Detail from an Orville Hurt cover illustration from Ebony Jr. magazine, April 1977
In his new two-hour performance movie, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. describes his mental process thusly: 1) Have a stupid thought; 2) Berate self for having a stupid thought; and 3) Further analysis. This declaration isn't particularly surprising from one of the sad-sackest of sad-sack comedians, but it also gives some insight into where his comedy comes from. In a Q&A session after the movie, Louis revealed to the audience that the "further analysis" is where his entire stand-up approach comes from. If he finds himself having an experience or thought that could become a "comedy bit", he consciously avoids thinking about it until he has a chance to do the his "further analysis" live on-stage. When he starts to develop new material, he literally gets on stage with a few bare-bones stories to tell and starts to flesh them out extemporaneously. I would be a little dubious about this process of developing comedy material - never writing anything down and just developing jokes in a live setting from a few "seed" stories - but Louis C.K. has spent twenty-five years figuring out how to make it work.
His new movie Louis C.K.: "Hilarious" is a two-hour live stage performance (actually pieced together from two different back-to-back performances, one for taking long shots and one for close-ups), and the whole performance is based on this approach to comedy. Armed with some of his best material ever, Louis explores divorce, parenthood, and modern entitlement. The last bit is one that people know from his appearance on Conan O'Brien that became a popular viral video a while ago. The material is more fleshed out in "Hilarious" and makes up a third of the whole show - this isn't a problem, though, because it's an almost-inexhaustible source of indignation and jokes, as Louis goes after people for complaining about flying, using the ATM, and cell phones.
Like most stand-up movies, the production values aren't that much different from a stand-up special on HBO or Comedy Central - it's just a guy standing on a stage - so it's valid to ask why the Sundance Film Festival accepted "Hilarious", the first stand-up movie that has ever screened at the Festival. Simply put, it's the writing. Like many of the movies at Sundance, Louis C.K.: "Hilarious" has a great script - it's one of the most consistently funny performances I've seen from anyone, and the audience I saw it with laughed from start to finish. After the show was over, one audience-member told Louis that she was achy all over from laughter - his response was, "Thank you. It's a great compliment to me that I was able to cause you pain."
"Not Funny, Ha-Ha" by Lois