20-Year-Old Louis CK Performs Stand Up (1987)

Ever been taken aback by a vintage photo of a Facebook friend? “Look how young he was! An infant!” If you’re a member of comedian Louis CK’s generation, it’s likely that at some point, the person in the photo was you.

Louis model 1987, above, is close to unrecognizable, with a full head of red hair and a trim belly. His joke-based routine isn’t howlingly funny, but neither is it shameful. He’s confident, at his ease with the audience, but the life experience that would inform his later work was not yet a thing.

A few years further along, above, one can see that comic persona coming into focus. The sad sack physicality that gives it weight came later. Suffice to say, that hairbrush joke is no longer a present tense proposition.

What struck me were the familiar back walls of those little comedy club stages. Louis has been working those crummy little stages for such a long time. No wonder he’s on familiar terms with the door guys at the Comedy Cellar, the club he’s most often shown frequenting in his character-driven, self-produced, largely autobiographical TV show.

As he generously advised an 18-year-old aspirant on the Google newsgroup “alt.comedy.standup”:

Go on stage as often as possible.  Any stage anywhere.  Don’t listen to anyone about anything.  Just keep getting up there and try to be funny, honest and original.

Know that it’s not going to be easy.  Know that it’s going to take a long time to be good or great. Don’t focus on the career climbing.  Focus on the getting funnier.  The second you are bitching about what another comic is getting you are going in the completely wrong direction.  No one is getting your gig or your money.

Keep in mind that you are in for a looooong haul of ups and downs and nothing and something.  It takes at least 15 years, usually more, to make a great comic.  Most flame out before they get there.

And yes, be polite and courteous to every single person you deal with. Not because that will make you a better comedian, but because you’re supposed to do that.

Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Related Content:

The Surreal Short Films of Louis C.K., 1993-1999

Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Ricky Gervais Dissect the Craft of Comedy (NSFW)

How the Great George Carlin Showed Louis CK the Way to Success (NSFW)

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