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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