Live Show Recaps

Published on December 9th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Louis C.K. in Toronto: a non-review

Two shows sold out.

A third added, sold out.

A fourth easily would have, and a fifth and sixth *may* have given scalpers some inventory (the week leading up to the shows, the “wanted” listings on Craigslist vastly outnumbered the “for sale” posts).

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Louis C.K. became big in this country.  My first time seeing him live was in Montreal at the 2007 edition of Just For Laughs, and I remember being startled by the audience’s (very vocal) devotion to the man during his set. I spoke to a few people at the show in Toronto who were also pleasantly stunned by the demand for tickets and the excitement among the crowd as showtime approached. Louis CK fans up here don’t realize how many of us there really are.

In Canada, Louis doesn’t have the amount of exposure he does in the US. His HBO sitcom Lucky Louie aired here on a cable movie network that nobody has. He rarely performs up here. Short of his appearances on late-night talk shows, and being mentioned in lists of reasons why Dane Cook sucks, there’s only one reasonable explanation for his ability to sell 1200 tickets to us so easily:

He’s damn good, and word travels. Simple as that.

I went to the late Saturday show at the Diesel Playhouse, and it was phenomenal. He did about an hour and a half (including encore), signed dvds for a long line of fans afterwards, and seemed to be having a blast the whole time.

I’ve been writing about comedy for slightly more than a decade, and have managed to perfect the art of avoiding writing actual reviews of standup shows. I hate doing it. It’s inevitable that you insert full jokes or bits in a review, which is a horrible practice for a variety of reasons.

So I’m not going to do that.

But if you need a taste, here’s an unfortunately-tightened version of some of the material he did on the weekend, as delivered on panel with Conan a few months ago:

What doesn’t come across in the clip, and what I love the most about Louis, is the amount of honesty he gets away with. His thoughts – like all our thoughts – range from the borderline retarded to the mildly evil. We’re all like that. Our brains constantly surprise us, and if you can step outside yourself and recognize when those surprises are funny (comedy is, of course, all about surprise), you have the start of something.

It’s the ability to reach to the absolute furthest points on the spectrum, and get away with saying anything, that impresses the hell out of me. I’m not talking about being purposely dangerous or making controversial statements for the shock value. There’s none of that. It’s just honesty. He does a lot of material about his daughters, and his own impatience and intolerance for how kids behave. On paper, it seems awful to call your daughter an asshole. When he does it, he gets solid laughs. Nobody’s ooohing and awwing at him for being a jerk. Somehow, we all know he’s a good guy. But I don’t know how we know that.

My experience writing standup material is admittedly very limited, but I like to think I’m pretty smart about the mechanics of comedy. There’s a certain amount of math involved in writing a joke or structuring a set. But every so often someone defies the laws of physics I’ve been taught, and I’m left sitting there thinking “I will never be this good.” That thought crossed my mind many, many times on Saturday night.

I’d forgotten, until poking around online today, that Louis had written this wonderful tribute to George Carlin after he passed away. The clip that I chose to post on my personal blog when I heard the news is the very same clip that Louis ended up posting and talking about as an example of Carlin’s greatness (being blatantly honest without padding it with softer material). His thoughts on Carlin are oddly similar to some of the thoughts that I had while watching Louis on Saturday.

Needless to say, if you’ve never seen Louis live, you must experience it. According to his website, the new year will take him to Louisville, KY; Seattle, WA; Eugene, OR; Red Bank, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Kansas City, MO; Dubuque, IA; Albany, NY; Syracuse, NY; Northhampton, MA; Burlington, VT.

Go. Just… go, dammit.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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