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Funny business

Louis C.K. has work to do
By CHRIS CONTI  |  July 1, 2009

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"I'm pasty, pale, overweight and I have red hair. I see that Coldstone Creamery and I want to crawl inside and hide," Louis C.K. responded when I asked if he recalled just how disgustingly hot and muggy Rhode Island could be during his 4th of July headlining set at the Newport Yachting Center.

The Newton, Massachusetts, native played Newport last summer to a sold-out tent and immediately corralled the crowd with laughs as he pushed aside two giant easels displaying various sponsors. "Buy all this shit right here, people," he said waving his arm in a giant, circular motion. Two minutes in and Louis C.K. (a shortened take on his last name, Szekely) had the crowd roaring and didn't relent for more than 90 minutes, tearing through plenty of material from his two stand-up specials, 2008's Chewed Up (filmed at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston) and the '07 HBO special Shameless, offering skewed observations and near-horrific views on raising his two young daughters (like the Anti-Christ to Dr. Bill Cosby) with searing punchlines that usually resulted in those paused, hand-over-the-mouth laughs. C.K.'s recurring impersonation of drippy "douchebags at Starbucks" remains a personal favorite, along with views on getting fatter ("It's a downward spiral that begins with a donut, and the next thing you know I'm killing hookers") and why he prefers women over club chicks ("There's no Women Gone Wild, no one would buy that shit. When women go wild they kill men and drown their kids in the tub"). "Politically incorrect" doesn't even scratch the surface, and it's no wonder why fellow comedians are ready to deem him the heir apparent to George Carlin. David Cross recently told Time magazine that "Louis C.K. is doing his best work ever . . . He's America's most important and funniest comedian."

Louis C.K. has been on the circuit for more than 20 years and, during a brief phoner two weeks ago, he recalled his early days kicking around New England, including many kind words for old friend (and Ocean State Follies ringmaster) Charlie Hall.

"Charlie Hall is the funniest person in Rhode Island," he told me. "He was always gracious and kind to me when I was coming up and constantly playing little hole-in-the-wall places like Periwinkles in Providence."

I dropped a line to Hall after talking with C.K.: "Louis CK was one of these rare comedic originals coming out of Boston," Hall noted. "Louis was happier to be a middle act and make less money than a headliner, thus had more freedom in choosing offbeat premises and non-generic phrasing. Comedians like Louis didn't sell out doing stock jokes and concepts, they experimented and pushed boundaries. He was — and continues to be — a well-respected 'comedian's comedian.' "

I asked C.K. if he had any particular memories from last year's set in Newport.

"Well, I noticed a lot of boat tans and boat shorts in Newport," he said, "but the crowd was very gracious and appreciative, and I had a great time. It was hot as hell, but it was fun." When I asked about the old-school Providence days, you could almost hear him smiling. "Providence always had a real crowd, ya know? You guys have such a great melting pot in that city and the audience was always genuine and real. I loved it."

Later this summer, C.K. will return to the hallowed Caroline's in Manhattan to play four straight nights. I asked if a small room requires the same approach to, say, his sold-out show at the Orpheum in Boston in March.

"Stand-up takes a lot out of you," he told me. "The Orpheum show was like a fucking rock concert, and I had to keep the attention of a few thousand people by myself."

Check out Louis C.K.'s YouTube channel (with more than 15,000 subscribers) for dozens of clips he's produced (look up "Louis C.K. with child"). Also head to and read his blog entry about a recent USO trip to entertain the troops. I was curious if he fed off the crowd during the show, and his candid thoughts on winning over troops made it clear: "I had never felt that way on stage in my life. The kids laughed with such relief and gratitude. I never made people laugh that needed to laugh that badly. It was amazing."

Louis CK has dabbled in all media, from stand-up to writing, directing and producing, working on The Conan O'Brien Show, The David Letterman Show, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Chris Rock Show (he and Rock also wrote and produced the cult classic Pootie Tang). His HBO series Lucky Louie (available on DVD) was canceled after one season. Later this year, he'll co-star with Ricky Gervais in the feature film The Invention of Lying.

When I try to get him to bite on a few wiseass questions, C.K. doesn't take the bait.

Biggest thief in comedy: Carlos Mencia or Dane Cook?

"Oh man, I'm not going there," he said with a chuckle.

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Related: Dance, monkey: Louis CK, Potty mouth, Interview: Louis CK, More more >
  Topics: Comedy , Entertainment, Bill Cosby, Music,  More more >
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