Louis CK Performs Live in Budapest
Louis CK came to Budapest. And I went to see him.
I haven’t always been a fan. I recall my first encounter of his stand up on YouTube very vividly. It was a piece where he groans like a moron for about two minutes. I didn’t judge him by that alone though. I had a look at some of his other videos. And came to the conclusion that the guy was an ugly, aggressive idiot who invented a way to get paid for venting out his frustrations on stage. Fast forward a few years, and I’m waiting in line to see the man perform live in Budapest.
Louis CK stands out from the stand up crowd because of one thing. He is authentic as fuck. His act is, to be precise. He is not trying to be anyone or even funny. He just talks about his life, which could be your life, my life, all of our lives. And he does that in a way that happens to be funny.
He keeps saying, he said it last night, that he doesn’t do impressions because he is not good at it. But that’s bullshit. His show is nothing BUT a sequence of impressions of imaginary, but potentially very real characters. And that’s the other thing that sets him apart.
This became so clear last night. The warm up comedians just told stories with a few jokes here and there. But Louis CK morphed into a different character about every 50 seconds of his show. He impersonated the doctor who wanted to cut his wife in half, Achilles and his goddess mother, his own football coach, the soap bubble blower, a vampire and himself in various absurdly funny situations just to name a few. He pulls off these impressions so good that you don’t notice he is doing it. It’s just part of the way he tells a story. Genius.
Before the show started last night, the rules were displayed, which included “no heckling”. Two guys set down next to me and one asked the other “What does heckling mean?”. A minute later two guys set down in the row behind me and one asked the other “What does heckling mean?”…
I thought “Shit. Even Louis CK can’t make an audience that doesn’t understand what he is saying laugh.” That feeling only grew stronger as I watched the warm up comedians only get a laugh when they said pussy, fuck or fart.
It wasn’t as bad as I’m making it sound, but there was definitely a language issue involved and I could tell that Louis was feeling it too. Even though his presence alone made most of the audience wet their pants, we didn’t get all the jokes and we didn’t always get them in time. That said, I’m grateful that there is an audience in Budapest that understands English well enough to watch a show like this and that they are willing to fork out the cash it took too.
To his credit, Louis factored all of that in. When he saw a lack of reaction, he gave more context. He was not improvizing by any means, but he adapted to local conditions on the spot.
The show was a beautiful demonstration of the dynamics of stand up as a genre too. Stand up is clearly a dialogue, in which the audience replies with varying degrees of laughter and applause. Master comedians, like Louis CK, are not there to make people laugh. Their role is to pour oil on a fire that’s already burning and to keep going until it hurts. And sometimes a little beyond.
In Budapest, Louis had to start with the story of his family: how his Hungarian, one legged, violin playing Jewish grand father ended up in Mexico and lied himself to be catholic to marry his beautiful catholic grandmother. And how his football coach was unable to pronounce Louis’ Hungarian name “Székely” so he just started calling him whatever came closest (CK).
Louis did what he had to do to make a Hungarian audience happy, which included saying words like “nagypapa” in Hungarian. And he also made it clear (as part of his act, which I think pretty much coincided with his true feelings) that he didn’t give a shit about his Hungarian origins or about our beautiful Budapest.
I like Louis CK because his act delivers meaning on at least two very different levels. One is the instantly, absurdly, profoundly and often obscenely funny. The other level is the deeper stuff that reflects on the big questions of life. Last night he impersonated a guy who blows soap bubbles and expects them to stay intact forever. It was really funny and absurd. Just as absurd as our expectation for love between two people to last forever is.
I’d be surprised if Louis CK came back to central-eastern Europe any time soon because of the language barrier. I’m very happy to have seen him perform live in Budapest and hope that his appearance will pave the way for more high quality stand up around here.