I learned no fewer than three lessons last night from seasoned comedians Louis C.K. and Todd Barry. 1) Although cool, Austin is still Texas. 2) There’s nothing wrong with aging. 3) Never, ever single yourself out in a crowd. EVER.
Todd Barry (Greasy in Louis C.K.’s 2001 film Pootie Tang) opened Friday’s show – the last of four Austin shows in two nights at the Moody Theater – with a combination of audience-based improv and rehearsed material. Some people were still finding their seats well into his bit, including two men front and center — both wearing an uncannily bright shade of green. Strangely a women in a dress of the same color trickled in behind them, although she appeared to be catching up with a different party. After establishing that the coordination wasn’t planned, he explained to the audience that this was normal. People in green shirts commonly show up late and then “struggle to find reserved seating.” He wished them all a happy St. Patrick’s Day and moved on, but not before kidding about the several jokes we missed because he “had to address that situation.” Everyone loved it, including the good sports front and center (who will no doubt arrive on time next show).
After Barry finished, a standing ovation welcomed Louis C.K. to the stage. He immediately won the audience over with a few loving jabs at our town of “hippies” and “people with jewelry in their faces,” pointing out that Austin may be hip, but it’s still Texas. And as a part of Texas, Austin shares in some weird pastimes, like visiting a “lake” full of all kinds of things (except water), and a special treat his brother-in-law showed him: watching people raise and lower flood gates.
A large portion of C.K.’s act tackles the tribulations of growing old and the troubles of prejudice, which he ultimately dismisses as “pure entertainment.” Calling attention to what jokes “work” because of our assumptions about others, he criticized the act of making assumptions while he simultaneously laughed at the silly side of it. Within these longer segments, he expertly weaved lots of shorter, punchier bits that maintained momentum as he baited the audience for the bigger punch lines. Aging, a regular topic of interest on his FX show, Louie, came up many times, often in a positive way. Contrasting the difference between living through the big events of the past 30 years with having “learned about them on The Simpsons,” C.K. slowly developed a definition of wisdom and then explained why that wisdom gives older people an advantage, and used audience participation to illustrate his point. He asked all the 45 and older people in the audience to clap. A few did. Most did not. And as he pointed out, there were plenty of people in that demographic – he could see them. Then he asked if there were any 40 or under people in the audience. The theatre erupted. He promptly ordered those people burned. The lesson: never identify yourself. You never know why someone is asking.
Unfortunately, one audience member already knew of the advantage of anonymity within a crowd, but not how to properly use it… or maintain it. He kept blurting out random exclamations throughout the show. Ignoring Louis’s polite requests to stop, he became increasingly disruptive and thus his location increasingly obvious. Towards the end of the show Louis finally stopped and singled the man out. “Get up here. You can say anything you want,” C.K. said, offering the man the stage and the mic. “I’m sure it will go great for you.” The man declined, hopefully internalizing one more little lesson: Don’t be a douche.
This was the last show of the Austin leg of C.K.’s tour. It will come as no surprise that just as he entered the Moody Theater to a standing ovation, he left to a standing ovation – twice (once at the end of his show, and then again at the end of his encore). If you missed the shows, all is not lost. His tour site says he will be filming his February shows at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix for an HBO special.
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