The Year of Louis CK
In a particularly enlightening anecdote during his July 2010 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Louis CK shares his experiences training in the Lowell, Massachusetts gym of Micky Ward – the world champion boxer made famous by Mark Wahlberg in the critically-acclaimed new film The Fighter:
Micky will tell you, it’s just training. You just got to train. You just got to be in shape. That’s all it is. It’s just getting in the gym and being dedicated enough to do the grunt work and the boring, constant training so that you’ll be fit enough to take the beating. He didn’t go to the North Pole and have an ice forest like Superman. He just worked out. So that’s why I asked him to train, and he travelled with me a little bit. He came on the road with me, and we trained together, and I tried to draw from him and learn how to do that.
It was, it would seem, a lesson well-learned. After all, Louis CK is among the most greatly-admired comics of his generation, in part, because of his tenacious determination. His material will drive home the point that he doesn’t focus that determination on his physical body. Rather he aims it at his body of work –- grabbing stage time at the Comedy Cellar like a pugilist putting in an extra 20-minutes on a speed bag.
From the way he describes it, you’d almost believe that any comic with the same focus could replicate his prolific output. The truth, however, is that there are few comics on the planet with the stomach to ever do what Louis CK has made into an annual habit. Jerry Seinfeld once famously made a show of retiring all of his material and starting fresh. Louis CK casually and quietly does it once a calendar year. After building and building an entirely new act –- comprised of deeply-personal material -– he churns out a brand new hour-long special and then bids those bits farewell forever. The result in 2010 was Hilarious -– a stand-up special which already ranks amongst the greatest of all time.
If that wasn’t enough, he also went ahead and produced the best comedy show to premiere in years. Louie is a scathing, soul-baring ode to his life as a comic and divorced father. Even if you haven’t seen a single episode of the show, you’re probably familiar with the now-famous poker scene from episode two -– a scene that carefully weaves well-earned laughs into a scene that beautifully encapsulates the show’s authentic look at humanity.
In addition to the poker scene, Louie’s 13 season-one episodes include a host of other memorable, sometimes-poignant, often-absurd moments: the date who escapes by helicopter, meeting his biggest fan in Birmingham, his mother’s new lifestyle reveal, his encounter with a high school bully. That the show has no true form –- one entire episode is spent on a flashback to a repressive Catholic school upbringing –- speaks volumes about the man himself and the freedom he feels to talk about what he has on his mind. And the fact that fear, sadness, prejudice, and insecurity play such a large role in the show is a testament to what an important comedian Louis CK has become.
His remarkable comedic achievements in 2010 mark it as the year that he has made the leap from brilliant standup to comic icon. Even as we speak, an entire generation of comedians are beginning to emulate his style. They’re writing their jokes about their wives, boyfriends, children and desperately trying to find careful balance between shocking frankness and universal appeal –- just as a generation of Richard Pryor clones once did.
For his part, Louis CK isn’t resting on his comedic laurels. Season two of Louie is set for 2011, and a recent appearance on The Tonight Show was absolutely staggering –- both for its ability to make a Jay Leno interview palatable and for the instantly obvious fact that his next crop of jokes may well be his best yet.
Colin Perkins is an author and comedian who has written for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, CollegeHumor, Cracked and mental_floss.