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Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy

By Dan Saipher | TV | January 28, 2011 |

By Dan Saipher | TV | January 28, 2011 |

It’s both a blessing and a curse that we don’t have a prim and proper gala event to award those who brave the unforgiving stand-up comedian circuit. For every annual night that could have been spent on choreographed interpretations of Steve Martin stylings, or the inebriated debauchery of a celebrity roast panel hurling insults at Sam Kinnison, we’re saved from having to writhe in agony whilst contemporary personages admonish the Dane Cooks, Larry the Cable Guys, and Jeff Dunhams. As much as it is an art to take something as rote as a rehearsed symposium of jokes and create a counter-culture or lasting social impact, it’s just as important to commend the bravery and balls of a stand-up. Feedback is instant; no poor review in the San Francisco Guardian can ever have the same effect as a silent, unmoved crowd. There’s no well-invested division of Disney doling out dollars for song-and-dance lessons; just a cheap club manager with a short leash and a room full of strangers ready to burn you down. Our investment as an audience, however, is much deeper and still full of risk/reward. Bad stand-up can be just as uncomfortable on the audience, as we give our full attention to a performance based on the craftsmanship of word that extends beyond definitions and into emphasis and pacing. Void of over-stimulating images and cheap vaudevillian sight-gags, we’re giving ourselves to a piece of performance art that hasn’t changed much from the court jester role. Some comics find a niche or a specific age of audience, but very few can master broad appeal while still making you giddily afraid of the next squeamish and uncomfortably funny diatribe.

For my money, which I have spent multiple times with utter disregard for overdraft fees, there isn’t a better stand-up comic than Louis C.K. Free of the gloss of well-tailored suits or image-conscious over-hyping, Louis C.K. is a balding, middle-aged ginger everyman who might be sitting at the end of your local dive bar or drifting asleep in the corner of an empty Laundromat with his arms crossed. With many comics, the personality walks through the door before the substance, like a restaurant covering up mediocre entrees with a stimulating, sugary concoction. Try this, friend! Raise those insulin levels and boost the heart rate; let it swirl in your belly with a glass of wine. We promise it will improve your opinion of today’s specials, made with yesterday’s ideas *wink wink*.

Louie on the dead: “It’s true, both Ray Charles and Hitler are dead. Really, it’s the only thing they have in common, because otherwise, they’re very different dudes. Many contrasts between Ray Charles and Hitler, I’m gonna tell ya a few of em.”

Maybe there is a greater minimalist motif employed by Louis, or maybe he’s just too fat and ashamed to squeeze into a monkey suit. His flat black t-shirt and jeans frame a rather sizeable and elongated head, frayed and frizzing red hair in an unforgiving horseshoe pattern of baldness. Hell, even the background is a dimly lit set of crimson drapes. You’re forced to look him in the face and share the pain of an everyday life. It’s evocative empathy.

“Hilarious” is his third special since 2007, following up “Shameless” and “Chewed Up.” The show also comes off the heels of the premier season of his most recent show on F/X, “Louie.” Where previous specials highlighted an introspective battle with a stagnating marriage and the troubles of rearing two young girls, the honest and real-life character that stands on stage has grown. Louis is now divorced (which raises the question of how much his excoriating routines played a part in it), with joint custody of his girls and the disappointments of being newly single at 40. In “Hilarious,” he’s pointing the barbs of his commentary outward towards all of us, and our disregard for the amazing nuances in our modern lives. Cell phones, banks, airlines, all of them ciphers to uncover the ridiculous everyday complaints of the most spoiled people in the history of the planet.

Louie on cell phones: “We’re all just so mad … people say the craziest shit. ‘I HATE Verizon!’ Well make your own then. You go make one. Make your own network. Get some hubcaps and climb some trees, see how close yours is to perfect.”

Sadly, not much has positively changed for our hero under the bright lights. He still can’t get laid, he struggles to mix in with the younger bar crowd, but those complaints are starting to fade. As the stresses of marriage and the insanity of nurturing two completely helpless beings he created are alleviated, he’s more jovial and apt to share laughs with the audience. The divorce has almost reenergized him, a lifted weight. While the style is still blunt with boisterous outbursts and quiet sighs, we’re now laughing with him instead of at him. But don’t think our boy has gone soft on us. He’s still a capable wordsmith, with a touch of Carlin in him, confronting the way we intonate and veer towards the hyperbolic. And it’s not another indictment of political overtones; he’s an astute observer of casual conversations in commonplace locales like a coffee shop or fast-food restaurant.

Louie on words: “You used ‘amazing’ on a basket of chicken wings. You’ve limited yourself verbally to a shit life.”

“Hilarious” is a very stripped down and simple hour-and-a-half, without any of the standards breaks that many specials distract you with. There are no audience shots, or segues to tell a parallel, but divergent, personal documentary. No cast of characters, but lots of over-exaggerations of the mundane way we communicate, a suburban mime who refuses to shut up. But don’t take it as shallow ramblings from an angry, lonely man. The deeper meanings are there, and it’s refreshing not to have your face rubbed into those conclusions like the end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks. You’ll crack up, but you’ll understand that there’s a man trying to be a good parent and pleading with people to be better parents themselves. He’ll jump to the fastest possible conclusion, riff on a tangent filled with bilious slurs and violent urges, but it always comes back to a point of thought we’ve all caught ourselves contemplating, be it times of anger or boredom. That weary, worn look on Louis’ face bounces around the stage, a pinball resetting, colliding, and careening off kickers, spinners, and saucers. He’ll pause to let you catch your breath, rebound off a big multiplier and leave you wide-eyed and disheveled. And just when you think you can take a minute to catch your breath, well my friend, the plunger springs again to make its play.

Louie bringing us home: “Hey look, I’ve been jerking off in the guest room for 15 years. I’m like the Man in the Iron Mask, I’m just happy to be out.”

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.