Like a Beyoncé album, Louis CK dropped a stand-up special without warning yesterday.
Sans the astronomical expectations that usually accompany a Louis special, we could simply relax and enjoy the show without fretting that our favorite comedian might be losing his edge. He most certainly hasn’t. Beside a few classic philosophical musings like the difference between racism and sexism, CK stuck to the near slapstick comedy of his earlier stand-up at clubs like…well…the Comedy Store (although it wasn’t always this easy).
But back in the 80’s and 90’s when the stand up boom was still booming, Louis wasn’t just crashing on the couch during his days off like other comics. He was out making innovative short films that, despite his current stature as the best comedian going, would be fine examples of the short form ready made for any NYU film school 101 syllabus. Starring people like Amy Poehler, JB Smooth, Todd Berry, Ron Shapiro and Robert Smigel, many of the themes and DIY techniques that we now see in Louie are all there in these early shorts. There’s an okay breakdown of all his short films here, but we thought we’d give you our favorites. In no particular order:
1 – Brunch
The simple premise and effortless execution of this film should teach every budding filmmaker that you don’t need a bunch of locations and a huge budget. Rick Shapiro plays a gossipy old lady going past the point of nice brunch talk. The real joke however isn’t the funny wig and the scatological jokes (those are amazing though) it’s the look on the woman’s face as Shapiro delivers his profanity-ridden monologue.
2 – The Letter V
Robert Smigel AKA Triumph the Insult Comic Dog AKA The Ambiguously Gay Duo AKA Da Bears was an SNL writer and co-wrote the early Conan show with CK. He stars in this 1998 short, “The Letter V.” Again a simple idea. An idiot, played my Smigel, is looking for V’s. The punch line at the end is really him being attacked by people in large V costumes. I wonder if they had the V costumes and thought, “Perfect, let’s just make a film about this now.”
3 – Hello There
This one feels like an early surrealist film of Luis Bunuel in style and a Kafka novel in theme. CK’s direct storytelling helps focus the otherwise absurd premise. Just watching something like this reminds you of how far we’ve come. When it was made in 1995, there were few places one could watch this level of bizarre comedy. Even though the internet is full of great content, “Hello There” still feels like something that hasn’t been done before.
4 – The Legend of Willie Brown
Louis’s been vocal about his love of jazz and here he takes aim at the pretension of the jazz world. The smoky voiced narrator and the cooler than cool attitude of the titular character are all hallmarks of silly music documentaries. CK shows his mastery of editing as well. Taking the last scene to its breaking point and back flawlessly.
5 – Jimmy Carter Builds a House
Before the Louie show was a twinkle in his eye, CK took to YouTube to try his hand at the newfangled technology (then only a year old). His deadpan non-impression of Jimmy Carter and “I could give a shit” editing style of the “character” he’s playing anticipated the grand absurdity of today’s YouTube. But when CK takes the piss out of it, you can’t get enough of it.