Skip

As Fran Lebowitz said, “If you’re going to tell the truth, you better be funny. Otherwise, they will kill you.”
December 25, 2011 11:22 PM   Subscribe

"I think Louis has hit on some sort of subterranean undercurrent of emotion that I didn’t realize might be swelling until I listened more closely: shame." [via]
posted by Blazecock Pileon (53 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think Seinfeld explored this same undercurrent too — once you dug beneath Jerry's insipid observational comedy, it was a show about absolutely despicable characters that you could totally relate to.

You knew that George was a terrible person, and yet you could sympathize, rationalize, and relate to every one of his bad choices and decisions, as if you'd have made that decision yourself. Maybe the characters weren't any better or worse than you or I — I always felt that the show was based around situations in which that brought out the absolute worst in each of the completely-unremarkable characters.

Michael Richards throws a curveball at this theory, because he also turned out to be a terrible person in real-life.

I also suspect that this somehow ties into my theory that everybody secretly loves Ke$ha, but will never admit to it. She's the id of our generation.

posted by schmod at 11:39 PM on December 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite part of Louis C.K.'s most recent standup special is him talking about thinking about giving a soldier his seat in first class, how he never ever does or would, but that just having the idea that he might makes him feel good about himself.

It's not just about shame, but about the mental alchemy we all have to a greater or lesser extent that allows us to transmute what we should be ashamed of into things we're proud of.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:51 PM on December 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


schmod: "You knew that George was a terrible person, and yet you could sympathize, rationalize, and relate to every one of his bad choices and decisions, as if you'd have made that decision yourself."

You know, as much as I could get into individual Seinfeld jokes every now and then, I really couldn't do this. A New Yorker friend tried to convince me that it's because I don't live in New York and I would get it if I did, but then he tried to use the same excuse for Sex in the City and my only thought was... dude, surely there's better advertising than this for the city you claim to love.
posted by vanar sena at 11:56 PM on December 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


It was Louis CK's routine on whiteness that really opened my eyes to exactly this vein of shame he tried to mine for his comedy, and the author of this piece is dead on that that's what Louis' going for here. Not just the shame of expressing our more shameful thoughts, but the shame of what we do, or even what we don't do.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:10 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shame is a powerful motivator; it results from the individual being so self-identified with specific societal mores that there seems no way out if one is in violation of one or more of those mores.

That said, we need to step shame up a notch, to impact those who shamelessly use power to disadvantage others.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:14 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said, we need to step shame up a notch, to impact those who shamelessly use power to disadvantage others.

I'd respectfully disagree: shame also keeps people in the closet, or going through church rituals that they regard as empty, for the same reasons you cite. It prevents them from reporting sexual molestation. Individual shame is decreasing because we are increasingly in an open culture mediated through an electronic panopticon... and good riddance to it.

Shame is a great source for comedy. But it's largely modern day Puritans who want to restore it in culture. Rather than doing that, I'd suggest more openess, coupled with a renewal of the virtues of humility and generosity.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:50 AM on December 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


Watch Louis CK and his weird little intrajoke smile, I always get the feeling he is thinking something much, much worse (and funnier to him) than what he is saying.
posted by chavenet at 1:20 AM on December 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


shame also keeps people in the closet, or going through church rituals that they regard as empty, for the same reasons you cite. It prevents them from reporting sexual molestation. Individual shame is decreasing because we are increasingly in an open culture mediated through an electronic panopticon... and good riddance t

Social cohesion requires a complex soup of motivators and limiters. The response network for shame is wired. It's what we condition shame to that is the problem. I agree that shame can be counterproductive; we need to evolve out of those counterproductive modes and "step shame up a notch" to impact those who "shamelessly abuse power".

Like it or not, there will always be those who chose to abuse openness, or manipulate it. We see this happening in our democracy, today. We have "open" campaign finance laws, "open" financial reporting regulations, etc., but they get abused in ways that benefit only the few. We need to find ways to single out those who do so - even if their acts are legal - and publicly shame them. We need a new ethic of shame that points at behaviors that are truly harmful to our society, and at the same time look for ways to remove shame from behaviors that do no harm (like keeping people in the closet; not reporting sexual molestation, etc.)
posted by Vibrissae at 1:29 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


What I've seen so far of Louis CK is that the character he puts forth is a decent guy trying to be decent, occasionally failing, and beating himself up for his failures.

What I couldn't stand about Seinfeld was that it was a universe of horrible people doing despicable things and not feeling the least bit of real remorse. The fact that every other person they interacted with was just as awful only reinforced their vile behavior as normal. An echo chamber of sickening behavior by people who should know better, should be better, but never, ever will.

CK does something bad, and feels his own guilt for it, whether he gets caught or not. If he doesn't get caught, he seems likely to tell others how wrong he was. Costanza does something awful to get an advantage and feels proud for being willing to stoop lower than anyone else to get it. It's pretty obvious to me who I'd rather spend thirty minutes a week with.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:59 AM on December 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


Why now, though? Why shame, why now?

The author mentions Pryor and Carlin and Rock (meanwhile I'm whistling "One of These Things Is Not Like The Other", but let's allow Chris to breathe that rarefied air for a minute) as comedians who found their focus -- Pryor and Rock bookended a generational conversation on race, and Carlin, well, "absurdity" is too narrow a word to describe his focus, but the point remains. What the author doesn't mention is how those foci corresponded to, fed into and off of, popular culture. Those comdians were products of their time, and their insights are part and parcel of the zeitgeist. (I'd add another -- Bill Hicks, whose focus was hypocrisy, and by extension, truth itself, particular the way it is distorted and manipulated by the powerful. Hicks died at the very beginning of a long comedic journey, though. It's too bad he's not still with us, because we need his brand of angry insight more than ever.)

So why is a comedian whose preoccupation is shame suddenly so popular? What does that tell us about these times?

Let's see who his competition is. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but who is putting butts in seats down at the Chuckle Hut? Well, there's Larry the Cable Guy. Safe whitebread jokes for Red-State America, who've always been more inclined to laugh at their poor relations than themselves. Larry makes sense in GWB's America -- awful but understandable.

There's Dane Cook. Oh boy. Again: a voice of safety and reassurance. Not funny by any real definition of funny, but you can take a date to a Dane Cook show and probably get laid afterward before heading back to the frat house, so Cook serves his purpose, which is less about doing comedy and more about creating a tent-revival atmosphere for the thoughtless set, wherein they can reinforce feelings of belonging to something between sips of light beer.

Who else is out there, working the big rooms? Who's making waves?

I dunno. I live in a hole beneath a rock.

So why Louis CK and shame, right now? He's genuinely funny. His comedy is the comedy of insight that's harder and truer and riskier to do than most.

But why is shame selling now?

(This comment brought to you by Insomnia. Insomnia: inducing incoherent babbling for generations.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:52 AM on December 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


If I had to guess an answer for "why shame, why now" it's because various things (like general progress, plus the internet), have made people increasingly more sensitive and aware, so that we realize more things to be ashamed of, plus we have more evidence that other people have the same kind of thoughts about it, and on top of all that more sensitivity tends to mean less judginess, and thus feeling safer to be open about our messed up thoughts. I have felt for a while that insecurity is fed in part by the idea that others will judge you, and thus insecure people have trouble admitting to unfavorable thoughts, but the internet creates safe places that can help people feel more secure and more able to admit to those thoughts. Once you can admit fault in yourself you can acknowledge shameful things more openly, so while you still have some insecurity/regret/whatever about those thoughts, it's at least at a healthy honest level where you can address it and strive to be better.

Louis CK's comedy represents a lot of that for me, I think, anyway. It's more aware because people are getting to be more aware, or at least enough people are getting to be aware enough that his kind of comedy has a sizeable audience who can relate to it. People are more aware of shitty stuff, and more able to admit to it and want to fix it, and I think that's a good thing.

I totally agree with the "but Seinfeld characters seemed proud of being crappy, instead of gullty" sentiment above. I was always kind of neutral toward Seinfeld and never thought much about why, but I think that has a lot to do with it.
posted by Nattie at 3:05 AM on December 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


So why is a comedian whose preoccupation is shame suddenly so popular? What does that tell us about these times?

Perhaps some Americans are coming to grips with living in a "smaller" world, and there's a panic or tension about the chickens coming home to roost, so to speak, evoking feelings and thoughts that a good comedian can explore on stage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:21 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just speaking on behalf of New York: Seinfeld, Sex and the City, and Law and Order are all designed to play to impressions of people who don't live here and/or are mystified by the place. None of those shows bears even the slightest resemblance to the actual life of actual New Yorkers except for those idiots who think it does and try to recreate it when they move here from California or Illinois or whatever.

Among other things, the people on those shows seem to have enormous amounts of time to just sit around talking and drinking or having breakfast or going on dates or debating the finer points of DNA testing in the squad room (yeah right, as if any New Yorker who isn't a billionaire ever got 5 detectives and a supermodel to drop everything for days and dedicate themselves to solving a case).

Most New Yorkers I know, even the well off ones, work 60-70 hour weeks. Then they come home and watch this same crap about (purportedly) their own city and the charmed, laborless lives of the characters for a laugh. We're not all having Cosmopolitans at Nobu while solving the crime of the century with our wits and fierce good looks.

We've had this discussion before, but the bottom line is New Yorkers are quite civil, civic minded, kind to strangers, and accepting of the city's absurdities. Most of us wear sensible shoes. We're not obsessed with real estate unless we're actively looking for an apartment. And our cops are big fat wheezing male idiots who couldn't find a shoebox in a shoestore, not Victoria's Secret models on hiatus who can figure out where you are last night by the tomato stain on your shoelace.
posted by spitbull at 4:39 AM on December 26, 2011 [14 favorites]


er, "where you ATE last night"
posted by spitbull at 4:40 AM on December 26, 2011


My favorite part of Louis C.K.'s most recent standup special is him talking about thinking about giving a soldier his seat in first class, how he never ever does or would, but that just having the idea that he might makes him feel good about himself.

It's not just about shame, but about the mental alchemy we all have to a greater or lesser extent that allows us to transmute what we should be ashamed of into things we're proud of.


There is actually an interesting new scientific literature on this effect. If you're interested do a lit search on "licensing" and "moral licensing". It also comes up in some behavioural economics - McDonalds having salad on the menu results in people making even worse ordering decisions because they have merely considered a healthy option and that ticks some sort of checklist item that enables the large size big mac combo choice.
posted by srboisvert at 4:54 AM on December 26, 2011 [22 favorites]


Regarding Seinfeld: I always understood that the characters were horrible people who were often only vaguely aware of their shameful behaviour. But I never took it as realistic in a way that made it unwatchable. These were caricatures played for laughs, not characters in a drama. When George was trying to figure out how to combine sex with eating (his two biggest pleasures), Jerry's reaction was saying "George, we're trying to have a civilisation here, do you mind?" The joke was that these behaviours were awful, and more often than not, they were punished for their greed/lust/sloth/name-your-deadly-sin: George loses the girl, Jerry loses the gig etc.

I also think the show's fakeness helped to make it more watchable -- the stage sets were obviously not real, and only bore a passing resemblance to an actual city. Meanwhile Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm was filmed in live settings in a more realistic fashion, and I for one couldn't even be in the same room when the show was playing. The cruelty and stupidity hit too close to home. (I haven't seen Louis CK's Louie, and I'm wondering if I would have the same reaction. His monologues, however, are pure storytelling, and so they wouldn't be subject to the same demands on a viewer's sense of realism.)

Anyway, I don't think the characters' awfulness makes Seinfeld unwatchable. If anything, it's the main reason why the show exists. If the viewer didn't recognise these tragic flaws, there would be no reason to watch it in the first place. If they did happen to miss that particular point, the series finale was more than a hint of what they were missing: Seinfeld and his friends were literally put on trial for their cruel and selfish behaviour, while the viewer in turn was in a way punished for taking enjoyment in these behaviours with a lousy, overlong and oddly unfunny episode. (At least, I prefer that interpretation to the more likely reason that Seinfeld, David and company were running on empty and put out a bum show).

And now my inner pop culture critic slash grad student takes his rest...

posted by spoobnooble at 5:29 AM on December 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


None of those shows bears even the slightest resemblance to the actual life of actual New Yorkers

And Eastenders is nothing like London; there are no mainstream films that reflect Paris correctly; working as a casualty doctor is nothing like ER and the Korean war didn't really have a laugh track.
posted by howfar at 6:07 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


the Korean war didn't really have a laugh track

Ambassador, with these Ferrero Rocher, you really are spoiling us.
posted by Wolof at 6:48 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Louis CK might be the apotheosis of 'cringe humor,' which seems to be the new dominant style of comedy. Carlin talked about his own work as (I can't find the exact quote, but words to the effect of) "talking about shit everyone does but nobody talks about." Parallel to the rise of rock-and-roll and id-driven mass culture, Carlin started the confessional age of comedy. As more societal boundaries of propriety get knocked down, musicians and comedians have to go to ever more outrageous lengths to titillate audiences. For some it was being more "offensive" to norms of good taste (cursing, talking 'dirty' about sex, dissing one's own group out loud, etc.) and for others (Larry David and now Louis CK) it was being ever more self-revealing, i.e. turning a camera on one's own therapy session, the way Louis CK literally does in the new series. I don't find him particularly funny, but I do admire his willingness to get nekkid in front of all of us, in ways that show/remind us that we're just like schlubby, flawed, fallible, human ol' him.
posted by twsf at 7:04 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, the implied motto of Louis's recent work is "I'm completely at ease with with how disappointed I am in the world."
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:34 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


THANK YOU SPOOBNOOBLE!

i've been trying to articulate for years why i find CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM so repellent that it literally makes me feel nauseous. i've never understood why such a cruel show is considered genius. it really has nothing to do with the cartoony world SEINFELD inhabits.
posted by liza at 7:41 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I absolutely love Louis C.K.; he's definitely one of the best going. But it's not like he's the only one plowing this ground.

Just off the top of my head - I think Marc Maron and Christopher Titus take similar approaches.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:52 AM on December 26, 2011


the Korean war didn't really have a laugh track.

Yes, I was responding to vanar sens' comment above, which suggested that those shows documented real life in New York. It's amazing how many people you meet who think that, though, when you travel. And I suspect there are people who think ER was realistic, and working in a battlefield surgical hospital is a barrel of yucks.

Although Seinfeld is just propaganda for the way LA views New York. Law and Order is propaganda for fascist policing.
posted by spitbull at 8:05 AM on December 26, 2011


spitbull: "Yes, I was responding to vanar sens' comment above, which suggested that those shows documented real life in New York."

For the record, I don't actually think that. I'm going to be mailing some of these comments to my buddy to rub his nose in it. Thanks for the rhetorical ammo.
posted by vanar sena at 8:08 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guilt is an internal experience that requires you to have an inner sense of right and wrong. You violate that, and you feel (internal) guilt. It isn't dependent on whether anyone else thinks what you did was wrong.

Shame is the opposite: you tend to live with whatever is shameful quite well until the day you are exposed. It reveals you to be something other, or less, than you are portraying to the world. So masturbation can cause guilt if you really think it's immoral, or shame if you don't but get caught by your wife.

The way to deal with shame is to make the shameful act okay in a larger context. Howard Stern did this for masturbation and porn stars in the 1980s. Importantly, it wasn't less shameful to like those things, it was less shameful to admit to liking those things.

Louis CK does the same for middle aged white guys. He makes that previously shameful things funny, which lessens the shame.

We've already done away with guilt, which no one experiences. Shame, and a few laws, is all that impedes our pursuit of self-gratification. So the answer to the question, "why shame, why now?" is simply: there's nothing else left. "You have no right to judge me for cheating on my wife with my daughter!" Ok, ok, I get it.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 8:18 AM on December 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


What I find fascinating about Louis CK is he's been at this for 20 years, a relatively obscure comedian. And now thanks to a TV series and a couple of specials he's suddenly the king of comedy. Deservedly so, too. The TV series is pretty risky and uncomfortable and it all hangs together remarkably well. It's the culmination of 20 years of working at the craft.

The poker scene with their one gay friend (NSFW naughty language) is really amazing. It takes a minute or two to get rolling, then seamlessly glides between vulgar funny low comedy, discomfort, overly preachy, and then sweet and genuine affection between poker buddies. One of the best comedy bits I've seen about Teh Gay in a long time.
posted by Nelson at 8:45 AM on December 26, 2011


What I like about Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it explores what would happen if you always chose your first, most selfish instinct when faced with a choice. It's about [the layman's definition of] karma. They act selfishly, and then they get punished. It's like the Three Stooges. It's what happens when people don't use shame to shape their decisions.
posted by gjc at 8:52 AM on December 26, 2011


One word, from high school English: catharsis.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:17 AM on December 26, 2011


And Eastenders is nothing like London; there are no mainstream films that reflect Paris correctly; working as a casualty doctor is nothing like ER and the Korean war didn't really have a laugh track.

No TV show or film is a faithful reflection of the reality it purports to represent, as long as we're going that route. It seems to me that the original comment acknowledged the contradiction of being a New Yorker and coming home from the real world and watching the shows anyway even though their world is not a real-life representation of New York.
posted by blucevalo at 9:30 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


And anyway I'm pretty sure Seinfeld was primarily about Larry David, not about spreading false impressions of New York City.

I can see why people would be made uncomfortable by Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I think it's like whiskey. Nobody likes their first taste. Then you either learn to like it and become cool, or you don't and you remain uncool.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:34 AM on December 26, 2011


I haven't seen Louis CK's Louie, and I'm wondering if I would have the same reaction. His monologues, however, are pure storytelling, and so they wouldn't be subject to the same demands on a viewer's sense of realism.

You wouldn't. I like Curb Your Enthusiasm in small doses, but have always taken it to be a send-up of LA/Jewish/wealthy culture. Not sure it is, exactly. Larry David's character is repugnant and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Louie is totally different. There's a constant sense that Louis is trying to lead a responsible life and be a good father. The show highlights the foils that come along with that, and the weaknesses in his character that he sometimes acts upon and sometimes doesn't.

Louie is a completely different style of sarcasm that is palpable and ever-present. Ultimately, it's uplifting. On the other hand, I'm not 100% sure that Curb Your Enthusiasm is even sarcasm, or just Larry David selling the hyperinflated version of himself.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:43 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most of us wear sensible shoes.

I'll grant you everything but this. If shoes could vote, a giant leather boot with a 10" heel would be mayor of NYC.
posted by invitapriore at 9:44 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think Seinfeld was more about watching people behaving badly and feeling superior to them. The characters all do terrible things but we can sit back and judge them as fools and enjoy their misadventures, not having to care about what happens to them.
I also think shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office (more so the British version), and Extras take this a step further and add a touch of uncomfortable realism to the situations, making you cringe and feel a bit ashamed to be watching. Maybe you even relate a bit to the characters and experience guilt for sometimes acting or thinking the same way as them. It touches more of a nerve and I think explains why some people find it hard to enjoy these "uncomfortable humor" shows.
posted by orme at 9:49 AM on December 26, 2011


In related news ...


How Louis C.K. made $1M and gave half away -- "Comedian cuts out TV networks, sells comedy special on own website."
"NEW YORK — Louis C.K. cut out TV networks by selling his latest comedy special online -- then used network airtime to promote it. The strategy helped him earn a cool million dollars in a matter of days, half of which he's giving away to his staff and charities."
posted by ericb at 10:01 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not just about shame, but about the mental alchemy we all have to a greater or lesser extent that allows us to transmute what we should be ashamed of into things we're proud of.

See also: most of U.S. popular culture post-9/11.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:37 AM on December 26, 2011


I guess I'll be the one to suggest that Louis CK isn't funny. He's a mechanism for an increasingly anxious and paranoid bourgeois consciousness to subtly explore its darker side. This can only happen in small doses and CK is careful to always stay inside a well-demarcated safe zone. Remember, his audience has to wake up and go to work in the morning and this requires it be allowed to continue to cling to a certain cheerfulness and desperate hope that things are going to get better any second now and, really, everything's pretty okay. So no, he's no Hicks, he's no Rock, and he's certainly no Pryor or Carlin. He's reality TV for an over-worked, over-educated population of nerds who have been carefully trained not to challenge authority.
posted by nixerman at 11:27 AM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you’re going to tell the truth, you better be funny. Otherwise, they will kill you

This isn't true and it isn't really funny. Academic explanations of humor always seem to fall completely flat to me unless they are of the type of Eco who said something like humor cannot be explained. We used to think Jerry Lewis was funny.

Do a google search for humor at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and you get something like an empty set. So although I think Louis is funny I don't think any of us have a good idea why that is.

Shame is a fascinating topic. This is a nifty overview of its close relative, humiliation. Among the stories Miller tells in that book is the story about how a feud between two medieval Iceland royal clans was ignited by an improperly extravagant gift.
posted by bukvich at 11:28 AM on December 26, 2011


I guess I'll be the one to suggest that Louis CK isn't funny. He's a mechanism for an increasingly anxious and paranoid bourgeois consciousness to subtly explore its darker side.

I guess I'll be the one to suggest that even though you're trolling, your final clause here is such a stunning little black hole of anti-funny, such a Jim Belushi of pop commentary, that I may use it ad antidote the next time Louis CK gets me laughing so hard I nearly wet myself.
posted by gompa at 11:42 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's anything particularly going on in the zeitgeist, so that shame is all the rage now. It's accurate, but not unique and exclusive, so that that Louis CK's humour is about shame. You could also say that, like much successful humour (esp. standup), it's based on anger -- perhaps shame is just anger at yourself. I'm a big fan of the comedy roasts, for example, and those seem to be not about self-shame, but about shaming the roastees for the success they've achieved based on nothing, bullshit, asskissing, catering to the lowest common demoninator, etc.

One of the things that worries me about Louis CK's latest video, that one he posted online, is that -- and CK fans would have to admit this -- it's not very funny. Yes, there are some astute observations, and yes, there is a lot of shame and exposure, but it's just not funny. I hope Louis has not plateaued early.
posted by anothermug at 11:51 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's reality TV for an over-worked, over-educated population of nerds who have been carefully trained not to challenge authority.

That's nice, dear.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


He's reality TV for an over-worked, over-educated population of nerds who have been carefully trained not to challenge authority
I have an inkling of why you're immune to his charms.
posted by fullerine at 12:48 PM on December 26, 2011


Oh man, now I know I'm evil. I fukin' love Curb Your Enthusiasm, from the first show I watched. Seinfeld seems watered-down after watching CYE.
posted by telstar at 1:12 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of those shows bears even the slightest resemblance to the actual life of actual New Yorkers...

Why would they? They're fiction after all, and in the case of Seinfeld, absurdist comedy. It's not the responsibility of fiction to be be like real life, nor is it the responsibility of fiction to ensure that those who don't understand it's fiction are made to. I'm astounded anyone would take it for real life in terms of portraying people from and/or in New York live just like this but that is there problem. If someone absolutely fails to understand the difference between fiction and reality I personally lose all hope for them.
posted by juiceCake at 1:47 PM on December 26, 2011


I recently tuned into an already in progress Fresh Air on NPR and Louis CK was the guest. I didn't know who I was listening to and I was enamored with the sound his voice. It's worth a listen.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:01 PM on December 26, 2011


vanar sena: "but then he tried to use the same excuse for Sex in the City and my only thought was... dude, surely there's better advertising than this for the city you claim to love."

I'm not sure if anyone's even attempted a realistic TV portrayal of living in New York City. By pure coincidence, Louis CK's show probably comes the closest, simply because he's honest about the fact that he's more privileged than most (and even at that, only squeaks by in the NYC rat race). The Flight of the Conchords also showed its characters living in fairly extreme poverty (albeit in an unrealistically oversized apartment).

Ghidorah: "What I couldn't stand about Seinfeld was that it was a universe of horrible people doing despicable things and not feeling the least bit of real remorse. "

This is a great point, and I'll cede my original argument to it. I hadn't really considered the remorse aspect. I'm honestly not sure why this approach worked well for Seinfeld (which I enjoyed most of the time), and utterly failed for other series (ie. Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men, or Curb Your Enthusiasm) where it was much more difficult to sympathize with the lead characters doing terrible things and showing no remorse.

Of course, this leads to some major buzz-kill moments, which I don't think the 1990s were quite ready for. As far as I know, Scrubs was the first show to couple slapstick/sitcom humor with emotional honesty, and the actual treatment of serious issues. Louie does this too, and I know it makes some people uncomfortable.

I suspect that the NYC setting has something to do with it. I grew up outside of NYC, and think that it's an absolutely terrible place to live. However, I can comprehend the reasons behind New Yorkers' cold, pushy, and indifferent attitudes. It's a coping mechanism for living in outlandishly expensive postage-stamp-sized apartments on a tiny island with several million other people, all of whom are also displaying these same coping mechanisms. Manhattan is a pressure cooker, and I think that the Seinfeld characters were a fairly accurate manifestation of this phenomenon.
posted by schmod at 3:21 PM on December 26, 2011


i've been trying to articulate for years why i find CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM so repellent that it literally makes me feel nauseous. i've never understood why such a cruel show is considered genius.

Comedy is always, always subjective
. That said, I can't agree (and find it a little shocking and bewildering that it might be suggested) that Curb Your Enthusiasm's primary mode is cruelty.

It's pretty simple, really, and though it's a gimmick, it's a gimmick that works well because of the skills of the people involved.

The setup, of course, is that Larry David, playing 'Larry David' behaves in utterly tone-deaf, self-involved ways that he might behave in in a world where there were no consequences for unleashing rampant id. He isn't cruel, he's just utterly selfish, and without fail, the consequences of his actions make him look like a fool and a boor (or a not-so-innocent victim of his own inability to understand the feelings of others) in nearly every situation.

A group of superb improvisers take the scaffolding of these situations and turn them into scenes, and then weave the scenes into a show.

It's very much cringe comedy, of a kind, but although that sort of thing normally turns me off completely, Curb does not, because it's not mean spirited -- not cruel -- because the victim of all the cringeworthy situations created by Larry's behaviour is inevitably Larry himself.

If anything, it is an astonishingly conservative, moralistic series of lessons on how important it is to understand that 'we're trying to have a civilization here' and the terrible consequences of meanspiritedness and self-absorption. Its message is the opposite of cruelty, I think.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:25 PM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Curb makes me uncomfortable, because I know people who more or less act the way that Larry David's character does, and are able to get away with it thanks to the environments that they live in.

The show gets a bit sadder if you consider that Larry David's character's tone-deafness is occasionally severe enough to make you wonder if he suffers from a mild form of autism.

On the other hand, there are a number of things that attempt to redeem Larry as a lovable asshole. Larry's behavior in the scene with his girlfriend's overtly-effeminate son is one of the most unquestionably positive things I've seen on TV in a while.
posted by schmod at 6:51 PM on December 26, 2011


I love that Curb makes me uncomfortable.

As someone who's seen every episode, I really can't agree that Larry is cruel. He is selfish and tone deaf and clueless sometimes, but he frequently tries to do the right thing and is punished for it. He's the personification of no good deed, etc..

But it's even more simple than that, to me. I like it when he calls people or institutions out on their silly rules--I think that's something everyone wants to do.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:04 PM on December 26, 2011


I thought what made Seinfeld unfunny was the formula got tired pretty fast, i.e., George does something craven and gets busted, Kramer does something zany, Elaine continues to be shallow and Jerry shakes his head in smirking exasperation at them all. On the other hand, you can't really expect mountains of surprises from a sitcom. And the "Helloooo!" episode was pretty funny.

Having said that,

So no, he's no Hicks

Thank fucking hell he isn't. I may have caught some of his lesser acts or something, but honestly, my impression of Bill Hicks was we were all supposed to be impressed by how edgy and don't-give-a-fuck he is. Or maybe this is the impression I got of his routine because I got around to watching him after loads of similarly edgy don't-give-a-fucks who emulated him goaded me into watching him. He and Carlin may very well be among the most misused comics I've ever seen.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:21 PM on December 26, 2011


He's reality TV for an over-worked, over-educated population of nerds who have been carefully trained not to challenge authority


You're thinking of Patton Oswalt.
posted by shen1138 at 10:46 PM on December 26, 2011


We've already done away with guilt, which no one experiences.

Apart from several hundred thousand homeless veterans that we sent overseas to do our dirty work.
posted by Twang at 12:55 AM on December 27, 2011


Lucky Louie is the most uncomfortable television show I've ever watched. I don't even really laugh through most of it, just shift in my seat and grimace. I find this impressive.
posted by latkes at 9:17 PM on December 27, 2011




« Older Bap Bah Dah Pah Baah Yap Pah!   |   This year - Christmas Means ACTION! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post