Humour is very personal. I might find something or someone hilariously funny, while you might have difficulty raising an eyebrow in reaction. It’s all very subjective. Which is why comedians the world over have their scores of supporters who exist alongside their droves of detractors. I’ve yet to come across a comic who fuels everyone’s fire.
I didn’t know much about Louis C.K. when I stumbled across an advertisement for a gig he did in Budapest recently. But he came highly recommended, so I got tickets. I had trouble accessing any sort of seating plan for the venue and the one I found made it look like there might be 400 people max in the audience … a cosy little gig.
Tickets were sold by band, which was unusual I thought. I’d been to the venue before and had always had numbered tickets. We were promised somewhere in rows 11-17, on a first-come, first-served basis. It seemed as if the organisers were hedging their bets, seeing how he’d go down. He would speak in English, without surtitles or subtitles or simultaneous translation. Rumour had it that the Vienna gig sold out in 40 minutes … but whether that was a large arena or an intimate affair, I don’t know. We got there early – but so did everyone else. The line doubled back on itself twice at least, as about 3000 people queued for tickets to their actual seats. I can’t say I was all that impressed and the gig hadn’t even started.
Inside, the line for the bar snaked around non-existent corners. And the line for the men’s loo and the surprising absence of a line for the ladies showed the 80/20 male/female ratio of attendance. It might even have been 90/10. There was a lot of testosterone in the room.
Large projected signs clearly stated the rules of the game. The whole concept of heckling could have done with some translation though. The man had brought along three of his favourite comedians and after each one had taken their 10-minute turn, I was beginning to question his own sense of humour.
Joe Machi, of Last Comic Standing fame, had the hardest gig of the night – first on stage. Mind you, from what I saw around me, the audience was in the mood to laugh at anything … and nothing. They were funnier than he was. Please, please, please, Gang, can we come up with something more original that ‘Hello Budapest, how are you?’ as an opener?
Next up was Rachel Feinstein – who has her own special on Comedy Central – Only Whores Wear Purple. Some of the world’s best comics are women – Dawn French, Victoria Wood, Jennifer Saunders – and I was all set to give it up for the sister. But wow … not. I left with one memorable line – about how she didn’t really notice the age difference in a relationship until he started bathing her in the sink. Perhaps I should be happy I got that much.
Last up (and one could only assume that we were supposed to be getting better and better as we went on) was Joe List, who had five minutes on Conan recently and brought a lot of the same material with him. And admittedly, the smirk that Rachel raised did break into a snicker at times – I could relate to the whole synonym thing and the thing about naked men and women in shoes worked… a little. I was warming up to a slow simmer.
Finally the man himself came on stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I was amazed. Who’d have thought he was so well known in this corner of the world. He seemed a little amazed, too. Billed as the funniest man in America, Louis CK certainly has a way about him. He has the delivery. He has the timing. He has the impersonations. And he has the clever wit that makes a good comic great.
His story of his Hungarian ancestry was hilarious. His grandfather, one Géza Székely Schweiger, was a Hungarian Jew whose family immigrated to Mexico, where he met CK’s paternal grandmother, Rosario Sánchez, of Irish Catholic descent. Géza agreed to have his kids raised Catholic, but remained ‘quietly Jewish’. Louis’ coach had problems pronouncing Székely, so he dubbed him C.K. He tells a great story of the irony of it all – that here he was, back in Budapest all these years later taking our money 🙂
His observational humour is second to none. His take on Christianity and how we know the Christians have won by how the world dates their cheques was priceless. He dipped in and out of character with an ease that approached the surreal. He had me.
His account of an email argument vs a text argument was close to the bone. His observation that life is a choice and that the world is full of people who haven’t yet killed themselves, struck home. His account of Achilles and his heel was hilarious. And his equation of
made me laugh out loud. He’s clever, very clever.
Which made his foray into smut so much more disappointing. Why is vulgarity so appealing? What is it about the human psyche that sees it as funny? Can we not have comedy without resorting to tired, clichéd obscenities? Perhaps he was feeling the language issue – that lack of complete understanding that had the audience laughing late and randomly? Perhaps he was playing to the testosterone? But then I watched some of his stuff on YouTube and it’s there, too.
He did an encore – something I’ve never seen a comedian do. And I wish he hadn’t. I wish he’d left well enough alone and kept his five minutes on fingering to himself.
But hey – that’s just my opinion. For another review, see this excellent take on the show. And Zsolt, if you’re reading – check out Dara O’Briain.