* Generally an oxymoron, but apparently not this time.
I have not been a big follower of Louis C.K. I recall checking out his HBO series, Lucky Louis, and finding him seemingly naked under a sheet simulating (hopefully) intercourse atop his sitcom “wife”, in front of – as that was the show’s format – a live studio audience, and feeling seriously distracted by thoughts of what it was like to be sitting in the bleachers, watching that happen. It was creepy enough watching it at home.
Subsequently, when sent a package of DVD’s, I found the couple of episodes of his FX series Louie that I watched to be jarringly uneven, moments of comic inspiration mixed with generous hunks of “What was he thinking!”
Though impressed by the good parts, and admiring of C.K’s audacity, I was not encouraged to become a fan, which, along with indisputable gems, would require me to endure the stuff that made me go “Yikes!”
Then, recently, I ran into a half-hour Showtime offering called Inside Comedy, wherein comedian David Steinberg discusses comedy with a series of other comedians, intercutting two comedian interviews per episode.
(I am uncertain as to why this intercutting format was chosen. I guess it serves as “insurance”, in case one of the comedians is boring. This, however, creates the situation wherein, every time they cut away from the interesting comedian to the boring comedian, you want to shoot yourself in the head. My preference would have been to interview each comedian separately without interruption, jettisoning the less interesting interviews entirely, or employing them as an opening-act “warm-up” for the comedian who really scores. Unfortunately, this is merely one of a long list of things – “Available on request” – that nobody asked me about.
Anyway, the episode I watched involved Bob Newhart and Louie C.K.
I will not comment in length about Bob Newhart, other than to say that he’s an octogenarian “regular guy” charmer. I wrote two episodes for both his psychologist series and his Vermont innkeeper series. It was a pleasure – and an education to watch him make my efforts come alive. I have said “Nobody does me better than me”? Well, nobody does Newhart better than Newhart. He’s a hilarious “him.” And remains a comedic treasure to this very day.
There were no surprises in the Newhart interview. He was exactly “as advertised.” The revelation was Louis C.K.
(I’m so proud of myself. I wanted to re-watch the interview, maybe pick up some illuminating quotes, and I actually found it in my cable directory. It was the fifth try, but I found it.)
Louis C.K. is in his mid-forties, he’s been doing stand-up for a quarter of a century, and he’s won three Emmys. All of this shows in his insightful and grounded approach he now brings to his work.
What I discovered was a man who was comfortable in his own footwear. After expectations that certain late night talk-show appearances would “make him”, and they didn’t, and a movie he hoped would be a breakthrough bombed, C.K. realized that that’s just the way it is. The only thing you could count on was what you yourself could control.
(I know this is a “Mental Health 101” for normal, healthy people, but it’s astonishing hearing it coming from a comedian.)
His overall conclusion concerning navigating his rollercoastering career choice:
“If you want fun, do it your way. When you succeed and when you don’t.”
This philosophy goes beyond the content of his act or his TV series. He did it “his way” in marketing as well, selling his concert videos directly to the consumer over the internet, rather than packaging them through some established corporate entity. It was an innovative strategy, but C.K. was eager to experiment.
“I felt like a scientist. ‘What would happen if I did it like this’?”
C.K’s comments were infused with a sense of “What have I got to lose?” Though he wears many hats on Louie – and he claims to love the job, which would normally mean he would do anything to hold on to it – C.K. instead seems casually easygoing, his attitude towards his employers being,
“You guys can kick me out any time you want.”
What I saw in that interview was a comedian who was comfortable, self-aware and self-accepting, battle-hardened (“Failing isn’t that bad”), confident and wise.
I could not believe I was listening to a comedian. Most of them are not like that.
When Louie comes back, I’m gonna give it a try.
I think we’re ready for each other now.
Note: Last night, I had a dream, where a guy took me to meet Louis C.K., and it was a totally different person. I took this to mean, not that I had mistaken Louis C.K. for somebody else, but that, as a person, I had thought he was one thing, when he was, in reality, entirely different. I just thought you should know that, in case you think dreams mean anything.