In medieval times, kings enjoyed almost unlimited power. Well, there was also the Pope, and God, and sometimes kings ended up in cellars waiting for execution. Anyways, being among the most powerful people, these kings probably were of an extremely high opinion of themselves. One wrong word, and the next day your head would decorate a king’s porch or something. Anyways, the only person allowed to speak bad about the king was a jester—a guy whose direct job was to mock the king and his guests. Why? You could say a jester was a king’s false mirror.
Now let us travel forth in time and take a look at what we have now. We mostly do not have kings anymore, and formally we enjoy freedom of speech—we can express ourselves, and we have a right to think whatever we want. The only question is: do we do this often? How often can you remember yourself standing up and saying an uncomfortable truth, expressing thoughts many people might have, but which are perhaps too radical, or unpopular, so they are too afraid of social ostracism to say them out loud?
I guess it does not happen that often. Our societies are our kings, and these kings desperately need a jester—someone brave enough to mock sacred cows, Achilles’ heels, and painful spots. And here is where stand-up comedians come in. A good stand-up comedian is an outcast, a person not necessarily funny, but with a deep sense of life; a person who says rather sad and sometimes gross things that no one else has the guts to say.
In my opinion, among all stand-up comedians nowadays, one of the greatest ones is Louis C.K. The amount of gross things he says per minute is incredible—and so is the amount of things people are usually afraid to joke or talk about, and this is why I think he is great. He confesses things you would probably want to hide forever in the darkest closets of your mind, and people laugh at it—because in his jokes, they recognize themselves.
For example, let us talk about his show, “Louie.” The show is basically a collection of sketches about Louis C.K.’s everyday life, combined with fragments of his monologues on different subjects. Louis acts as himself: a New York-based depressed stand-up comedian, divorced with two children whom he is allowed to see a couple of days in a week, and trying to recollect himself and start his life over again. He has some friends, meets new people, but you can see he is not happy about it: he is tired and desperate.
Louis C.K. for me has suddenly revealed himself as a decent actor. Sometimes I even caught myself thinking that his facial expressions, reactions, and comments on this or that occasion greatly remind me of my own personality. He does not look like he is acting; the show looks more like the camera is peeking into his real life every now and then. And this is awesome—it creates an atmosphere of presence, and it becomes easier to identify yourself with Louie.
And, of course, the jokes. I would not even call what he says “jokes,” because they are sad. Louie says almost nothing funny; well, the way he speaks makes you laugh, but the meaning of what he says is more tragic rather than amusing. He mocks tolerance, racism, education systems, terminal diseases, depression, sex, broken relationships, rape, child molestation, and God knows what else. All of these are problems that are too complicated to solve or to cope with, so people usually prefer to not talk about them at all, to pretend they do not exist. What Louie does is dig these issues up and shows them to people; it is like saying, “Look, here is this horrible thing you prefer not to think about, and here is what I am going to do with it: I am going to make you laugh at it, laugh and cry at the same time, because this is life too. Life is not just a constant climbing to the top and feeling great. Life is a series of ups and downs. Sometimes “downs” are so intense that you want to cringe, hide yourself in the basement, and die alone. But I am not going to let you. You will laugh at how difficult and unfair life is—and maybe this will help you get up and keep going.”
For some reason, I am rather sure that in real life, Louis C.K. is not too different from his character. I honestly believe a comedian cannot be satisfied with his/her life, and the world he/she lives in. When you are happy, you are blind, and it is often suffering (in different forms) that makes you open your eyes. A comedian’s job is not to simply make you laugh, but rather to make you see the mess around you, and help you figure out what to do about it. You can succumb to stress and sadness, or you can try to smile and live another day. This is what Louie does, and this is what you can learn from the show.
In my opinion, “Louie” is one of the best shows in its genre that I have seen. Many other comedians try to make you giggle; Louis C.K. and his character try to show you that whatever happens in your life, or no matter how messed up the world is, you can live through it. And this is probably the best lesson one can learn.