.
Out of the people that ever were, almost all of them are dead. There are way more dead people, and you’re all gonna die and then you’re gonna be dead for way longer than you’re alive. Like that’s mostly what you’re ever gonna be. You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.
People say ‘my phone sucks.’ No it doesn’t! The shittiest cellphone in the world is a miracle. Your life sucks. Around the phone.”
The format of the American sitcom held steady for almost 40 years. The most noteworthy innovation was a negation; in the early nineties, HBO comedies like the short-lived Dream On ditched the pervasive canned laugh track, paving the way for the so-called cringe comedy of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. On Curb, the absence of a laugh track makes it difficult for viewers to know when to laugh. We cringe because we’re holding in laughter, waiting for a cue that it’s okay to release. But there is always a breaking point, an explosion into an absurdity so deep — Larry rushing into the water to “save” a baptismal candidate from drowning, for example — that the tension is relieved, and the laughter is released.
Louie both reacts to the failure of Lucky Louie and advances on Curb’s cringe comedy by creating something tenser, more tonally ambiguous. Louie’s singularity lies in its ability to further confound viewers by setting up jokes, and then providing pathos instead of punch lines. Not only does Louie’s audience not know when to laugh, they don’t even know if what they’re watching is supposed to be funny. For the Laptop Loner, this ambiguity is made all the more palpable by the absence of viewing partners; we use other people’s reactions to gauge the correctness of our own. But it also makes the ambiguity less assaulting. Alone, we can be comfortable in our discomfort.
I’ve never had a million dollars all of a sudden. and since we’re all sharing this experience and since it’s really your money, I wanted to let you know what I’m doing with it. 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.
Who knows how long this is going to be up because it doesn’t appear to be from a legit source, but Talking Funny, a one-hour HBO special featuring Ricky Gervais, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld talking about comedy, is available on YouTube in four parts. Here’s part one to get you going: