Monday, 20 August 2012

The Cult of C.K

On occasion a celebrity will comment on Louis C.K via social networks, further educating the web on the American stand-up. Ewan McGregor recently tweeted to him directly, stating, ‘I drove 400 miles yesterday listened to your stand up about parenting and tried not to drive off the road from laughing and crying’. For those that know of Louis’ comedy, McGregor experienced the same bodily reaction that all have when watching and listening to the 44 year-old comic. C.K. has an ability to have you in hysterics, nearly paralysed with laughter, and almost unable to do much else. Hopefully McGregor’s tweet will inform his 100,000+ followers of this wonderful talent who remains relatively unknown outside the US. 

Airing currently in the States is Louis’ own sitcom, Louie, which has collected a great deal of critical acclaim. The programme revolves around the exploits of the eponymous individual who struggles with the balance of normality and fame, along with issues of family, love and identity. It shares a lot of similarities with Curb Your Enthusiasm and, like its HBO counterpart, it sharply depicts the situational comedy that forms the basis of its genre. Soon Louis’ show will go head to head with a handful of other comedies (including Curb) to see who will pick up the Emmy for Acting, Writing and Directing. If the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences favours Louis’ brilliant show, there is no telling what Louis will do afterward, and how far his material will go.  

The first two seasons of Louie have not become available to Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray as yet and so it remains difficult to familiarise yourself completely with the show and the writer/director behind it. There is however a substantial collection of his stand-up DVDs on most retail sites and in stores; these are essential viewing for those interested in becoming a C.K fan. To become an admirer is easy, and within minutes of listening to him you are in awe. Unlike some comedians there is a never a joke rehashed or reused in Louis’ routines (driving you to find as much of his material as possible). Even in Louie, which includes a Seinfeldian mixture of stand-up and situation, none of the writing seems tired and typical. There lies the genius of the New Yorker who is full of fresh, funny and frivolous material. Most of that material concerns America and all its eccentricities, delving deep into the odd and extreme features of the Land of Liberty. This is by no means a negative or an alienating aspect to his stand-up but it just makes you wonder: what would he have to say about the rest of the world if he were given the opportunity to tread different waters?

In a similar vein to Bill Hicks and George Carlin (who was one of Louis’ greatest inspirations for becoming a comic) C.K would be welcomed wholeheartedly in the UK thanks to his occasional introspection into the backward nature of American culture that Brits just love to hear. There is a sardonic and sarcastic nature to Hicks, Carlin and C.K that is perhaps more appreciated in England where that type of humour and honesty is more common in our comedy and television. Once more comparing Louie to Curb, there is a lot of material that Americans only allow through subscription-based networks not safe or politically correct enough for prime time US TV. That is one reason why Louis would prosper here – he would be unrestricted and a sitcom like Louie would fit right at home on the BBC. 

While this article is not acting as a petition to get Louie’s rights bought for UK broadcast, it is looking to prove its worth. Apart from the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant-scripted Life’sToo Short, there is hardly anything on air like Louie (Gervais and C.K being close friends, each providing cameos in one another’s work - including Gervais in Louie) and the former totally failed at trying to better its brothering hits such as The Office and Extras and from trying too hard to be up to par with Curb and Louie. An extremely stark frankness seen in the scripts from Gervais and Merchant only works with a level of humanity - which was missing with Warwick Davis’ skewed self-portrait in Life’s Too Short – and to which Louis writes and acts perfectly.

C.K never shies away from preaching the truth and boldly saying whatever he feels (going so far as to occasionally using the word ‘nigger’ in order to comically devalue its hurtful connotations). Yet, as a philosopher and proactive pontificator, hearing and seeing Louis’ deepest thoughts surface is forever interesting. He never attacks, but instead, parodies. At his best some may see Louis C.K as immature - childishly mimicking the youth of today and their Valley-girl/boy vernacular. Nevertheless, you can’t question his judgement which for the most part is spot-on. 

His stand up is full of anecdotes and ideas that are articulated with a witty and razor-sharp voice yet his sitcom can explore those thoughts to a far greater (and far more surreal) degree. All seasons have moments of Lynchian fantasy that confuse at first but draw a smile or a hearty chuckle as it continues. Two examples spring to mind immediately: Season 1 has a scene showing Louie high on sugar from an ice-cream binge imagining the news woman on TV talking dirty to him; in Season 2 we are party to one of Louis’ sexual imaginings during masturbation - whilst this sounds completely explicit and distasteful, there has never been a funnier scene filmed for television.  

Any great comedy can have you howling with laughter whilst also making you question your morals. The experience of watching Louie has you in stitches complete with, “is it okay to find this funny?”, as well as asking the same question of the actor/writer/director. The beauty of Louie is that is you can never doubt the moral integrity; it’s one of the most genuine comedies around.

By Piers McCarthy

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