Highlights from the great commentary on Louis CK's "Chewed Up" DVD

The self-interview piece that's a special feature on Louis CK's "Chewed Up" DVD is totally fascinating. 36 minutes of really interesting insight into standup and his approach. Some highlights:

Building a bit like a Samurai sword
He says that lately he's been adding on to jokes more instead of just keeping them static.

Now I tend to just keep glomming onto something and adding more and more layers and pieces and then taking away stuff that was weak...It's like the way they make Samurai swords. They fold a piece of steel and bang it until it's thin. And then they fold it again and bang it again until it's thin until it's just compact and all the air and impurities are just leaving and it's just this pure, dense steel. So that's what I try to do.

Neat Samurai sword analogy. This idea of extending bits is something that's been on my mind a lot lately too. How to build on existing jokes as opposed to coming up with new ones — and trying to fold older jokes and new ones together to make more of an actual block of material. Something that's really got some meat to it as opposed to just a 30 second in-and-out thing.

Being authentic
Why he chooses to be authentic: It's more fun.

I like to do standup that's very honest. I don't think it's the only way to be a comedian. Some people the whole point of their act is that they're lying or being fantastic or really silly or absurd. I think Steven Wright is a great comedian. Nobody says, "God he's so honest." He's not one of those guys. He just has a whole different thing that makes him funny and makes him great.

For me, what guides what I decide to say or do onstage or not is, "Is this shit really true? Is this really shit you're thinking?" If it's not, you're gonna feel phony and stupid. I don't like phony. I don't like it for me.

There's times I've been getting huge laughs with a bit and then I look at it and I go, "But it ain't real." I don't really mean it. I just knew where to go to find laughs. So sometimes I throw that kind of material away after I kill with it a few times.

To me, it's not important on an integrity level. It's just that it's so much more fun to say shit that's really inside you, that really gnaws at your brain, and to share those thoughts with other people. And especially if they're thoughts that people aren't used to sharing in a humorous way, things that people aren't even used to saying out loud.

I mean beyond saying "fuck" and talking about sex. The really embarrassing unsaid truths. Those are really fun to tell an audience and have them laugh. It's something that I really enjoy. That's why I'm doing standup this way. It's because I like it.

Almost a year ago I asked, "Does great comedy have to come from a personal place?" Since then, I actually have gotten more personal with my material. I'm not 100% there but definitely doing more. And I agree that it's more fun.

One thing that's nice about the "say shit that's really inside you" approach: It really helps a lot when you're in a dead room or things aren't going smoothly. When that happens, it just feels so much better to be talking about something you actually care about instead of ranting about some silly observational thing that no one really gives a shit about. If you're gonna sink, it might as well be on a boat you believe in.

There are no bad gigs
CK also thinks comics should look to take on bad gigs.

It doesn't matter where or who the audiences are. When I meet young comedians who say, "I don't want to work the road." Or "I don't want to work that club because the audiences are stupid." You're fucking stupid. Just get onstage. Go onstage in adverse conditions, that's how you get good.

Do you really think that becoming a great comedian means finding audiences that are already ready to laugh at what you have to say? That are really nice polite audiences? Do you really think that Carlin and Pryor and Bill Cosby started out in clubs full of cool people that were ready to laugh? No. So you gotta come up through a hard road. And that's fun, if you approach it right.

So many alt comics bitch about clubs and vice versa. But there's definitely something to be said for being versatile enough to kill at both. Or anywhere else for that matter. Like Mike Lawrence told me last night, when you've got a joke that kills in a black club in Harlem, at a midtown theater show, and at an art-star mic in the East Village, that's when you know you've got something.

Start from scratch
CK's advice for aspiring standups: Throw out all your jokes.

If you're a comedian and you're killing and you think you can keep doing the same jokes for years and years — Unless you're the best comedian that ever lived, you should be throwing out all your jokes because they stink and writing new ones. 'Cuz it's not like you get worse, you only get better.

Something Mark and I talked about the other night: How it'd be neat to just throw out all our material and start from scratch. The problem: Your A-set is a lifeline you don't want to give up. Sure, you may work in a new bit here and there. But dumping it all? That's a hard pill to swallow. You're gonna go through rough spots instead of killing as much as you know you could. But I also think if you did it, you could muscle up some of your B-material and turn it into A.

And the rest...
Couple more quick CK things: He mentions that Muhammad Ali is his life hero "in every way." And he says he curses because when he doesn't, he feels like he's being dishonest.

Actually, one thing I took away from the whole interview: It feels like he's kinda addicted to telling the truth. He has to explain why an answer is cut by saying the batteries on his camera ran out. And then he explains that the light is different because he went and ate a sandwich. And when he's talking about boxing, he stops himself and says, "This is all way too serious and self-indulgent." It's like his filter is broken or something. If it's on his mind, it comes out.


Mo Diggs said...

I agree on doing all kinds of rooms

One time I did this stereotypical hell gig where all the audience members wanted to heckle the comedians and all the comics felt they had to do crowd work

My friend suggested I do my experimental rap bit at the top. I laughed and said I would do it just to show him that it wouldn't work. It destroyed to the point where I did not have to do any crowd work for the rest of my set.

So what I would add to the "all kinds of rooms" thread of this discussion: NEVER underestimate your audience; they may go where you wanna go

Aalap said...

Wow what a good post. I love Louis CK. There is a great Hemingway short story where a soldier returns home from war and just doesn't want to lie anymore. he gets tired of BS stories.

I'm going to buy this DVD right now.

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