Published on July 25th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson1
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Metropolis is the venue set aside for only the most rockin’ of Just For Laughs shows (my first experience there was in ’04 for Rob Smigel’s 3-hour Casino offers bonusesTriumph the Insult Comic Dog Live so I became quickly initiated how insane things can get there).
The lineup was, as expected, wrapped around the building upon my arrival. Tip: it pays to make friends with someone with one of those $25 JFL membership cards that gets you to the front of the line. When the doors opened, it was like the Winnipeg Folk Festival tarp run as people fought each other for a position as close to the stage as possible.
A francophone-accented voice came over the PA system to make seemingly standard announcements, revealing otherwise upon promoting Cher’s upcoming run of shows at the same venue, and that flash photography would be permitted only every 14 minutes and in increments of 14 minutes. The tone dropped and the voice was revealed to belong to Louis himself, of course. We didn’t have a chance to cheer appropriately before he introduced his opener, Jimmy Carr. Yep, you know you’re at a good show when Jimmy Carr is the opener.
Louis opened by telling stories about coming up to Montreal from Boston with friends when he was 17 to “get drunk in the park and bother Canadians.” He also marveled about the plethora of punk kids in Montreal who drive around listening to French rap.
The arc of his material through the show seems to go from observational, to social commentary, to personal relationships and kids.
He started with a bit he did in Toronto a week ago, about the inability to have fun in Buffalo no matter how much money you have. From there, a piece that has me laughing harder than I ever laugh: the impatience and drama of getting off a plane once it lands.
“There’s only room for 20% of people to stand in the aisle, and the other 80% of the people are standing sloped.”
He did a truncated version in Toronto last week, and this lengthier one gives me even more joy.
The social commentary in a few of his bits is heavy-duty stuff, even on paper, but somehow doesn’t feel weighty in the moment. One of my favourite newish bits is about how his friend’s cousin from out of town and saw a bum on the streets of New York. She offered to help him, which Louis and his friend immediately corrected her on.
“Oh no, he needs you desperately, but we don’t do that here… Just a little cultural nuance that we ignore suffering constantly.”
Further on that theme, there’s the “there are people staving, and I drive an Infinity” bit. He could trade his car in for a Ford Focus, make $20,000 and feed thousands of people, but “every day I don’t do it and I choose to let them die with my car. I’m a piece of shit.”
He can say something like “I think about killing myself sometimes, but it’s completely narcissistic. I just picture people crying and shit,” and get a huge laugh off it. I can’t even begin to analyze that.
20somethings dominate his fanbase – at least the group that came out to last night’s show – and it’s incredible how relatable his large chunk of material about being a middle-aged divorced guy with kids is. These people haven’t lived through half of what he’s lived through. Is knowing they would be equally frustrated with that lifestyle that makes it connect? Is it the relief of hearing him say things about parenting that parents never have the balls to say?
The cool thing about watching a guy like Louis do shows a week apart is that you can note the differences in wording and inflection in jokes. It struck me last night that he isn’t married to any particular precise wording in a lot of cases. Example: in Toronto, he said milk cartons had been “invented by some Dutch faggot in 1740″. Last night, he said “that some Dutch fucking loser invented in 1783”.
It doesn’t have to be 1783. It doesn’t have to be 1740. It doesn’t have to be “loser” or be “faggot”. And if he wanted, it probably doesn’t even have to be “Dutch”. So many comics make definitive choices down to that level of detail, and program their autopilot to whichever seems funniest. But Louis doesn’t memorize down to that level of detail, and it’s primarily the ideas themselves that do the heavy lifting. When you think about it, doesn’t that sound like… I dunno… the correct way to do this? No wonder other comedians love him so much.
He returned to the stage for a lengthy encore, treating fans to his already-classic “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” bit.
“I’ve been looking forward to this show for a long time,” he said in the end. Same here, Louis.