I did a horrible, awkward podcast with Jeff Garlin a while back, and he complained that standup comedy is never discussed as an art form. Okay Jeff, well let's do that.
In general, the reason no one talks about standup as an art form is because it's fucking boring. There's nothing worse than Jerry Seinfeld getting on some fucking barstool and yammering on and on about the craft. You get the feeling the guy likes talking ABOUT standup more than he likes actually performing it. And that's fucking weak. But sometimes, there is the occasional serious thing that needs to be said about stand-up comedy, and here is one of them:
Louis CK is the flat-out best comedian alive on Earth right now.
He's better than Chris Rock. He's better than Dave Attell. He's better than Dave Chappelle, and Dave Chappelle can you make you laugh simply by standing still. He's better than a lot of very talented, very funny people, and it's time we all sat down and rightly acknowledged this man's greatness. Because not only is Louis CK the funniest man alive, he may very well also be the ballsiest.
Buy the Chewed Up DVD sometime if you don't believe me. This is a man who is afraid of nothing when he gets on stage. It's comedy in its purest, most cathartic form. Just one guy, working with a straight black background, laying his fucking guts out in order to get you to laugh. It's a cliché to say of certain comedians that they say the things you wish you could but can't. Louis CK goes one step beyond that. He says the shit your mind won't even acknowledge it thinks about. He does this at the expense of embarrassing and/or horrifying those closest to him. He refers to his daughter's "twat" and doesn't even bat an eyelash. You spend an hour with Louis CK both laughing your ass off, and sitting in slack-jawed awe at just how much of his own psyche he's willing to expose.
Jeff Garlin argued that Brian Regan is the funniest comedian in America right now, because he gets big laughs while managing to work clean, which isn't easy. I'll happily grant him that. Brian Regan is a brilliant comic, and the word FUCK is highly useful. Lord knows I know that.
But what Louis CK does is twice as difficult. It may be hard to make a clean joke about Pop Tarts funny. But in the end, it's still a joke about Pop Tarts. You haven't risked anything by telling that joke. What Louis CK is doing right now is similar to what made Richard Pryor so special back in the 1970's, or what Howard Stern did when he began on the radio. Pryor was upfront about all of his personal shortcomings: his drug use, his troubles with women, his suicide attempt. He hid nothing. He kept nothing for himself. When you watched him, there was both humor and a constant sense of unease as to his mental well-being.
Something like that goes beyond mere comedy. That sort of emotional nakedness elevates the performance into something else entirely. It's performance art. Louis CK will tell you that's a faggot term, but it's true. At its very best, art is someone giving you a piece of their soul. And that's what Louis CK does when he performs. There's no fear. And I'm not talking about being willing to take your shirt off in front the audience or something. I mean that he has no fear of ripping his five-year-old a new one, knowing she'll hearing those jokes for herself one day. He has no fear of his wife learning that he jacks off exclusively to other women. He's willing to ignore all the potential emotional consequences of what he says just for the sake of laughter. It's an intensely personal, intimate form of comedy. You feel like you're sitting in on a therapy session. And that, of course is exactly what great comedy is: a form of therapy. That's why Louis CK is the best around.
Oh, and deer are assholes. It's so very true. Sa da tay.