Comedy & Tragedy: Louis C.K.
“and I need her not to go with me just—please. -I don’t know anybody her age.-” Was that comical? tragic? or both? Answering that question requires context. Comedy and tragedy have always had an interesting relationship. Although the words comedy and tragedy have polar opposite connotations, they are in no way mutually exclusive. “Now that I’ve got a little bit of a career going, the Jews want me to stay in my weight and it might be unhealthy.” Numerous prominent philosophers have taken interest in this phenomenon. Many refer to this confusing relationship as the incongruity. Søren Kierkegaard regarded as the father of existentialism referred to it as the contradiction. Although Kierkegaard is most widely known as a great philosopher, on closer inspection many believe he was a great comic. In Søren Kierkegaard journal writings he laid out a comedic theory that suggested what makes something comical is a violation of our expectations. Kierkegaard believed this violation was also at the core of the tragic. He explained this using a story of a baker whose starving mother was asking him for foo d. A tragic story that was ironically funny because the mother of a Baker would be starving and begging in the first place. This sort of dark ironic humor lost itself in the United States to the birth of sitcoms in the late 1940s. With the introduction of the laugh track, early sitcoms were able to take advantage of a psychological phenomenon called informational social influence. It’s a phenomenon observed in both humans and our primate cousins where individuals assume the actions of others to reflect the correct socially accepted behavior. In other words gag humor became the norm because we thought we were supposed to find it funny–causing American television to avoid anything of substance for the next 20 or so years. Recently, a new form of laugh track free TV comedy has emerged, the sadcom. Louis CK was influential in setting the foundation for this trend in comedy television. CK’s show Louie captures the reality of being a single father with two young daughters and the craziness of it all. Although there are funny moments there’s no canned laughter to signal what to laugh at and much of the show is very real and sometimes disconcerting. “When you’re with me and then you’re with your mom and you talk about when you were with me. -You want us to lie to mom about Pamela..-” CK explore this format further with his show Horace and Pete, which is actually listed as a drama. The show constantly walks the line between comic and tragic-attempting to violate expectations of comedy at every turn. “The jokes that are in it are very funny -yeah they’re alright- but mostly it’s like Cheers if everyone there was depressed. -That’s right-.” Take the opening scene for example, where an obvious tension lingers in the air between Louis CK’s character Horus and Steve Buscemi who plays Pete. This scene can be humorous if I had a laugh track but without it it seems dark and unsettling. “I just don’t know why you left a big pile of rags right there. -I had to close and yeah, so there’s a pile of rags that I left and i’ll clean it up before we open. How’s this a mystery?- Pete the place is always perfect every time you close, so I thought you must have a reason. -So I didn’t.- okay.” “I just don’t know why you left a big pile of rags right there. -I had to close and yeah, so there’s a pile of rags that I left and i’ll clean it up before we open. How’s this a mystery?- Pete the place is always perfect every time you close, so I thought you must have a reason. -So I didn’t. Okay.” CK set the trend and other comedians have followed his lead. There’s Tig Notaros autobiographical sadcom, One Mississippi. The premise being the death of her mother. A sadcom Louis CK produced. “Just going to go ahead and disconnect the respirator. Any questions? -About death?-” Or Jill Salloways, Transparent. A story about a family unraveling from a lack of communication the premise being the discovery that the family patriarch is transgender. “Hi girls.” And my favorite, Baskets, a show created by Zach Galifianakis, Louie CK, and Jonathan Krisel-that follows the life and struggles of an aspiring clown. The big dreams of the lead character chip could be replaced with any larger-than-life aspirations. The most close to home for Louis CK and Zach Galifianakis, the process of becoming a comedian. It does a great job of capturing the obscurity and pain that comes with chasing a dream but it also imparts the rich intrinsic rewards that come with the journey and all the little victories along the way. ” How many bathrooms do you guys have her. -Three.- I’m gonna need two of them.” So in many ways sadcoms make tragedy more manegable. Comedy, the constantly evolving art form that it is-acts as a social, cultural, and even self mediator. In a nation disillusioned and suffocated by expectations-maybe in part because of the distortions of reality films and television have ceaselessly provided us-sadcomes provide a nice dose of reality. Putting forth the idea that life isn’t perfect and maybe it never should be. “This is love-missing her because she’s gone, wanting to die. You’re so lucky, you’re like a walking poem. Would you rather be some kind of a fantasy? some kind of a Disney ride? is that what you want??”