I’ve always had good taste

When my brother and I were crappy adolescents, we had very similar tastes in everything, mostly because I idolized him at the time. He loved Jimi Hendrix and German techno, so those were things that I liked. Our favorite movie was Koyaanisqatsi. We were into South American languages and medieval icons, and we both loved the comic Louis CK.

This all makes us sound far more refined and bourgeois than we ever were. We grew up poor in a nice house, the effect of having a father who got an amazing job right before a recession, during which he got fired and we lived on our savings for several years. Mom had two years of an art degree before she dropped out of college to get married. Dad was in charge of audits, so he was always the lamp no one wants in the room they buy it for. They were each so far out of their natural element–the coastal South, the Cherokee or Osage (it’s debated) tiny Plains town. They thought whatever happened to us kids, we’d need a computer, cable TV, a record player, and a piano.

It was while we were bored and looking for something to love that my brother and I, at 10 and 12, came across a clip of Louis CK doing standup comedy. I had never seen anything that experimental and surreal in that venue. A Hungarian-via-Mexican comic from the Northeast, Louis was totally outside of what I was used to. He was self-excoriating, but not in the stereotypical ways. He had some new depressive anxiety on him, and he wasn’t mean.

Louis CK’s ability not to be mean kept me following him. Even during the hardest years of his life, when he was doing shit onstage that was almost at the point of cruelty about his wife and kids, he was always funny and insightful way before he was mean. About race, he nailed what it is about white people and white experience that no one wants to talk about. (This bit on single people is amazing. “I need a fucking gun and a plane ticket and bleach and shit.”)

For the past two years, Louis CK has had a sitcom on FX that breaks all the rules about what a television program is and does. Characters are recast without announcement. There’s no plot that lasts more than an episode. Even individual episodes are split up into stand-up bits that have little to do with the representative scenes. CK apparently wouldn’t take a deal on a TV show without complete control over direction, writing, filming, casting, and everything, receiving a tiny stipend instead of a budget, rather like a grad student. It is, of course, my very favorite program on television, by far. It’s artistically important without being academic in any sense. It’s just a continuous argument for recognizing who you are and what the limitations of that are, while also seeing the fact that you are kind of shitty. It’s a nasty, funny, ethical television program, and I can’t think of another like it.

This past week, the show “Louie” did an episode about his confrontation with superannuated frat-boy Dane Cook that I found fascinating. This second season has been a lot about Louie’s interactions with other comic talents (the episode in which he fucks Joan Rivers is excellent), but this one is really hard to watch. Anyone who likes CK knows that the Youtube community has been accusing Cook of stealing some of CK’s jokes for his stadium-sellout shows.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been aware of Dane Cook since he was a larva, angling for college stages. He always had ability and creativity and talent. But offered the opportunity to go more mainstream and less offensive to people in power (white misogynists), he took it. I wanted to believe the plagiarism rumors, because I didn’t like his choice never to challenge his audiences. CK never denied these rumors publicly.

In episode 2, season 7, in a deeply emotionally charged scene, with the older comic being escorted past fantastical security boundaries to meet the younger, wealthier comic, Louis CK asks Dane Cook for a favor, and Cook responds by telling him he just wants to be taken seriously, and that he wants CK to say he didn’t steal the jokes; he wrote the itchy asshole joke because he himself has an itchy asshole. The scene is charged because it’s real. There’s nothing here about sexual jealousy or financial gain; it’s an honest-to-God scene in a television program about intellectual integrity. It’s beautiful and funny and sad.

When I was 10, it turns out, I was absolutely right about Louis CK. He’s a brave, interesting comic who has important things to say about the world we’re in. I’m gratified to see him do well. I don’t know why, but he feels like family.

UPDATE: Gabe Delahaye’s take on this, from the perspective of someone who writes comedy for a living, is really good.

5 responses to “I’ve always had good taste”

  1. jeremy says:

    I share your enthusiasm for Louis CK, though I came to him a bit later. I can watch (or, more often, listen) to his standup over and over and over. He constantly says things that I think I might say if I were more daring or smarter or actually just noticed the fucked-up shit going around us that most of us don’t notice anymore.

    Have you listened to his interview with the podcaster, Marc Maron? It’s a two-parter, 2+-hours long, and really really interesting. Scotty G turned me onto it…

  2. F. P. Smearcase says:

    I have to admit I wasn’t aware of the existence of Louis C.K. until that one thing went around six months or a year ago, and that’s still all I’ve ever seen. The show doesn’t appear to be on Netflix, though there’s what looks like a film of a standup show?

  3. AWB says:

    I haven’t listened to that yet, Jeremy! I will. Have you listened to him asking Donald Rumsfeld if he’s a lizard person? That’s a good one.

    FPS: You can watch “Chewed Up” on instant, I think, but it’s not his best stuff, I think. The new TV show is fantastic. I tend to watch it on illegal free TV sites. A few episodes, I think from last season, are available on the FX website.

  4. AWB says:

    I think. (ugh.)

  5. Andrew says:

    I actually just watched tonight’s Louie, another one that deals with his relationship with other comedians. It is an interesting theme of the season. Tonight’s dealt with a former friend of his who thought that he had sold out when he did Letterman for the first time and started playing clubs in Manhattan. I thought it was interesting after watching the Dane Cook episode, who one could argue sold out even more by playing gigantic arenas and making incredibly stupid movies. Watching the scene with Dane Cook actually did make me like Dane Cook a little more. I’ve never found him to be particularly funny, but I can see how his delivery and mannerisms would make him stand out over other college-y comedians if that’s your sense of humor.

    The Dane Cook interview on Marc Maron is also pretty interesting…