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There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Louis C.K. Show

Gabe Delahaye | June 24, 2009 - 10:44 pm

If you ever see a Twitter from @cklouis advertising a secret free show that will be filmed as part of his new pilot, you should follow the instructions that that Twitter offers and go to that show. But you should know that it is not free. Like all things in this life, it is not free.

For one thing, when you get there 10 minutes before all of the instructions say that you should get there, you will end up still having to wait in line for 30 more minutes, plus the 10 minutes early, so 40 minutes, and it will be raining. It’s not that the line is so long. It will be a totally reasonable line, actually. In fact, you won’t be entirely sure what it is that is taking so long because when you do get inside it will be another 45 minutes or something for them to set up cameras and stuff, which is what you would have assumed they were doing while you were forced to wait in the rain, around the corner from the entrance, watching a yellow umbrella bobbing in place above the crowd because you know that if that umbrella isn’t moving, then the line is not moving, then you are not moving, and it really is raining out here. Just a bunch of nerds out in the rain. Forever. You think of jokes to make on your own Twitter about divas and how Louis CK is a diva, but you don’t really want to do that because a) you recognize that in television production, or even just in life in general, sometimes things take time, and it’s not Louis CK or Entertainment’s fault that you purposefully decided right in front of your own building not to go back upstairs and get your umbrella even though it obviously looked like some serious rain in the sky. You made that decision. And besides, if you did post such a Twitter, something like “Apparently the CK stands for Celine KDion because of how divas are,” you would really only be trying to kind of show off that you were in line for a secret Louis CK show while simultaneously shitting on Louis CK, and the event, and everyone around you (there is also a Twitter idea about how many nerds are in the line, as if you, yourself, are somehow not a nerd) which is just the single worst thing, because you are the worst, and your instincts are terrible and mean-spirited and rude and self-indulgent and also, to be honest, boring. So there are already two costs to this “free” show: 45 minutes in the rain, and a stark self-realization. Or at least a stark realization about your Twitter Twendencies.

And then you get let inside.

As mentioned before, once inside, you will spend 45 minutes waiting. In Hollywood, time is money. Which is the kind of thing that you would say to people in Junior High, like, for no reason whatsoever. You’d be standing at your locker waiting for someone to finish going to the bathroom before heading down to the cafeteria for lunch (they have personal pan Little Caesar’s pizzas now!) and when they came back you’d say “hey, time is money,” and both of you would laugh about this expression that seemed somehow both adult and infantile, because it is. Because time is time, not money. Money is money. And anyway Junior High School was a long time ago, but what’s weird is that you’re at a point in your life now where time actually is money. Or at the very least time has a measurable value, and time spent waiting feels like value lost. You play Sudoku on your phone, which only makes things worse. What a stupid game. If time is money, then Soduku is anti-money. You literally lose money every time you play it. There is no cell phone service, so you cannot Twitter about this fact. Which is probably for the best.

Eventually Louis CK gets up on stage and explains that it’s going to be another 20 minutes before they’re ready to start taping, and you deflate, because you’re that guy. You’re the princess and the pea over here. “I can’t sleep, there’s something wrong with these mattresses.” But Louis CK does something kind of great, which is he spends most of that time talking to the audience. Riffing! He tells a really funny story about something that happened to him earlier that day. That day! It just happened, and already in his masterful hands it has become a charming and funny story that you enjoy very much about aging and acupuncture and the weird situations that human beings find themselves in. He answers questions from the audience, and is just so naturally funny and disarming that it almost makes you angry. Why can’t you have natural gifts like that? Why can’t you be funny and disarming? And then it becomes this inner-monologue about you, because ultimately it always comes back to you, right? Yes. And so now you are basically not even enjoying this rare moment with a world-class comedian telling stories off the cuff because you’re absorbed in this long-winded, self-absorbed interior monologue you’ve been having a lot lately about where your life is headed and what you really want and blah blah blah you are so pedestrian, seriously, get over yourself.

Also, Louis CK tells a really funny story about how he single-handedly ruined Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, although that can’t be true. If anything, Louis CK was one of the few saving graces of that terrible movie, one assumes, because one hasn’t seen it, because no one has seen it.

They pass out waters to the audience, and pitchers of Coke. Some people wonder if it would be possible to get beers and other alcohols, and Louis CK retracts his previous announcement that there won’t be any drinks, and suggests that everyone get drinks, because let’s have some fun, but eventually it turns out that no one can have drinks because this is after all a place of business and they would have to ID everyone, and have we already forgotten how much work it took just to get people inside from the rain, much less to verify their legal age and also take their orders and serve them. So this will be a sober audience. In any case, you don’t care. But that is a thing that happens. If nothing else, the time that it takes to reverse position on the whole drinks thing, try to get people drinks, and then reverse back to no drinks is a frustrating reminder of how long the wait is.

And finally it is time to tape the show, and one thing that is true remains so: Louis CK is the single best working stand-up in the United States of America. He talks about air travel and what people used to say before they could say Jesus Christ, and other really funny bits, and the crowd is really enjoying this. And as his show progresses, the jokes get a lot darker, and the bits are a lot more honest and pointed than stand up comedy tends to be. He talks about dating as a precursor to death, which leads into a joke about a pile of dead dogs, and the best case scenario of love being that in a few years you’ll be walking home alone, a bent over old widower, carrying heavy D’Agostino bags and waiting for your turn to die. And it’s fucking hilarious. He talks about how his car (and in turn, everybody’s car) is responsible for global poverty and you are laughing and of course you are thinking about global poverty as if somehow you’re going to leave this show and do something more for global poverty, but of course you aren’t. No one here is. In fact, on your way to the show, a college-aged girl with a lanyard around her neck and a binder full of laminated documents tried to get you to sponsor a needy third world child, standing in the rain without an umbrella as she tried to explain what her organization did to help people who needed help, and you barely stopped walking because you had to get to Starbucks to get an iced coffee before going to the free comedy show in the middle of the day, because some people starve to death and some people attend pilot tapings.

But here is the other thing about the show besides how funny it is: Louis has to keep taking breaks to let the Steadicam operator have a rest, because the Steadicam is very heavy. Fair enough. And then he has to figure out where the Steadicam should go next, because this is, after all, for a TV show. But the show needs to wrap soon so that they can clear the club because Louis is actually doing a paid show that night for real adults with money in their wallets and everything. There are some things that he needs to make sure to get for the TV show that are interstitial and not really funny. And so what ends up happening is that after all of the waiting, you really only get about 30 minutes of comedy. Which is plenty. Especially from Louis CK, that is a high laffs-to-time ratio. And this was all new material. And it was great. But you are kind of annoyed because somehow 30 minutes of comedy doesn’t entirely feel like it justifies the three hours this whole thing takes in total.

Because just like the gas-faced malcontent at the center of a Louis CK joke, you’ve grown dissatisfied with the world as it is, immune to its wonders. Just a few years ago you would have been Nintendo 64 Kid caliber excited to see Louis CK perform under any circumstances, and to be part of a pilot taping would have seemed incredibly neat and special. But now you are old and grumpy and jealous of the people who paid because they’re going to see a full comedy show without having to wait in the rain, as if somehow a short wait and a free show are actual BURDENS, as if you were just PUNISHED, which was not the case at all, you clown, it was great, but this is how you are thinking about it now out on the sidewalk. You look at the time and realize that you can’t go to the gym because the show got out later than you had anticipated, and somehow that’s someone’s fault or something. Because now you’re going to get fat and bed-ridden or something (you’re not going to get fat and bed-ridden) because you went to this fun, free, special comedy show. But it’s not free. It’s adding up. In your head, because you stink.

Out on the sidewalk after the show Louis is graciously thanking people for coming, stopping to take photos with anyone who asks, signing DVDs, being an all-around nice guy. Later he will send out another Twitter thanking everyone for coming and apologizing for the very problems that you’ve spent the whole time bitterly mumbling to yourself about. Which is why even for Louis CK there is no free Louis CK show. Not only because he has to actually put in the work and perform, but because he’s going to be blogged about the next day by some jerk who’s going to complain about the waiting and the rain and the Steadicam operator as if somehow that is Louis CK’s fault. As if somehow he wasn’t aware of the mild unpleasantness of these things, and grateful for people’s patience, and in return doing his best to keep the audience entertained while actually directing his own pilot. It’s going to feel like he’s getting shit on when he doesn’t deserve to be shit on, but that’s how it’s going to feel, because that’s what blogs feel like. Just a diarrhea waterfall. Or maybe that’s a bad metaphor. More like a perpetual motion machine powered by diarrhea. Better. “That’s just how things are now, with the internet,” someone will say. “You have to expect that now.” As if we don’t make up the rules. As if the world just is.

And as you walk to the subway, thinking about how you could possibly turn this mostly enjoyable experience watching your favorite comedian perform for free while most people were at work into a self-indulgent, misanthropic blog post for work the next day, you realize that this is perhaps the final and worst hidden cost. The show functions as a painful reminder that your life now is spent in constant hyper-awareness of what can be most easily ripped to shreds for an audience of fellow monsters who don’t care what you say just as long as you say it quickly. Comments and observations and opinions that are often hurtful and barely even thought through are thrown on-line as fast as possible in order to feed this rapacious, miserable animal. And knowing that, being reminded of that, is expensive. It costs you everything.