The more television comedy I write about, the harder it is to make me laugh. I seem to have almost become desensitised to mirth – far more likely to quietly and coldly utter, “That’s funny,” under my breath, than to clutch my belly and guffaw. But I have recently discovered an American stand-up comedian who makes me laugh out loud, consistently and uncontrollably, every single time I watch his show.
It has taken a while for Emmy Award-winning Louie CK (Comedy Central) to establish himself on this side of the Atlantic, and I only wish it had happened sooner. Part stand-up show, part semi-improvised sitcom, this is a quite remarkable series, made even more remarkable when you learn that Louie not only writes, performs and produces this show himself, he also directs it and edits it as well.
Louie CK shouldn’t be anywhere near as funny as it is. It covers all the usual barn-door stand-up subjects that we’re painfully familar with: Sex, death, divorce. Jewish Manhattan angst. Seinfeld was churning this stuff out twenty five years ago, and by now it should feel stale and repetitious. But there’s something about the way Louie CK does it that makes you feel like you’re watching stand-up comedy for the first time in your life. Because Louie takes honesty to the next level.
It boils down to this: Here’s a 45-year-old, divorced white guy with two kids, who knows that pretty soon he is going to grow old and die. There’s no escaping it. You can wrap it up however you want but soon we’ll all be in a box. Which isn’t funny. That’s why it’s funny.
Louie knows that everything he holds dear is going to decay and fall apart – that the Universe, second by second, minute by minute, is returning to the dark, brutal, miserable, bleak chaos from which it evolved. Which is a truly terrible thought. But when Louis talks about it, it somehow it makes you feel glad to be alive.
Your darkest thoughts and worst fears seem less frightening when some middle-aged, ginger schmuck in a T-shirt pitches up in a basement in New York City, and shares them with a room full of fellow human beings. This is comedy that is worse than self-depreciating. It is self-annihilating. Humour that ploughs the very depths of the human condition. Everyman comedy that goes right ahead and lays it on the line for every man, woman and beast on this planet, with a clear, central core message that is quite simply this: “We are all fucked. Enjoy.”
I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but this guy is as good as Bill Hicks. For all the same reasons. And there’s a bonus: Louie is still alive. At least for a while.
This week’s episode featured a guest appearance from Ricky Gervais as our hero’s wise-cracking doctor – a man who’s idea of a joke is to tell you that you’ve got Aids, then say he’s only joking, you don’t really have Aids. You have cancer. Gervais has struggled to make me laugh since the heady days of The Office, but his performance in this episode was quite inspired – almost as if Louie has the magical ability to make the people around him as funny as he is.
Louie CK is not for the faint-hearted. If you’re easily shocked or you don’t get vicious, gut-wrenching post-modern comedy then give it a miss. But if you’re a living, breathing human being with a half-decent IQ, check out Louie CK. It’s almost worth staying alive for.