I’ve recently decided that Louis C.K. is my new favorite comedian. His stand-ups excel beyond those of his peers and every time I see him, even in a 5-minute interview on a TV talk show, he makes me laugh my ass off. Please, those of you who haven’t seen much of his work, watch Chewed Up and Shameless and, if you like what you see, check out his show, Louie, on F/X. The man is obscenely funny.
The thing about Louis C.K. is that he doesn’t tell jokes. He tells stories. And his stories aren’t cute. They aren’t full of silly hi-jinks or wild predicaments. In fact, if told by anyone other than Louie, they probably wouldn’t make one person laugh. What he describes are sad, dismal stories about a depressingly ordinary guy living out his cheerless little life. But the way he tells those stories is fucking HILARIOUS. For him, it’s all about delivery.
During the HBO special “Talking Funny,” in which he, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais all sat around chatting about comedy, Seinfeld told one of Louie’s jokes, a skit about a man who’s going on vacation with his wife and children and after he stuffs all their crap in the trunk and straps his kids into their car seats and gets his wife to stop talking long enough to put on her seatbelt, he closes her passenger door, walks around to the driver’s side and thinks: “That was my vacation.” I had heard this joke told by Louie during one of his stand ups and I’d laughed at it then. I laughed at the misery in it – this poor guy who feels like he can’t get a break from the demands of his family and day-to-day life even on his vacation. But when Seinfeld told it, it just sounded stupid. Even the other comedians commented on how different it sounded from him, joking that he had “Seinfelded” it. Because Jerry Seinfeld cannot sell the kind of sad, lonely matter-of-fact misery required to pull off a Louis C.K. joke.
His jokes are bleak, crude and grim to the point that you cringe as you laugh, and he can get away with things other comedians absolutely cannot. And the reason, I think, is because he’s never trying to gain the audience’s sympathy. There isn’t one shred of self-pity in his delivery. He’s just describing his life, as brutally honestly as he can. He finds humor in his darkest moments and he’s simply sharing that with you. There’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-pity but C.K. never crosses it, so his audience doesn’t feel bad about laughing. We don’t want to cry with him or hug him or comfort him, we just want to laugh.