My favorite comedian of late has been Louis C.K. There is nothing obviously political or progressive about his comedy, but that’s okay. We do not always need to consume entertainment that has a relationship to our politics, though there is the old saw about how everything is political. With brilliant humorists like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart at work today, that realm is fairly well covered. And sometimes we just need some good laughs.
C.K. has been described as an “observational comedian,” which fits even if there is more at work with him. In his comedy specials and TV series like Lucky Louie and Louie, he portrays himself as a “regular guy,” rather proletarian. And his humor can often reflect the observations and situations that regular guys come across.
Lucky Louie, his 2006 HBO series, was especially indicative of that. Filmed in front of a live audience on simple sets, it was in many ways an update of “The Honeymooners,” though his character Louie had both some Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton within him as well as C.K.’s own characteristics. Louie is a mechanic just as Louis C.K. once was, and, again, a regular guy with a wife and young daughter trying to get by. The series only yielded 13 episodes, yet I found them compelling in a notable way for their effort to get back towards portraying the basics of American life within a more modern milieu.
His second series, Louie, is by now into four seasons on the FX channel. It portrays a main character much more like CK: a New York City standup comedian who is divorced with two daughters. In it, Louie is very much the tent pole around which absurd and sometimes highly surreal events swirl.
In both series as well as his comedy specials, Louis C.K. isn’t a comedian who goes for the jugular and creates grand jokes to evoke the huge belly laughs (unlike, say, Chris Rock, who happens to be one of his close friends that he has written for). Rather he cajoles and hits the knowing moments we can all nod at, but does it in a way that consistently evokes chuckles and laughs that are laced with a certain familiarity.
Yet in a subtle way, he’s groundbreaking. In his 2011 special Live at the Beacon Theater, he observes how he made it well into his adulthood without ever performing an oral sexual act with another man, and how odd that is – hardly the usual sort of admission that most heterosexual men would make. And then he ups the ante and confesses that there is one man who he would do it with: actor Ewan McGregor. As attitudes about homosexuality are rapidly changing in America, C.K. is the seemingly regular guy who is also helping to push the cultural envelope.
As well, he has produced his own specials and series and owns them. On “Louie,” he stars, writes, directs and even edits some of the shows. He’s been bypassing the big media companies in the production phase yet gets them to air his shows. And he sells his specials on his website for only $5 and has racked up millions in sales. Hence C.K. is also something of an innovator.
He has yet to find his sweet spot in the movie world. But no matter. What we get from him already in other mediums is more than satisfying. I imagine one day he will finally develop his place in films.
And he does it all quietly and without fanfare or blowing his own horn. Much like how his comic persona is an unpretentious, warm and modest guy, almost like someone we’d know and be friends with. Yet at the same time he is consistently funny and the jokes he makes often apply a ring of truth to everyday life.
Unlike so many in entertainment these days, Louis C.K. resolutely portrays himself as one of us while at the same time being an exceptionally gifted comic. It’s nice to see in this all too gilded and glittering age, and one big reason why I’ve come to admire and value his humor.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2014
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