One night in 2012, a few months after Season 3 of Louie aired on FX, I went to see the show’s creator and star, Louis C.K., perform stand-up in New York City, where the comedian calls home. I was excited to go because Louie was, for my money, the best show on television at the time. Surely, Louie C.K.’s stand-up routine—I paid $45 for the ticket—would be similarly raunchy and mopey-sad and hilarious and, well, relatable.
Naturally, I was late arriving to the New York City Center in midtown Manhattan. The trains were slow, I think, I forget. In the lobby I first grabbed beers, probably some overpriced Amstel garbage—one for myself and one for my roommate—then walked briskly toward the theater. The usher opened a gilded door for us. The second we walked in, Louis C.K. walked onstage, became showered in light, and the crowd rose to their collective feet. We took our seats, which were, incredibly, right next to the door, and watched the show. This is a version of part of his routine:
I walked away from about an hour’s set believing this: Louie C.K.’s stand-up routine is not as good as Louie. Maybe it’s not supposed to be. Maybe, better yet, they’re just different forms of entertainment, comedic artworks that are intended for different audiences who appreciate different things: people who laugh at being told jokes versus those who laugh at being shown jokes. Or maybe, it’s just that Louie is such a good show that anything else Louis C.K. does simply, as a main character, cannot measure up.
Louis C.K.’s stand-up is formulaic in the sense that it’s a set—he tells jokes and audiences laugh. There’s a math to it, a cause and effect. Louie, on the other hand is the dark, often surreal manifestation of his jokes, a not-always-clean displaying of the edges of his id in less than 30 minutes a pop. What makes Louie so enjoyable yet remarkably difficult to watch is that many of the scenes, however surreal, feel like a not-too-distant reality. Or is it a fantasy? I dunno. But the relatability of them, especially as a New Yorker, is often a frightening feeling. The show strikes out a lot too, giving it an empathetic component, as though viewers can recognize, and excuse, mistakes, like we would for someone we care about, like we would for ourselves. It’s fucking fantastic entertainment.
Still, Louie C.K.’s stand-up ain’t bad at all. Though the comedian has neither the physicality of Kat Williams (yes, Kat Williams) nor the swagger or Dave Chappelle nor the ease and stage presence of Richard Pryor, he’s still funny. And, if I lived in Israel and had to choose between seeing Louie C.K.—who’s upcoming show in August Jerusalem sold out overnight, causing a second show to be added—and Jerry Seinfeld, who performed in the Holy Land last year, I’d surely go with Louie.