Review: Louis C.K. at The Comedy Store

I’m a fan of the comedian Louis C.K. and I also really admire the way he markets his performances. When he does a special, he frequently offers it on his website for $5. With no DRM and high definition formats available, it is a great way to see and own his work.

His latest special is called “Louis C.K. at The Comedy Store” and I watched it last night. It was solid, like most of his work, but not quite my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I think I got more than $5 worth of laughs out of it, but one of the issues I have is that the first thing I saw him in was also one of the best things he’s done, and one of the best bits of comedy ever made.

Note: for purists there may be spoilers below, so stop reading if your that type. Yes, you know who you are.

It was with Conan O’Brien, and while I remember seeing better versions, this is the one I found on the YooToobz and the quality isn’t great:

I’m a year older than Louis and I identify with a lot of what he talks about as we’re from the same generation. However, he is also a parent and I’m child-free, and I have a hard time relating to his parenting-based humor.

There were a couple of bits that stood out in this show. I like it when he talks about flying, as I am a frequent flyer, and he did a bit about traveling with crying children. Again, since I’m child-free, I don’t do crying children well (or deal well with those packs of pre-teen girls whose voices can hit vocal ranges so high it upsets the dog but that’s another issue) but I did find a great way to deal with them on planes. At the recommendation of my friend Ben I bought a pair of Etymotic 4P earbuds, and now that I can use my phone pretty much the whole flight, with just a little bit of music I can drown out almost anything.

In the show he tells a story about getting the “stink eye” from another passenger when his daughter was crying on a plane, and he talked about his limited options. He then pantomimed strangling the child and handing her limp body back to the guy. Okay, not everyone’s idea of humor, but short of that there isn’t much he could do about it, and that situational comedy appeals to me. I was watching this with my friend David and we both thought of the final episode of the show M*A*S*H during this bit.

Where he really shines is when he points out how lucky we have it and how spoiled we are as a society not to realize it. He riffed on people who are trying to “find themselves” and determine what to do with their lives by saying “Eat food”. Basically, wander around looking for food, and when you find it, eat it. While that is a vast oversimplification, if one were to deconstruct existence to its bare minimum, that would be it. So as long as you have enough to eat, consider yourself lucky.

My favorite bit was when he compared America to the world’s worst girlfriend; someone who does horrible things but justifies it every time by bringing up a past event when they were wronged. Of course he is talking about the events of 9/11, and I think we need more people talking about our reaction to that event. A lot of people died and a lot of money was lost on that day, but our actions after the fact caused considerably more death and destruction than 9/11 itself. To question it is often portrayed as being unpatriotic, but nothing is more patriotic than to question authority in a democracy.

I wanted more of that, and for me I found his Beacon Theater show more to my liking. In this one he does put a few images into your brain that you might wish to remove (I’ll never be able to watch “The Wizard of Oz” in the same way again) but there are a number of “gut laughs” as well.

Still a bargain at $5, and I eagerly await more from him.

Louis CK’s Long E-mail

I am a fan of Louis CK. He’s brilliant but still seems down to earth, and quite frequently he makes me laugh but more often he makes me think.

Today he released a new show and once again he’s made it available for $5 – no DRM and in a number of formats. I love that he’s confident enough in his fan base that he doesn’t encumber his work with DRM, and I pretty much buy everything he tells me to buy. I plan to watch it tonight.

He also sent out a rather long e-mail on why he did this show in a comedy club and not a theatre. Let’s get serious – Louis CK at the moment can sell out Madison Square Garden, so working in the much smaller space of a club must have been a change.

In the e-mail he talks about some of the clubs he played, and he even mentioned Charlie Goodnights in Raleigh. I used to spend a lot of time there, and I got to know the staff well enough that I could almost always reserve a table right next to the stage. I would ask for the one off to the left (as you are facing it) as most people are right handed and thus tend to focus a little more to their right, and there was a good chance that I would get to interact with the comedian.

I got to chat with Bobby Collins and Elayne Boozler (among others), and had a very memorable exchange with the late, great Rich Jeni. Note that I didn’t heckle or try to be a douche but with my voice and introverted nature, plus my prime location, I almost always managed to come to the attention of the person performing.

Good times.

Louis CK did this show at The Comedy Store in LA. When I lived there we used to hit the Improv a lot, but one time we decided to spring for The Comedy Store. The tickets were spendy for college students so we had to make it a special occasion. The headliner was Andrew Dice Clay.

Note that this was when Clay was thin and had hair and not too many people had heard of him. I think it was 1986 or so, might have been 1985. Anyway, we had no idea what we were getting into. Clay’s humour is rather singular, and being in a group of easily offended liberals, we didn’t know what to think.

I laughed my ass off.

There is just something about seeing comedy in a club. One Sunday night my friend Howard and I hit the Improv and for a two drink minimum we got to see a number of acts, including Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld just walked in, did about ten minutes, and left (this was before he was super famous). I’ll still remember the guy after him: Rick Ducommun. He killed. He started off complaining about having to follow Seinfeld and then just had us in stitches.

On nights like this each comedian gets a set amount of time, and when their time is up a little red light flashes in the back of the club that can be seen from the stage. When Ducommun stopped his act and told us he had to go, there was almost a revolt. He was that “on” that night.

After the noise died down, he laughed and said “hey, so I got the light, what can they do?” at which time the entire stage went dark. After we laughed even more, they gave him another five minutes or so.

It was pure magic.

Ducommun had his fifteen minutes, as fame can be fleeting. In the year after that show he had an HBO special (at one time the pinnacle of the comedy mountain) but then disappeared. Louis CK seems to realize that it could, and probably will, happen to him, but he continues to keep coming up with new ways to keep us engaged.

This makes me real eager to see his show, and looky, it’s done downloading.

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I’m not sure where the recommendation for Station Eleven originated, but it did cause me to add it to my wishlist and I got it as a gift. I’m glad I did.

This novel is a National Book Award finalist set in a post-apocalyptic North America. I’m a fan of “what if” stories about what happens when our technology fails us, because I think we are totally unprepared.

For example, I moved out to the farm in the fall of 1999. Due to infrequent but often lengthy power outages, I needed to invest in a generator. Unlike city-folk, our water comes out of the ground and without electricity that doesn’t happen. Hard to live without water.

Unfortunately, with the Year 2000 on the horizon people were buying generators like crazy and driving the prices up. Seriously? Even with a decent store of gasoline you’ll get, what, a month, tops, out of a generator when everything else fails.

I like to think about either what I would want to have with me in a post-apocalyptic world or what I would take if I could go back into the past. Antibiotics for sure, but how does one make penicillin? If you took a weapon, what is the most powerful tech you could use that you could find a way to reload? Heck, I even had to look up how to make bread. Sure, I’ve made bread from scratch before, but not from scratch. You’d need to find wheat, grow it, harvest it, mill it, and then you still need to deal with things like making yeast.

Fun times.

Anyway, back to the book. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. In the small blurb I read, it was described as the adventures of a travelling troupe of players who play music and perform Shakespeare. I was kind of expecting something like Brin’s Postman, where the unifying theme is some semblance of normality in a world no longer normal. Or, as one character in Station Eleven put it, all of the stories they read about the time after the collapse of modern civilization involved zombies.

Instead, the book is a character study. If there is a unifying factor it is the character of Arthur Leander. He is a moderately famous actor who has returned to his native Canada to perform King Lear in Toronto. His last performance is the night before the Georgian Flu arrives in the city, and it eventually kills 99.99% of the world’s population. The book follows the lives of several people brought together through their interaction with Leander – some relationships spanning years and others moments.

The book gets its title from a graphic novel created by Leander’s first wife, Miranda. She self published a few copies and gave one to her now ex-husband, who in turn gave it to a little girl in the cast named Kirsten. The story starts off on the night of that last performance, and then flashes backward and forward as we are introduced to more and more characters from Arthur’s life and how they end up interacting. A lot of the plot involves Arthur and his three wives, mainly Miranda, as well as Kirsten’s future as a player in the aforementioned Travelling Symphony, twenty years on.

I read Station Eleven in pretty much one sitting. I don’t read too many female authors, so I don’t want to sound to stereotypical when I point out that the novel is much more about the interpersonal relationships of the characters versus survival, but very little time is spent on the actual logistics of surviving in such a world and more about the thoughts, feelings, regrets and dreams of its characters. Basically: Arthur is introduced, the flu arrives, people die, civilization collapses and we pick up 20 years in the future.

So I missed out on a couple of things I like about such books. My favorite part of The Stand is the first 2000 or so pages which discuss the pandemic and how the main characters deal with surviving it. When the main plot kicks in over the remaining 4000 pages I start to lose interest. In Station Eleven she pretty much skips over that part and focuses on the story. This is not a bad thing, it’s just not what I was expecting.

If I had to nit-pick, the way the author handles the pandemic is a little too tidy. Instead of having some sort of natural immunity, it is implied that most of the survivors just got lucky and missed the infection. Considering that they spend a lot of time poking around in the ruins of the past I would think there would be occasional flare ups of the flu in the future, but perhaps that could be explained away by lack of hosts.

But, as I said, that is a small issue with an otherwise solid book. You care about these characters and it is cool to see how she ties up all the loose ends by the end of the story. While I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t put it down, the combination of bad weather and holiday fatigue lent itself well to curling up with a good book, and this one was perfect for the purpose.