Woody Allen spent some time with Louie CK, shooting Blue Jasmine. Even if you’re not up to par with the comedy scene, you know Louie is THE stand-up comedian. Woody Allen is also THE stand-up comedian… of 1967.
In a recent interview, Louie described his audition with Woody – he was supposed to play a bad guy, a role that eventually went to the hands of Andrew Dice Clay. Woody grimaced at his acting and Louie understood why. He couldn’t play that character, but still auditioned for the chance of meeting his idol. He got another role, more suited to his skills and personality.
I learned about this a while ago, but this piece of news got a new meaning now that Woody announced to be toying with the idea of going back to stand-up. Woody is more into basketball than movies, nowadays, and I suspect he doesn’t watch much TV with Soon-Yi, but it’s in that medium that Louie shows his acting chops. He shows that he can play himself with some tweaks. He even mocks his acting skills in a hilarious sequence with Matthew Broderick. So, did he hire Louie just to measure himself against him?
Woody says he got the idea of getting back on stage when he saw Mort Sahl, the 86 year old comic, perform at the Café Carlyle, at the Carlyle Hotel, where he usual plays with his jazz band. He said “He’s not as rapid as he was when he was 35, but all the stuff is still there. Watching him, I had the same feeling now, in 2013, as I had when I saw him in 1950-something. Of, ‘Hey, I’d like to get back on stage and do stand-up again.’ ”
Woody would love to see if he could still do it. If he could, we’re in for a treat.
We often forget how good certain comics were, because they often venture on acting or, in Woody’s case, both acting and directing, and leave stand-up behind. Adam Sandler was an excellent stand-up comedian before he became the stalwart for bad comedies. The same for Eddie Murphy, who at least had a good stint before he started talking to pets and getting in fat costumes. Steve Martin was excellent, too and inspired many comics with his unique style.
Of all the comics gone “serious”, Woody became the most successful and accomplished. His directorial work obscured everything else he ever did. He acts, but you can’t dissociate Woody Allen, the actor from Woody Allen, the director. He’s no Miles Davis but he’s an accomplished clarinet player. He also writes: I was recently talking with someone who was admired that Woody had ever published a book. I was more astonished he didn’t know that. He is a prolific short-story writer, whose work has been compiled in several books, three of which sit on the a) section of my shelves. I hear he makes a mean lasagna, but those are rumors.
That his other work is forgotten can be understood. He excels at short story writing, but that doesn’t get that much publicity, even if you’re the best. His acting is limited to different characters, but all with the same mannerisms – his. His clarinet playing isn’t exceptional. But his stand-up… His stand-up was unique and so well crafted, its only flaw being its lack of quantity and maybe the quantity of competitors at the time. He came up with Mort Sahl, Bill Cosby and Lenny Bruce. His album legendarily sold 6 copies and became a collectors’ item, instead of the money making machine that his competitors’ had.
Woody had a story-telling approach. He didn’t tell jokes, he developed pieces. I shot a moose once is the introduction of one of his best. If you’ve seen it, you are now hearing it in his voice and remembering young Woody protruding his head in a bird-like manner, after mumbling the words. That piece starts with a believable premise, but soon gets surreal. He makes you laugh incrementally and uses your memory to get bigger and bigger laughs. He says something funny, later he repeats it in a slightly different context, which makes it funnier. He does it again, until you’re expecting it, almost laughing in anticipation. That’s when he hits you with a misdirection, making you roar with laugher (if comedy is your thing). He builds this story, twists and turns, making Dali’s work look fitting of the Renaissance. At the end of this 10 minute story, his final words wrap everything together for the biggest laugh. He was a closer.
This might help to explain why he became such an accomplished director. Most stand-up comedians who use the story-telling route – instead of the one-liners – can do part of what he does. What they lack is his wrapping up ability. They end with their strongest joke, while Woody ends with a joke that makes everything fit.
A different albeit more obvious connection, between his stand-up and filmmaking career, is the overlapping of material. Some monologues (see Annie Hall) were partly taken from his stand-up, and several one-liners or pieces of dialogue of his early career, were directly lifted from it. In an interview with Dick Cavett, Woody explains he likes to throw lines out-of-nowhere in the script, making the dialogue unexpected. In the same interview he talks about one aspect of his films that Louie adapts – he prefers a rugged and uncouth look (sloppy is the word he uses), to an overworked look – but that’s going off subject.
What makes me curious now is the subjects that he’ll tackle in his stand-up. He never broached subjects from his personal life. The closer he got from that was joking about his ex-wife violation. I expect him to continue with his neurotic, surreal humour, hopefully improved by age. Most of all, I expect him to continue to display his unique power as closer that I could never mimic. Every time I do something I seem to finish my texts in mid-
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