Postmodern Conservative

Comedy on the Precipice of the Future

What's interesting about the disruptive innovation of Internet televsion

Mr. Louis C.K. (born Szekely), America’s playwright-therapist, has a new show–Horace and Pete–he’s paid for himself and is selling on his website.  Like his TV show Louie, it’s an attempt to show Americans who they’re leaving behind: what life is like for people who are not primarily devoted to the libertarian future, which often seems like the only future with any national, not to say global, purchase. Needless to add, he’s working blue.

This is the flipside to Louis’ work in stand-up comedy, which is about the people who are looking forward to this future: not as protagonists, but as the craftsmen bred to adorn it. Every tech genius needs his guru; as well as fun-loving, accepting, nurturing professors and clowns for the kids; and various forms of transgressive performance art and thought-provoking opinions suspended in the clouds.

As well as designs for all the apps and gadgets: It’s not enough to say that the new iSomething-or-other will show beautiful images — it has to be itself beautiful. This is answering in the affirmative the old Socratic quandary, Is the idea of the beautiful itself beautiful?

The audience of Louis’ stand-up comedy can’t really rejoice about a future spent adorning technology, but it is irresistibly led in that direction. It has no principle to oppose to this future.  Louis C.K’s audience are bobos — bourgeois bohemians — in the environs of paradise, their very beings defined in relation to it.

The people who sit down to watch his show and the people who go see his stand-up comedy are pretty much the same. The stand-up comedy deals with the experiences of the people who watch his shows. People seem to go out because they want to hear about their private lives and stay home when they want to see other people try to make modern living work. This sort of paradox pleases comics. Stand-up comedy is preliminary work anyway.

Now, stand-up comedy is about these people who have a stake in the future. It tries to think through their prejudices by following their principles. It’s a miniature Tocquevillian way of saying democracy is a providential fact. There’s no going back, it seems to say, and quarreling with the principles that animate or today’s communities is dangerous and useless. It’s better to mock some of the excesses and sympathize with some of the failures that cause people trouble.

People wouldn’t enjoy comedy if they didn’t feel stuck with expectations that keep them restless and with other people who are disappointingly similar. When people are honest enough with themselves to deplore the images of corporate success and overwrought spirituality, they need something instead of a stiff drink.

Louis has done his job long enough to figure this out and that’s why he’s moving on to the kind of comedy where people sit down, which frees them some from the need to seek out and imitate whoever’s successful or novel.

 I’ll end this post with a taste of coming attractions: You’ve got the poet and the audience, but what’s the show? It’s a sitcom-in-a-bar, but it’s a show about family. Horace and Pete’s is the name of the bar, and it’s a setting with a hint of destiny about it. Two brothers founded the bar, named it for themselves in 1916, and decided to pass it to their children in the male line. This poetic conceit is tragic, not comic, and announces the importance of blood where broader and deeper loyalties are scarce! This is a contrast with a society where there’s not much inheriting going  on— not even names. It’s also a chance for young people to wonder what exactly they’re inheriting as Americans.

Titus Techera hosts the American Cinema Foundation movie podcast. He is a Claremont Institute Fellow and a contributor to Law & Liberty.

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