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Steel in the Walls
June 9, 2011 2:16 PM   Subscribe

The premise of HBO's hour-long special "Talking Funny" [Part 2, 3, 4] is simple: invite four top-ranked comedians — Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis C.K. — turn on the cameras, and let them talk shop for an hour. There are laughs, of course, but the most interesting parts focus on the technical craft of getting those laughs. Michael Bierut didn't tune in looking for lessons for designers, but he found seven.

LouisCK previously
Design Observer previously.
posted by Potomac Avenue (63 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
I caught part of this in a hotel a few weeks ago... great conversation.
posted by ph00dz at 2:18 PM on June 9, 2011


Talking Funny over Chris Rock.

I stole this joke.
posted by ODiV at 2:37 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I really enjoyed it, but could not get over how much trouble Chris Rock had getting a word in edge-wise. I like Ricky Gervais, but he is clearly not in the same league as these guys in terms of stand-up, and he spent most of the show giving Seinfeld a back rub and interrupting Chris Rock. Clearly did not go unnoticed by Rock, as evidenced by his little stabs at Gervais throughout the show ("he wrote his first real comic bit last week", "I actually make a living doing this", etc). But overall, really fascinating to watch. I could watch these guys talk shop for an hour every day.
posted by AceRock at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I saw this a few weeks ago, and found it very insightful. My only qualm is that Ricky Gervais (and I say this without having seen his stand-up, and having only skimmed his podcast) wouldn't be one of these four "top-ranked" comedians if he weren't the producer. That said, I'm glad that Gervais did produce this.
posted by not_on_display at 2:49 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was a really fascinating look at the the way certain fundamental concepts can apply across many, varied disciplines.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:54 PM on June 9, 2011


Part 2 -- and only part 2! -- of this is blocked in my country on copyright grounds. Incredibly irritating.
posted by nostrich at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2011


Part 2 -- and only part 2! -- of this is blocked in my country on copyright grounds. Incredibly irritating.

I hope it sticks, but I've seen this on YouTube for a few days at a time and it always gets yanked by HBO.
posted by codacorolla at 3:04 PM on June 9, 2011


Part 2 -- and only part 2! -- of this is blocked in my country on copyright grounds. Incredibly irritating.

Probably because part 2 is wall to wall fucking.

Also, this is great. I love hearing about the comedic process, and anything that puts Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais in the same room is a good thing.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 3:09 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm really very amused at those who are saying Ricky Gervais doesn't stack up against Chris Rock. Personally, I would have said the reverse. I had a hard time figuring out why Chris Rock was in the show. Taste is a funny thing.

Still, a good show, and delightfully interesting at several moments.
posted by Invoke at 3:12 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was a great Anderson Cooper moderated discussion on standup comedy a few years ago with Robert Klein, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, and Jerry Seinfeld. I don't remember what it was filmed for (I don't think it Cooper's show - they were on a big stage), but it was one of the best discussions of the art of stand-up I've ever seen. I'm looking forward to watching this new conversation.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:14 PM on June 9, 2011


I can't get enough of watching people talk about their jobs, entertainers included. After watching a ton of very long and insightful interviews on Kevin Pollock's "Chat Show", I'm now really annoyed by the traditional 5 minute "promote my new movie" segments on Letterman, Stewart etc.
posted by davebush at 3:15 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


davebush: I'm now really annoyed by the traditional 5 minute "promote my new movie" segments on Letterman, Stewart etc.

I really miss the looseness of the Tonight Show back in the old days when the show was 90 minutes and they had time to let conversations develop. Things were more spontaneous and there was an anything-can-happen excitement. Of course it didn't hurt that it Johnny Carson steering the ship.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:24 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh, Rock is just shy. I recall him saying one of the reasons he got into stand-up was because he was the weak kid who got picked on in school. I haven't seen any of his recent stuff but his older HBO specials are great and easily stand up to any of the other acts in the room. Also, Louis CK is just fucking hilarious.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 3:24 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


While watching this I was charting which person every guy seems to think is the best in the room:

For Ricky it is Jerry
For Louis it is Chris
For Jerry it is Louis
For Chris it is Richard Pryor
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:35 PM on June 9, 2011 [27 favorites]


Gervais is funny when he's playing obnoxious characters but when he's just his normal obnoxious self it's really obnoxious.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:57 PM on June 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here's an essay that highlights the problem a lot of comedian-types have with Gervais, particularly in this setting. I personally wish he had spoken less and played more of a moderator-type role within the group but the show was fantastic regardless.

I feel like I bring it up too often but the podcast WTF with Marc Maron is a really great way to get a regular fix of the best aspects of this special.
posted by timshel at 3:59 PM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Timshel, great link. I would personally elevate Gervais to the level of "living legend", but it is interesting that he comes from a different background, one that may have actually been a bit "easier" than those who had to play to tiny audiences for years before making it big.

I think that makes his commentary more important, not less.
posted by Invoke at 4:09 PM on June 9, 2011


I would have watched this for another 10 hours.
posted by empath at 4:11 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The unintended brilliance of this show was that Gervais, who is quite funny in his own right, is just not in the same league as the other three when it comes to pure stand up. Somehow, though, instead of making Gervais look bad, it just shows how good the other guys really are.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:14 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Derail-ish: Can anyone think of other highly-successful comedians who circumvented the baptism by fire years of stand up? Not successful comic actors (Jack Lemmon, for example) but comedians specifically.
posted by timshel at 4:22 PM on June 9, 2011


The wonderfully named Michelle Butt has a great comment in that design article:

This is so easy...

Seven things designers can learn from hookers:

1.) Keep your eye on the prize. It's a business transaction. Don't be shy about the money, unless it's just a hobby.
2.) Tell him how big and wonderful it is. Clients always go for exaggeration and praise...no matter how big or small they really are..
3.) Make yourself presentable. Cargo pants don't cut it. Try a fake leather miniskirt and fishnet stockings. All the Pentagram folks do that. Big clients are impressed.
4.) Leave 'em smiling. A happy client is a returning client.
5.) Show your best talents. You have a natural gift for not gagging in the presence of clients. Work on it if you don't.
6.) Always ask what they want first. ( this should be Number One.)
7.) Follow-up. Take his wallet while you're down there.

posted by Sebmojo at 4:26 PM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is tremendous. I'm glad I finally got a chance to see it.

I found the conversation about "fuck" the most interesting element. There's a valid point to be made in completley reversing Jerry's argument: that the joke wasn't funny without "fuck" because an expertly crafted joke relies on every word. That he constructs it as a crutch, as telling without showing, says a lot about the way he constructs comedy. None of these guys were afraid to disagree, which is what made the conversation an interesting one.
posted by Apropos of Something at 4:47 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm really very amused at those who are saying Ricky Gervais doesn't stack up against Chris Rock. Personally, I would have said the reverse. I had a hard time figuring out why Chris Rock was in the show. Taste is a funny thing.

But it isn't solely about taste. Chris Rock is one of the most successful and long-lasting popular stand-ups of the last twenty years. I'm not a particular fan of Jerry Seinfeld but he's clearly a giant in the field and belongs on the same stage as Rock and CK. Ricky Gervais hasn't proven he's got legs in the stand-up game yet, and he doesn't have the experience of the other three comedians. I would replace Gervais with Eddie Izzard myself.

To be fair, my own tastes far favor Chris Rock over anyone else on the panel except Louis, who I feel is probably the greatest currently working comedian.

Anyway, that's nitpicking on a fantastic show.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:34 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Great conversation. Who else thinks Seinfeld is morphing (physically) into Gilbert Gottfried as he ages?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:47 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I loved this. It was interesting how much each of these guys new the others material. I also never thought for a second that Ricky thinks of himself as equals to these guys. He knows he's not and even talks about it in the show. About he had this successful comedy show (The Office) and felt like he had not earned the success and acclaim because he had not done stand-up, so he put together a routine and went out and tried it. And it's great, IMHO. Clearly he does not have the experience or the chops of the other three, but he knows that and they know that.

Several years back Ricky did this same bit, getting a comedian to sit down with him and talk about the craft. He has hour long sessions with Larry David (genius), Christopher Guest (genius) and a very uncomfortable show with Garry Shandling (genius - according to my dad, but I don't get him). They are all worth a look see.
posted by holdkris99 at 5:58 PM on June 9, 2011


I have been an enthusiastic follower of comedy for a number of years (everything from Buster Keaton, Chaplin et. al. right through to modern comics) but I can honestly say I have never found anything by Chris Rock particularly funny. In fact, as far as I can tell his only contribution to popular culture has been providing smug white suburban boys a justification to start using the the n-word to describe a "certain type of black person". He seems to me to come from the Dane Cook school of yell it loud enough and they'll laugh.

IMO the most talented comedian working today is Daniel Kitson. No one else comes even close.
posted by smithsmith at 6:07 PM on June 9, 2011


I would replace Gervais with Eddie Izzard myself.

Damn you! Now I can only think of what might have been when I watch this.
posted by invitapriore at 6:56 PM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Everyone has a thing. I mean, Chris has got 'Black.'"
posted by TheKM at 6:56 PM on June 9, 2011


I loved this. It was interesting how much each of these guys new the others material. I also never thought for a second that Ricky thinks of himself as equals to these guys. He knows he's not and even talks about it in the show. About he had this successful comedy show...

It's worth reminding everyone that 'this...comedy show' isn't just 'successful,' it's a perfect piece of TV comedy, anchored by one of the iconic sitcom performances (Gervais as Brent). He's not anywhere near those guys' level as a standup comic, but only Seinfeld among them can claim to have written anything on par with Gervais's scriptwork.
posted by waxbanks at 7:03 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, give 'Louis' a few more seasons.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:07 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Louie
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:07 PM on June 9, 2011


He's not anywhere near those guys' level as a standup comic, but only Seinfeld among them can claim to have written anything on par with Gervais's scriptwork.

Writing a standup act is also writing! But even from a script-centric perspective, this isn't right. Louis C.K. is a fairly legendary TV writer in the sketch field: early Conan, SNL, the Dana Carvey Show, Chris Rock's show. And that's without taking Louie into account. Seinfeld, on the other hand, co-wrote roughly 15 episodes of his own show, and more than half of those during the first two not-exactly-classic-yet seasons.
posted by Adventurer at 7:17 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Writing a standup act is also writing! But even from a script-centric perspective, this isn't right. Louis C.K. is a fairly legendary TV writer in the sketch field: early Conan, SNL, the Dana Carvey Show, Chris Rock's show.

Oh I don't deny that standup writing is writing - 'obvs,' as the kids say. I should specify dramatic writing here. I've loved Louis CK's writing as well, and Seinfeld is dearer to me than perhaps the material itself can support (I'm not qualified to speak to Chris Rock's writing as such), but I'd put The Office on a different tier from the work the other guys have done as far as I know - in a 'David Brent belongs to the same iconic lineage as Archie Bunker' way. The Office covers an enormous amount of ground in a short timespan, and goes deep.

Which is perhaps only to say that Gervais and Seinfeld have become important far beyond the comedic realm, whereas LCK and Rock (like, say, Cross & Odenkirk) are primarily regarded as masters within their field. Though having said that I'd want to step back and ask where, exactly, the Pythons fit?
posted by waxbanks at 7:31 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seinfeld, on the other hand, co-wrote roughly 15 episodes of his own show, and more than half of those during the first two not-exactly-classic-yet seasons.

Well, his name's on those episodes, but he and/or Larry David had a hand in most of the scripts, as I recall. By all accounts the show's voice is their shared voice.
posted by waxbanks at 7:33 PM on June 9, 2011


All of these guys are writers, Chris Rock also wrote Everybody Hates Chris and a bunch of his movies, but I think we have to give Gervais credit for not only making a great TV show but essentially creating a genre (mocumentary/reality show sitcom). Louie is great but it's essentially Seinfeld with Louis and his sensibility instead of Jerry's.

The UK Office was the most groundbreaking thing done on TV in the 2000s. Maybe not the funniest! But the most jawdroppingly ... new.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


waxbanks: "Well, his name's on those episodes, but he and/or Larry David had a hand in most of the scripts, as I recall. By all accounts the show's voice is their shared voice."

I've always gotten the impression that the "voice" is mostly Larry David's. The fact the Curb Your Enthusiasm is so brilliant, and even transcends Seinfeld, in my opinion, proves, at least to me, that he is the greater comedic... let's say producer. Because, on the other hand, David's standup is crap compared to Seinfeld's. Different talents, I guess.
posted by gilrain at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2011


*For Jerry it is Jerry
posted by mike_bling at 9:19 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't find it at all jarring to have Gervais discussing comedy with these guys. The paid-his-dues-or-not argument isn't compelling to me. There are a lot of working, reasonably funny people out there. The way most of them became famous, for a long time, was Johnny Carson deciding they were funny enough for The Tonight Show. That's what changes being a working but poor comedian into a working but making money comedian, funny or not.

Gervais obviously understands the mechanics at work, and is able to talk shop at the same level, even if his perspective is different -- and it's that different perspective (from each of them) that makes the whole show worthwhile.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I *hate* the way Gervais laughs. It seems forced to me, and it is one more of the "monopolize attention" arrows in his quiver that he overuses. STFU dude. And stop pretending that it's so hilarious you need to stand up, hold your belly, slap your thigh.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:18 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gervais asks really good questions for the most part here. Left to their own devices these pros would mostly just tell dick jokes or discuss too specific craft things I bet.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:26 PM on June 9, 2011


Gervais is so hard to pin that I've stopped trying. I love his work, generally, but hate who he is.

This was a great discussion, so I'm not really complaining. But I would have loved to see Eddie Izzard in place of Gervais, with Seinfeld as producer/moderator. If you've seen his "Comedian," you know he's up to it. Actually, I guess I just wish I could hear Izzard discuss craft like we got to see these guys do. Maybe a sequel.
posted by gilrain at 10:33 PM on June 9, 2011


"The whole show is about quelling fear."

Great insight into the psychosocial dynamics of comedy. Deliciously Freudian (i.e. Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.)
posted by mistersquid at 10:33 PM on June 9, 2011


God, this is great/God, Gervais is just insufferable
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:25 PM on June 9, 2011


If you want to see Izzard discuss his stuff, Believe is pretty good.
posted by Harry at 1:19 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is great!

On Gervais, though - it seems to me that he knows exactly what he's doing. He knows that his laugh is annoying, that he's kind of insufferable...and yet, he consistently manages to somehow draw the best out of these guys. It's like he's a different species of comedian...something more akin to the "make everyone uncomfortable" act of Andy Kaufman (although clearly not as extreme as Andy) combined with a very British double-bluff. When he's laughing, he's not being funny. When he's serious, he is. He's a meta-comedian.
posted by jet_manifesto at 1:39 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gervais CO-wrote "The Office" and "Extras" with Stephen Merchant. Not that you'd know it by listening to the braying jackass.

I've seen all four of these guys perform live multiple times. Gervais does not belong on that chair. He's a hack. I saw him perform at a benefit a couple of years ago, as the headliner on a packed bill that included Tim Minchin, Sean Locke, Russel Brand, Reginald D. Hunter, etc. It was a great night, all of the other comics were really invested in the moment. Gervais was the last comic, and he came out, and did a desultory fifteen minutes, the first five of which he wasted on congratulating himself for being such a charity minded citizen, the second five he spent talking about he house he had just bought. The final five were devoted to a pedophile joke so stupid, sad, and vile that I just had to shake my head in amazement. The crowd grew hostile in a flash. If the other comics hadn't rescued him by coming back onstage, I'm not sure he would have made it out of there alive.

That's just one example. For further evidence of what an annoying human being he is sans Merchant, see his Live 8 performance, and/or the Bonus Features on any of his DVDs.
posted by Optamystic at 3:07 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


...[Chris Rock] seems to me to come from the Dane Cook school of yell it loud enough and they'll laugh.

You clearly have not seen very much Chris Rock. To compare him to Dane Cook is ridiculous, and to suggest that Dane Cook somehow influenced rock is absurd. Rock started doing stand up at least 10 years before Dane Cook, and Rock is one of the most respected stand-up comedians in the world right now (as evidenced by his invitation to this show/panel). If you watch Talking Funny, there is a bit where Louis and Seinfeld talk about how Rock has to repeat and hammer home a point and explore a concept repeatedly from multiple angles, because his ideas are so much richer than what the audience is used to. The man has three Emmys (and 15 nominations). I'm always excited when he as a new special or project coming out.

Dane Cook is a fucking hack.
posted by AceRock at 6:58 AM on June 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


For Ricky it is Jerry
For Louis it is Chris
For Jerry it is Louis
For Chris it is Richard Pryor


Have to agree with Chris.
posted by blucevalo at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis C.K. have put in a lot of stand-up hours building their craft, failing, retooling, and perfecting what they do. You might not like their jokes, but I can't imagine anyone questioning their actual standup skills. They all have impeccable timing, pacing, and delivery and they know how to read the crowd and adjust accordingly. I've seen many funny comedians with great jokes still not hit the homeruns because they still haven't gotten the skillset down yet.

Ricky Gervais is another story. I think he's really funny and he's built up a charming exaggeration of his real personality as his public persona. I agree with the above person that said he knows exactly what he's doing. He knows his strengths and shortcomings and works within that range to great effect. His stand-up has some fantastic jokes - so fantastic that they're still funny despite his poor timing and reluctance to fine tune the phrasing. His oversized personality helps carry his jokes, but more like a character than as a stand-up comedian in league with the others here.

As for Dane Cook. He's made me laugh many times, but unfortunately he's bugged me even more times. Bit I do think he's a good comedian - just not for my tastes. He knows how to build a set and gains momentum and brings the crowd along with him. That's what a good comedian does. I get why he is (was?) so big, it's just not for me.

And Eddie Izzard? I was stunned the first time I saw him live. Like Chris Rock, his set was so well written and paced and he delivers it like he's just talking. It doesn't seem written at all, which absolutely floors me. I saw him early on one tour and he killed and the wording of everything seemed perfect, but seeing the tv special he did at the end of the tour was amazing. He tweaked jokes that seemed already perfect, he played with the timing and let some of the gags and laughs play out differently. My only probelm with Eddie Izzard is that he doesn't tour more, because I'd love to see him again.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:59 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I genuinely fear going back to The Office. At the time and for a while afterwards I considered it to be one of (or possibly, the) greatest sit-coms ever created. However I now fear that the colossal unfunny prick Gervais morphed into will have fatally tainted the original.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:08 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone else find it a little uncomfortable to watch three white guys so gleeful about saying the N-word while a black guy basically sits there and gives them permission to do so? There's a comment under the video to this effect also.
posted by Clustercuss at 9:09 AM on June 10, 2011


Yeah Clustercuss, that was a really weird moment. Especially because Rock doesn't even use that word in his act anymore. I didn't think that it reflected well on Gervais or CK (Seinfeld didn't say it did he?) both of whom I like a lot.
posted by ericthegardener at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2011


For some reason, Louis CK can say the most offensive shit imaginable, and I don't ever get bothered by it.
posted by empath at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2011


There is part where Louis CK and Seinfeld are talking about it being part of the comedian's job, part of his role in society, in their view, to push the envelope, and to take people (the audience) to places where they "have fear" or are uncomfortable and make them laugh there. Not sure I agree, but an interesting perspective. It may seem like they were just throwing the word around haphazardly, but there is some evidence that Louis CK at least has thought hard about his use of words like that (see the poker table discussion of his use of the word "faggot" in the first season of Louis).
posted by AceRock at 9:41 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the best use of the n-word in comedy is probably this Minchin bit where he never actually says the word.
posted by empath at 9:50 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with the idea that comedians should push the envelope and that CK is a thoughtful guy but that part of the show still seemed ill considered to me. Maybe I'm reading too much into it but Rock didn't seem entirely comfortable with it either.
posted by ericthegardener at 9:51 AM on June 10, 2011


anyone see that HBO show of Gervais? am I the only one who thought it was awful?

I thought the delivery was meh and his jokes made me so uncomfortable - not in a 'funny' way (which I don't care for) but in a 'this is actually offensive not funny' way.

or do I just not 'get' it?
posted by evening at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this- these guys are my favorite comedians and I've never seen this before.
posted by bquarters at 2:30 PM on June 10, 2011


Great link, thanks!

Gervais seems way more neurotic than Seinfeld and Louie CK...

I didn't expect that.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:33 PM on June 10, 2011


Nthing Gervais being annoying. I think he's pretty funny with Merchant and Pilkington - I've listened to all of their old radio shows. But lately the more of him I see, the less I think of him. I check his blog regularly to see if there are new podcasts being worked on, and it's like, "Enough with the photos of yourself going cross-eyed already." And in this, it really did seem like he's incapable of sharing the stage. It's not Chris Rock "being shy" when Chris Rock is actually speaking and Ricky's just shouting over top of him until he gives up.

(The opening to "An Idiot Abroad" bugs me, too, the way Ricky says "It's one of the most expensive and funniest practical jokes I've ever done." There's so much about that which irks me. "One of the most expensive"? Really? You've performed other practical jokes that were multi-million dollar endeavors? The emphasis on "I" with Stephen sitting right next to him. Not to mention declaring how funny it is. He's just coming across as more and more of a wanker.)

Anyway, can someone refer me to some good Chris Rock bits? (Or an entire special)?
posted by neuromodulator at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2011


On Gervais' annoying laugh== Did nobody get its just a laugh-track? I just watched part 2 and the energy at the beginning of the clip is over the top not only because of the content, but because Gercais's laugh is infectious, too.
posted by xtian at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2011


Gervais' laugh is definitely part of the fun of him interacting with Karl Pilkington.
posted by neuromodulator at 5:57 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gervais is funny and poeple are being ridiculous. Gervais has done a few shows already where he sits down and talks with comedians he really likes. If I had to make a guess, Gervais is the one who put this together and these are all comedians he highly respects and wanted to get into a room together for a talk.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:49 PM on June 12, 2011


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