October 26, 2010

The Humor of Cruelty

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Good news, everyone. Poop is still funny. I say this with utmost seriousness, as this staple of the comedic spectrum was in danger of becoming too lowbrow and vulgar to remain comic gold in the public eye. Luckily, there was proof on Sunday that our old friend is saved to Louis C.K., the surly, growling comedian who wrote the cult classic Pootie Tang (2000), created/starred in HBO’s Lucky Louie and FX’s Louie and has been a longtime writing voice on the late night talk show circuit. He is a comedian who has been able to find mainstream success without the plastic, catch-phrasey gimmicks usually associated with his level of popularity. And this past Sunday in Bailey Hall, he did the unthinkable by reaffirming the power of the plop, fondly recalling moments of oral scatological consumption or penile/fecal interaction. And we loved it — he had the packed crowd snorting and giggling about everything you’re “too old” to laugh at, from racism to sex to hating children then back to sex and a disturbingly clear image of getting blown by a 12-tongued dream goddess speaking a dead language. C.K. came as the guest of the Cornell University Program Board, slanging his witticisms in front of a deep red curtain where I once practiced in Steel Drum band, one of Cornell’s best-kept for-credit secrets. Todd Glass led off the show with a 15-minute set that seemed to be an earlier, less refined version of C.K.’s style. Another middle-aged disenchanted white guy, Glass got laughs playing off stand-up’s isolation and mumbling around the stage riffing on a lack of preparation.

A lot of comedians make a living off talking shit. Let’s face it, cruelty is funny — it’s been getting laughs for years and will probably continue to do so until the end of time. Yet C.K. belongs to that rare breed of funnymen who are able to combine an unapologetic self-deprecation with what comes off as genuine rage and boredom with the waking world. Slouching around the stage in a black T and jeans, C.K. spent the set discussing his personal likes and dislikes — “I really like to eat and sleep…Sex is okay too, but … you know, I’m not gonna put in any effort. If I happen to bump into a pussy, sure, but …” — and methodically ripping his audience apart, lambasting us for everything from our general whiteness to the change in our pockets. His honesty veers towards the edge of insolence, toeing the wrong side of the line before launching wide jabs at another unsuspecting demographic. Personally, I’m thankful any time someone can remind us that the world below Cayuga’s waters is NOT the Disneyworld fairytale we drunkenly giggle through every week, frat sodas and 4L’s in our wake.

Like George Carlin and Richard Pryor before him, Louis C.K. has made observing everyday life a painfully honest art form. Rather than distorting and obscuring humdrum occurrences, C.K. basically tells it straight, exaggerating syllables instead of stories, leaving his routine laughably believable. The first segment of the show was spent grumbling about Ithaca’s general shittiness and the innately awkward nature of stand-up comedy itself, reminding us of his absolute power onstage in the ability to do a great show or ruin our night by coming out, “saying Hi, then getting an awkward look on my face and just shitting my pants and leaving.” Yet while his day-to-day observations are great (the bit on Schindler’s List — “GOODBYE JEWS!” — nuff said), C.K.’s greatest moments come when he turns the show inwards and goes through the many things that make him a terrible person, from his utter impatience with his talentless five-year-old to the chronic disease that is horn-honking.

Already established as a titan of today’s comedy world, C.K. delivered a performance that reestablished my faith in stand-up. It was pretty shaken after Tracy Morgan last year, who spent an hour reminding us why he’s a sketch comic. But C.K. was born to do this, proving his worth at the end of the night by inviting questions from the audience and delivering the same high level of responses that are found in his prepared bits. And to the doucher who mistook one of Glass’ bits for Louie’s and told him “an extra-medium is a large,” I regret to say you embarrassed yourself, the entire school and possibly ruined any hope of him ever returning to Ithaca ever again. I’m just glad he was able to rip you apart enough to make the rest of us laugh.

Original Author: Graham Corrigan