I’ve been pissing people off all week, repeatedly asking them if they’ve seen C.K.’s performances, specifically the latest “Live from the Beacon” special he released for $5 and (as rumor has it) made a total of $1,000,000. Then I found myself wondering, “Who is this guy?”
If you don’t know Louis from his stand-up comedy you may know him from either The Chris Rock Show (Louis and Chris are very good friends), the movie Role Models, the hit series Parks and Recreation, or finally his own series fittingly titled Louie. He also wrote and directed Pootie Tang, a film released in 2001 that got really mixed reviews but continues to be a cultural reference in other films like Scary Movie 3 and song lyrics by Big Sean and Fat Tony. Homeboy gets around.
To start, the story behind ‘C.K.’ is really interesting, and one that (for those of you who do know my last name) I can relate to. His last name is Hungarian, ‘Szekely’, but he was so tired of people butchering it that he switched to “C.K.” to make it as phonetically easy as possible. ‘C.K.’ is close to its authentic Hungarian pronunciation, ‘seːkɛj.’
Louis is only 44 years old, born on September 12 1967 in Washington, DC. He grew up in Mexico City then moved with his family to Boston, MA when he was seven. His first language, by the way, is Spanish and he continues to have dual citizenship in Mexico. C.K. never attended college, instead diving right into the comedy scene with side jobs as a mechanic, performing in small increments until he found himself opening for Jerry Seinfeld and other notable comedians. He now lives in Manhattan, the setting of his hit TV show Louie.
Louis cites Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor as his main influences. Probably as a result of putting records of these guys on loop for the entirety of his childhood, thinking up comedy material comes naturally to him. “Generally what happens is, I’ll be talking to someone and something will strike me, and I will put it in the back of my mind to pull it out next time I’m on stage. Sometimes it comes out perfectly formed, and the audience loves it; other times it needs a lot of work and may end up being folded into another joke at a later date – but I generally recognize the hint of a good routine when I hear it.”
C.K.’s humor has been called “observational comedy” but I would personally go further than that and call it, “observational comedy about things people generally don’t like hearing.” C.K. is now known for his ‘no bullshit’ attitude when he takes the stage, and the range of topics he covers include sex, drugs, sexism, racism, classism, religion, fatherhood, prejudice, etc. Now, I’ve seen enough comedy to know that these are pervasive themes in the business, but Louis C.K. does it differently, a trait he seems to be completely aware of. “You refine language. You’ve got to put things in a perfect way. You have to be economical, and yet you have to let shit string out. You have to know how to load a spring of tension and release it.”
His rhetoric is, it seems to me, imbued with the desire to recognize the aforementioned components of American life as worthy of critical discourse. Making these issues into comedic routines gives his audience a sense of how ridiculous life can get while coming to an acute consciousness of the problems that do in fact plague an inherently imperfect (American) society. His jocular approach to the vulgarity, hypocrisy, and stupidity of life translates into a progressively more honest portrait of reality.
Louis C.K. isn’t just a comedian. Or in his own words, “a comedian, a person, and a guy who is sitting here”- he’s a proprietor of social awareness and ultimately (I’m being optimistic here), of collective growth and change. His work is notable not just because it’s funny as hell but also because it is uniquely invested with a particularly powerful narrative on life that most human beings tend to overlook or at the very least, minimize.
So here’s to Louis C.K. – comedian, mechanic, father, writer, director, and friend- a veritable grab bag full of astounding life positions. A whole bag of ’em.
**Visit his website at www.louisck.net or his twitter page at http://www.twitter.com/louisck