Friday, 27 June 2014
comedy lessons from Jack Dall and in praise of 'Louie'
The word 'masterpiece' is often overused. Everywhere we see artists dubbed as masters by critics and audiences alike, not always fairly. That isn't the case of Louis CK's semi-autobiographical masterpiece 'Louie'. Yes, I said masterpiece. Because 'Louie' on the surface seemed just like any other comedy series, only it's much more than that. As a human being and comedian it's the sort of artistic work that got under my skin like anything ever did before. 'Louie' is as much funny as it is scary and philosophical. It's a comedy and a tragedy. Tragicomical is the word to look for in here.
Very few shows have managed to touch me so deeply. Breaking Bad, the remake of Battlestar Galactica, the recent Hannibal and Twin Peaks were some of the very few. Of course, there are many very funny shows out there, but none as challenging as 'Louie'. 'Louie' dares not to be funny.
"This is real!" Louie yells at his daughter in one of the first episodes of this fourth season. And that is why 'Louie' stands on its own, away from the competition. The barrier between reality and fiction gets so blurry we're unsure whether this is all true. It can be, and if not it could, because every episode is more ground-breaking than the last one. CK shoots like a John Cassavetes documenting fiction and reality in the same way.
I knew Louis CK's stand-up but I didn't start paying as much attention as when I started watching the show. My fascination with the man's art led me to discover he was greatly influenced by one of the comics that has the most influence on me becoming a comedian: George Carlin.
Wandering through Youtube videos months ago I found his speech at the tribute to George Carlin held at the New York Public Library after his death.
From a wholly inspiring speech, what stuck with me was this:
"When you’re done telling jokes about airplanes and dogs, and you throw those away, what do you have left? You can only dig deeper. You start talking about your feelings and who you are. And then you do those jokes and they’re gone. You gotta dig deeper. So then you start thinking about your fears and your nightmares. And doing jokes about that. And then they’re gone….It’s a process I watched him do his whole life. And I started to try to do it."
As a beginner comic, I thought this was insane. I barely had any material and this guy was saying to throw all the good stuff away? Then time passed and the "good stuff" no longer rung true and relevant and I couldn't understand how some comics could endure doing the same material for years. The fear of getting rid of your good stuff will stop you from getting to the great stuff, the stuff that will make you a great comedian.
I started doing it and then I improved a little. Louis CK had been doing the same material for decades. It took him years to get strong routines that worked. Then he got rid of them and became what he is today, one of the best comedians working in the world. How do you come up with your best material? "Dig deeper".
Of the many cameos 'Louie' has to offer, the one of David Lynch is something incredible. The way his character challenges Louie and in the end makes him a better comic is a huge lesson. When in one of the episodes he gives Louie a countdown and tells him at the end of it he has to be funny. Louie replies it doesn't work like that. It is truly one of the best scenes in the show for me and one that surely will apply to many comedians. Dall challenges Louie to improvise, to be funny, that that is his job.
Jack Dall has three rules for show business. The first one stuck with me and was the first step on me improving as a comedian.
"Look'em in the eye and speak from the heart"
"You're whatever you have to be to make people laugh". Get out there, be funny - it's your fucking job.