I had so much fun with the last blog – and so many people had other suggestions for inclusion – that I'm going to do another Funny Five. (I had fun, yes, but I lost a lot of work time, looking at all the funny YouTube clips, even after I found them for the blog. So beware.)
Louis C.K. is pretty much the Number One Comedian now: the Funniest Man Alive. (I think that honored mantel might actually be traceable. Louis took over from Chris Rock, and before him it was Steve Martin, and before him George Carlin, and before him Richard Pryor, and before him ....)
In any case, Louis C.K. is incredibly funny because he is a Major Truth-Teller. In the spirit of Lenny Bruce (but much, much funnier), he is willing to Say the Unsayable. And not just sex: bathroom functions, racism, relationships, navigating the world, etc. As I was putting together this blog, I looked at a lot of his stuff, and there is no question that he goes to darker and more private places than any comic I've ever seen WHILE STAYING HYSTERICALLY FUNNY.
His routine is basically Folk Wisdom as jokes. Louis is an Everyman, trying to deal with the vicissitudes of life in the modern world, but His version of how he gets through It: his divorce, his kids, his life as a stand-up comic, his "success," his fat body, his bodily functions, his daily needs, his pet hatreds, etc.
I hear him every so often on Howard Stern's radio show, and they told this wonderful story about how Louis burst into tears after he had had a meeting with Woody Allen when Woody wanted to cast him for a part in BLUE JASMINE. (The part eventually went to Andrew Dice Clay, and Louis played a different part.) Louis said that Woody had complimented him on his work and had just wanted to see him; it wasn't really an audition, just a face-to-face meeting. Anyway, Woody's compliment meant so much to Louis that it made him cry. (Not in front of Woody, of course: later.) But it shows how important Louis' work is to him. And how high he wants to reach.
His FX show "LOUIE" is remarkable, in fact, for how unfunny it is ... or can be. Some of the shows – especially one where he loses one of his daughters in the subway – made me very uncomfortable. The TG and I look at each other and say, "This is a comedy?" But Louis has been so funny in the past that he has no need to be funny all the time. We all know that he's funny: he has nothing to prove in that area. I think he's asking himself to go deeper, taking "funniness" wherever it goes. He's a real artist, who wants a lot more.
Watch some of the links below, some of his concerts. Be warned: I guarantee that you will stop what you're doing and lose valuable work time. But you will laugh your ass off. He's the Funniest Man Alive.
But first, to whet your appetite, a couple of his one-liners and "jokes":
I don't stop eating when I'm full. The meal isn't over when I'm full. It's over when I hate myself.
Every day starts, my eyes open and I reload the program of misery. I open my eyes, remember who I am, what I'm like, and I just go, 'Ugh'.
If you're a woman and a guy's ever said anything romantic to you, he just left off the second part that would have made you sick if you could have heard it.
There's nowhere I won't go. As long as it's horribly, horribly true and/or wrong.
Everything that's difficult you should be able to laugh about.
When I was younger, I lied all the time, because once you understand the power of lying, it's really like magic because you transform reality for people.
If you're older, you're smarter. I just believe that. If you're in an argument with someone older than you, you should listen to 'em. Even if they're wrong, their wrongness is rooted in more information than you have. [This one is for my daughter, The Flower.]
I have a lot of beliefs and I live by none of 'em. That's just the way I am. They're just my beliefs. I just like believing them. I like that part.
There's a reason it's called 'girls gone wild' and not 'women gone wild'. When girls go wild, they show their tits. When women go wild, they kill men and drown their kids in a tub.
A Master at work:
Louis C.K. – Oh My God show – from HBO
Louis C.K. – at the Beacon Theatre in NYC
Louis C.K. – a Full Comedy Central show
The TG reprimanded me for not including any women in the first blog. And she's right: women are funny. I could have included Dorothy Parker, Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, or even George Eliot (who had a wicked sense of humor.)
But I'll choose Nora Ephron, and not just because she and the TG had a very successful working relationship on WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. I liked Nora's work even before she got into filmmaking. I remember her famous essay in Esquire on having small breasts, thinking, "This is a female Woody Allen." But more sensible: there's a real beating heart behind the laugh-making.
I love Nora's work, not just for her humor, but for her sense of character: how she sees the comedy in life. She's a normal, head-on-her-shoulders person, doing comedy: a rare thing.
And she became a very nice director. I'm a huge fan of romantic comedies; good ones are few and far between. And she made a bunch of them.
Here is a scene from the end of the underrated YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Nice on the page, but magic on the screen.
Sometimes I wonder...
They stop walking, they look at each other.
If I hadn't been Foxbooks and you hadn't
been The Shop Around the Corner and we'd
just met --
I would have asked for your phone number
and I wouldn't have been able to wait 24
hours before calling and asking, "How
about coffee, drinks, dinner, a movie,
for as long as we both shall live?"
(almost a swoon)
And here it is, on film.
OK, what makes this scene really work is the chemistry of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Here are a few more Nora gems:
"WHEN HARRY MET SALLY" restaurant scene -- the famous orgasm at Katz' Deli
"WHEN HARRY MET SALLY" – when they realize that they are in love
"WHEN HARRY LET SALLY" – "Joe's getting married."
"SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE" – "An Affair to Remember vs. The Dirty Dozen"
"SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE" – the TG's trailer for the movie – no one made trailers like the TG
"SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE" – Joe on the phone with Dr. Marsha
Nora's Commencement Speech from Wellesley College – 1996 – words of wisdom from a nice woman
Every time I see or read THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, I think, "This is the wittiest man who ever lived." Right up there with Shakespeare.
I've seen EARNEST four times – twice with a male Lady Bracknell, twice with a female Lady Bracknell. It works both ways. The wit just flows like a clear mountain stream: precise, immaculate, refreshing.
The thing I like best about the piece – besides all the immortal jests about cucumber sandwiches and handbags -- is that, despite all the high farce, the audience really cares that Jack and Gwenolyn get together (and, to a lesser extent, Algernon and Cecily). At least, if the play is done halfway decently. Wilde gets to eat his cake and have it, too. He ridicules romantic love at the same time that he writes a wonderful romance himself.
I thought it was an indestructible work until I saw pieces of the flat and flat-footed remake with Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett, and Judi Dench. Yecch.
Here is some of the real stuff: from the magnificent 1952 film with Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell and Sir Michael Redgrave as Jack
More Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell
Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn and Dorothy Tutin as Cecily
And here is a dessert tray of Wilde one-liners:
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing.
The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
And his famous last words: "Either this wallpaper goes ... or I do."
I love cartoons, especially one-panel cartoons. When I was a kid, we had a big book of cartoons – THE NEW YORKER 25th ANNIVERSARY ALBUM – that I read over and over again, laughing and learning about life in the way that only cartoons can teach. From that book, I fell in love with the work of artists like Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, William Steig, Peter Arno, and many others. (In fact, this whole blog could have been Five Cartoonists Who Make Me Laugh.)
And my love for the classic "New Yorker" cartoon persisted into adulthood as I, a long-time subscriber, was introduced to Roz Chast, George Booth, Jack Ziegler and the new generations of New Yorker cartoonists. It even survived my discovery that at The New Yorker, the artists didn't necessarily write the captions. Sometimes the captions came first, from gag writers, and then given to the artists.
I love one-panel cartoons because they hit you once, fast. (My work writing novels is so stretched over time that I particularly relish seeing what other artists can do in just an instant.)
And there is no single-panel cartoonist who over the years has made me laugh more than Gary Larson, the creator of "The Far Side," which ran from 1980 until 1995 when Larson retired. He said that he thought the strip was getting repetitive and he didn't want it to enter the "Graveyard of Mediocre Cartoons." I imagine that he must have made a fortune in those fifteen years. At its peak, "The Far Side" ran in more than 1,900 daily newspapers, was translated into 17 languages, was collected on calendars, used in greeting cards, and collected in 23 compilation books, all of which made The New York Times Best Seller List.
Larson has an amazing imagination. His main shtick -- anthropomorphasizing animals, which in turn, animalizes humans – yields big, weird, surreal laughs ... and a lot of sly insights into the imperfect nature of people. I have the complete two-volume, slip-cased THE COMPLETE FAR SIDE, and no matter where I turn, within a couple of panels, he makes me laugh out loud. For me, his batting average is very high.
The great anecdote about Larson concerns one famous strip, which shows a chimpanzee couple grooming. The female finds a blonde human hair on the male and inquires, "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?" The people at the Jane Goodall Institute freaked out and had an angry lawyer's letter sent to Larson and his distribution syndicate. Of course, when Jane Goodall herself saw the cartoon, she loved it and they wound up using the cartoon on their T-shirts to raise money for the Institute. Later, she and Larson became friends and he visited her compound in Tanzania where, in perfect "Far Side" style, he was mauled by a bully chimpanzee.
Larson did only one cartoon for "The New Yorker," a cover for the annual Cartoon Issue in 2003, after his retirement, an offer that he thought was too prestigious to refuse.
What can I say? He makes me laugh.
There is no substitute for a look at his stuff.
THE FAR SIDE – a video of some funny "Far Sides"
More "Far Sides"
Doing these blogs, I realize how important and deep the work of the Comedian is. So often, greater honor is bestowed on the Tragedian. As Woody Allen said, "Comedy sits at the children's table."
Too bad: I think the world has enough tears. What we need is more laughs.
As Woody wisely said, "I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose."