It was an interview he heard that made him change his stand-up to what it is now. It didn’t one-handedly put him in the place he is right now, but it set him in the course to now be able to say that we could end peanut allergies by letting some millions die. The interviewee was George Carlin.
Curious George had an unusual approach. Like a snake he shredded his material when he was done with it. The unusual side of it was that it happened once a year. Louie had been working for 20 years to get one hour of material that he refused to abandon, because he feared he couldn’t do better than those rotten comedic scales. It wasn’t awful comedy, Louie was the proud number 98 on a list of Comedy Central 100 Greatest Standups of all Time. But they were funny musings at best. What Carlin said that stuck with him was that after you exhaust your ideas on making jokes about dolphins’ flippers or hats, you have to go deeper to find material. If you do it long enough, you get to places most comics can’t or won’t go.
The first bit that did it consisted on him saying his 4 year old was an asshole. I can see morally sound people cringe at that. The thought of having a loving parent insulting his own kid is frowned upon, but people sometimes really want to call little Bobby an asshole for taking an hour to eat their peas, but they don’t. At least parent of the year candidates don’t.
Louie a lot of the times shares thoughts that most of us had but were afraid to vent. We thought we were alone in them but apparently that ginger doughy man up there feels the same way – not god, by the way. He says the awful thing we think and wraps it in funny but we still aren’t sure. Let us feign a little unrest with an Uhhhhh! Now I hear someone laughing. It’s that tall guy from the third row. What an insensitive person. Oh, I hear someone else on the balcony. And two others right across they aisle. People are starting to laugh. Let me look at the guy at my left. He’s looking at me and, YES! He smiled at me. That smile means it’s ok. I can laugh too. And we all laugh togerher and maybe applaud together. We are not alone.
That moment of shared respectful pause grants us our cosy place in heaven and the following laughter lets us share our inadequacies. That first moment frees us to laugh at incredibly offensive material, until the topic is exhausted and out of breath. After that happens Louie can say You’re with me, now!
I’m that guy in the third row. My broken moral compass lets me skip the “6 Steps of Decorum in a Comedy Show” and I’ll begin laughing while most people start flinching at what obviously are great jokes. I don’t particularly identify with the parent of the kid who’s an asshole, but I understand the premise. I identify with some others, and it becomes even more rewarding when it happens.
Those truly great jokes come usually 20 minutes into a show after the audience is ready slowly coaxed into accepting their tone. It’s not dull material, but he wouldn’t be on the pantheon of great comedy with just that. He has to initially tame his thoughts, or at least some of them to be able to get cruder and rougher in the latter parts of the show, and even there his phrasing has to be perfect to offend you just the right amount. He tells to Howard that he used a bit on his TV show that he couldn’t use on his stand-up. It sums up to “If you went easier on child molesters maybe they’d give you back your kid alive.” It’s an excellent point, his phrasing and delivery are excellent but the audience is just too chocked to laugh. He tested it with different audiences, different phrasing and, after the gruelling process of bombing on a great thought, he found that if he said “But I don’t know what I can do with that information” people would find it almost acceptable. I think this implied censorship helps him improve.
In his last stand-up special Louie has a bit which I read as trying to say the most offensive things and getting away with it. The mechanism he uses is brilliant because it gives you the false illusion that he doesn’t mean what he says. It’s the work of a true craftsman of humour.
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: