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A master at work

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Comedian Louis C.K. performs for servicemembers at the Zone 6 Morale, Welfare and Recreation Stage during the Sergeant Major of the Army Hope and Freedom Tour 2008, Camp Arifjan Kuwait, Dec. 18, 2008. Comedian Louis C.K. performs for servicemembers at the Zone 6 Morale, Welfare and Recreation Stage during the Sergeant Major of the Army Hope and Freedom Tour 2008, Camp Arifjan Kuwait, Dec. 18, 2008. Photo by Spc. Elayseah Woodard-Hinton
Notes on watching Louis C.K. live

PORTLAND I am sitting in perhaps the best seats I have ever had for a live performance. We're in the second row and I'm right on the aisle. I am about to get up close and personal with a master of the craft.

I'm about to see Louis C.K.

For those who are unfamiliar, Louis C.K. is perhaps one of the most prominent stand-up comedians out there today. His FX television series 'Louie' is providing a whole new insight as to what is possible with scripted television. With his show, C.K. has a degree of autonomy unseen in the TV world; not only is he the star, but he writes and directs every episode. He even edited much of the first season-plus himself, though those duties have apparently been at least partially handed off as of late. The end result is a deconstruction of the situation comedy; something old is new again.

Of course, that's not all. If you look back on some of the most wonderfully subversive comedy of that past two decades stuff like 'The Chris Rock Show,' 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien,' 'The Late Show with David Letterman,' SNL's 'TV Funhouse' segments you'll see that Louis C.K. was a major creative contributor. Dude even has an Emmy from his work on Chris Rock's show.

(He's also the writer/director of the 2001 film 'Pootie Tang.' While the film was a critical and commercial failure and C.K. claims the film was all but taken from him during the editing process it has become a bit of a cult favorite in recent years. It's utterly stupid, but also fascinatingly subversive. Suffice it to say, it's a personal favorite.)

And yet, even with all that quality work, comedic writing for film and television isn't even his best skill. He's at his best when he simply stands up.

Despite looking easy on the surface, stand-up comedy might be one of the most demanding performance-based art forms out there. There is nothing between you and the audience except your microphone and your jokes. You are alone, hurling quips and bon mots into the yawning chasm between yourself and your audience, hoping to make them laugh. It's draining and difficult and Louis C.K. might just be the best in the world right now.

Watching someone do what they were born to do is a treat worth savoring. Watching someone step into the spotlight and lay themselves bare, stripping themselves down to their basest, all for the purposes of making us laughit's incredible. What sets Louis C.K. apart is his truthfulness his comedy springs from an honest appraisal of who he is and how he looks at the world. The sense of self-deprecation that this inspires is a large part of why we find him so funny; it's not so much that he's laughing at himself as that he's giving us permission to laugh at him, his neuroses and idiosyncrasies. He gives voice to those deep-down thoughts and ideas that we rarely allow ourselves to consider.

And then he talks about titties.

The very best of the stand-up comedians the Lenny Bruces, the George Carlins, the Richard Pryors those were the guys who not only made you laugh, but also made you think. They were smart and subversive and they questioned the status quo; they asked hard questions with hard answers that nevertheless made us laugh.

It's lofty company, but I believe Louis C.K. belongs there.

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