What makes CK so good?

One thing: It's about the ideas, not the words. Sharilyn Johnson explains:

The cool thing about watching a guy like Louis do shows a week apart is that you can note the differences in wording and inflection in jokes. It struck me last night that he isn’t married to any particular precise wording in a lot of cases. Example: in Toronto, he said milk cartons had been 'invented by some Dutch faggot in 1740'. Last night, he said 'that some Dutch fucking loser invented in 1783'. It doesn’t have to be 1783. It doesn’t have to be 1740. It doesn’t have to be 'loser' or be 'faggot'. And if he wanted, it probably doesn’t even have to be 'Dutch'. So many comics make definitive choices down to that level of detail, and program their autopilot to whichever seems funniest. But Louis doesn’t memorize down to that level of detail, and it’s primarily the ideas themselves that do the heavy lifting. When you think about it, doesn’t that sound like… I dunno… the correct way to do this? No wonder other comedians love him so much.

Not sticking to the same exact wording also keeps you present. You're not coasting when you do that. You're in "front of mind" mode. And that's more engaging to an audience.

Then there's the honesty. Danny Mendlow explains why that's the thing that makes CK "the best working comedian in the world":

So what is it that makes Louis so great? To me, it’s all about his honesty. I believe that comedy is nothing more than the uncensored truth. The reality we all live, but are afraid to talk about, the thoughts we all have, but are afraid to admit. What separates Louis from the rest is that he is so painfully relatable. No matter what the subject matter is, you can’t ever get mad at him because he’s so real and genuine about it. He knows he’s not supposed to say what he’s saying, but he doesn’t care.

It's not just that he doesn't care. He gets off on walking that line. And those provocative topics and setups get people paying attention. Tell an audience that your young daughter is an asshole, and they're really gonna want to hear what comes next. When an audience is locked in like that, it's a lot easier to get laughs.

Plus, he's pretty damn fearless. He's got a willingness to say shit that no one else will say. Maybe my fave example of that is this clip from the Opie and Anthony show when CK responds to Patrice O'Neal's explanation of where the word "kike" comes from:


Sharilyn said...

I followed your tweet to this story because I thought I'd finally learn the secret of his genius -- only to be faced with my own words!

I think as much as we ponder and make educated guesses about people like Louis, we're ultimately just trying to bottle lightening. Though we probably all wish there was a code to be cracked.

Anonymous said...

I think Sharilyn is way off base here. The fact that Louis reworded a joke is not evidence that "he isn’t married to any particular precise wording in a lot of cases" - it's only evidence that Louis was tweaking a joke and working on its wording (which you can actually look at as evidence of the opposite of Sharilyn's assertion - that Louis is so concerned with wording that he tries subtly different details in order to see what works best before solidifying the delivery of the joke).

Louis is quite the wordsmith and extremely precise when it comes to the wording of a joke. (Re-watch his panel with Conan when he discusses airplanes - every word is so important and carefully chosen.)

A lot of comics play with the wording of their jokes - that's how jokes get better. To use the fact that Louis worded a joke differently on two different occasions as evidence that Louis "doesn't memorize down to that level of detail" is just not accurate.

The thought behind the joke is important, obviously, and is the core and meat of comedy. But the technique - how you word a joke, how you say a joke, how you inflect a joke - is important, too. I think Louis C.K. has both great big honest thoughts AND the technique to word it in a way that resonates and is funny - it's the combination of the two that makes someone a great comic.

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