The Raw Honesty of Louis C.K.

Essays — By on May 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

When I was growing up, I once heard my pastor say that God didn’t have a sense of humor. Humor, he said, was based on imperfections, and therefore nothing of God could coincide with anything less than perfection. Whatever the theological reality of this statement may be, humor is indeed based on the imperfection of life.

And there is no man who knows imperfection better than Louis C.K. The Boston born actor, director, and writer, has been hailed as the best stand-up comedian of today. He gets his title not from magazines or media outlets, but from fellow stand-up comics. His show Louie on FX has been critically praised and he’s written and acted in movies with the likes of Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock.

What Louis C.K. does best is unearth the façade of decency we live under and delve into the darkest workings of the soul. His act is crude, depressing, and self-deprecating, but it is also touching, raw, and incredibly honest. C.K. will get on stage and talk about anything from masturbation, to his recent divorce, from his own self worth, to raising his two daughters.

The common claim about C.K. is that he says what we’re all thinking, but are too afraid to say. The reason I can’t but help love Louis C.K., even though it may not be the “cleanest” act in the bunch, is that on the one hand, C.K. can get up and do a show about how incredibly depraved he is, and in the next breath enable you to laugh at the jacked up world in which we live. In many ways he is merely a mid-forties struggling parent who loves their kids very much.

There is a contrast however, between the rude and crude Louie and the real life incredibly thoughtful soul. If you merely watched his act, you might think the guy was utterly depraved, as I guess we all are. However C.K. recently gave away three fourths of the million dollars he made on his latest stand up act. He released the show on his website (it’s still there) for five bucks and after it did really well, he decided to give a fourth to charity, a fourth as bonuses to the people who made him make the video, a fourth to cover expenses for the video and the website, and a fourth for him and his girls, which he claims he will do “terrible things with but none of that is any of your business.” On his website he makes an almost prophetic statement about money, saying, “I never viewed my money as being ‘my money’ I always saw it as ‘The money.’ It’s a resource. If it pools up around me than it needs to be flushed back out into the system.”

This contrast, between crude comedian and a generous, aware soul, gives Louie’s comedy something other comedians don’t have, personal exploration. It’s easy to take pot shots at religion or politics as many comedians do, but it’s much harder to be almost unbearably honest with yourself. Yet, Louie never strays too far into the cruel. Most comedians would rail against their ex-wife, but he has yet to do so, claiming in one interview that it’s her privacy and he doesn’t feel right exploiting that.

In a world of bi-partisan divides and moral failings of pastors caused by a lack of honesty and confession, it’s refreshing to hear something as confessional and raw as Louie’s comedy. Writer Joel Lovell said it best in an interview with Louis C.K. in GQ, “There’s a deep anti–moral-hypocrisy vein running through C.K.’s work, which is organized as much as anything around the idea that to not speak openly about our capacity for ugliness is to further enable it.”

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