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July 11, 2012


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Scott Walters

I'm jumping the tracks here for a second -- your other commenters can take it back to a discussion of whether rape humor is "funny" -- but I want to comment on another aspect of the Louis C K clip.

That was a nice speech he had -- made me feel sorry for comedians, and by extension, performing artists. However, that confrontation characterizes everything that is wrong with the performing arts right now. Louis tells her that her job is to shut up and listen, a message the modern performing arts has been repeating over and over for a century. But it was not always so. Even a superficial reading of theatre history reveals that prior to the 20th century the audience was part of the performance. If they liked a monologue you just did, they made you go back and do it again; if they liked an aria you just sang, they demanded a reprise; if they didn't like something, they booed; the Greeks, forty thousand of them in the theatre at one time, would stomp their feet in unison against the then-wooden seats when they disapproved; the Elizabethans had plenty food projectiles to hurl to express their displeasure.

But today, we think the job of the audience is to shut up and listen. Hell, we won't even let people text during the show because the light bothers us. And then we wonder why attendance is down; why young people, who also attend concerts where they are encouraged to sing along, dance, cheer, and generally be part of the show, aren't lining up for tickets; why classical music and theatre are becoming irrelevant.

So yeah, what Louis said about the comedians was sad. And maybe, just maybe, we need to reconsider what that 15 minutes onstage a week or month really is about.

Josh L

You had me until the texting during shows bit. Texting is banned for a good reason: It's not audience participation. It's tuning out. And it's not just tuning out, it's visibly tuning out in a way that detracts from the show for the performers and anyone else in the audience. If you wanna text or play with your cell phone, then leave. Don't sit there being an oblivious asshole.

Scott Walters

The issue is one of control. For some reason, artists seem to think they have the right to control the audience, which is a fairly new phenomenon -- as if the audience is somehow there by the artist's permission.


Every space and activity has its spoken and unspoken rules. They're not necessarily about a desire for control over the people there, and more about ways that have been gradually and socially defined as being most expedient for getting shit done. For example, you can't talk during points when you are at a tennis match. The game requires a high level of concentration and thus a culture of silence has evolved where play cannot continue until people are quiet. I don't think in sports this is thought of as unfairly controlling your audience as if they were somehow there by the athlete's permission.

As for the Louis CK bit... I think CK's weak spot as a writer is self-pity. He's normally very, very good at doing end runs around it-- and in fact, those end-runs often lead to his best stand-up material-- but at times the show falls victim to it. The segment posted above is a good example of it. What's more, he clearly knows this to be the case, because there's the line at the end from one of his friends about how he almost got the woman to go out with him, thus phrasing what seems to be a very sincere plea for sympathy into a kind of joke (that's a very Gen-X move, BTW).

This is most fulsomely on display in the 2nd season episode with the "road hack" who wants to kill himself. It's by far the weakest episode in the series as CK struggles very very hard to get you to feel sympathy for someone simply because they're a failed stand up comic.


(btw: i also think that it's an open question as to whether that moment on the show is in fact endorsing the way CK behaves toward Hilty. As its a work of fiction, we have to look beyond what it is portraying to get to the debateable matter of what it wants us to do with it)


Oh, I think we can argue about the "road hack" episode a bit. I thought it was incredibly powerful, but not for any sympathy generated by Doug Stanhope's character. I actually felt incredible sympathy and empathy for Louie through that, for that feeling of being helpless to help someone who has so clearly self-destructed and yet insists on blaming everyone else. I hear on Louie's undercurrent of self-pity and the ways he subverts them (the stuff with Pamela often falls into the same thing) and whether you can take the bit above at face value. But I think that particular episode is far more about Louie than the other guy.

On audience behavior, I think your point about the social conventions is spot on, but I lean a bit more toward Scott. We've developed a certain kind of culture around theatre that isn't exactly controlling, but it does have class/culture implications that theatre has to confront. It's not the biggest of deals, though.


This is a little strange for me because i feel like these conventions w/r/t theater behavior are largely about respecting other audience members and not the people on stage (or not only). You can't text during a show because the lights tend to be dim and it will be distracting to the people around you. You can't talk during a show because other people might want to fucking hear what's on the fucking stage since they paid their hard earned money to listen to it. You'll notice that these norms are almost never enforced by the theaters or people on stage (when they are, it tends to make big news) and almost always enforced by other audience members who are upset by the behavior. Am I taking crazy pills here?

(This BTW is completely separate from the Tosh incident above, in which I pretty much think the woman was in the right and also when you do direct address stuff-- including stand-up-- you are opening yourself up to the audience responding to you)

I think you're probably right about the road hack ep and what it's goals are, but I still find that episode insufferable. If it were like ten minutes of doug stanhope and then louie trying to deal with the aftermath of him killing himself a week later, then i guess i would be down. But the woe is me stuff combined with the suffocating sense of claustrophobia (which i know is intentional and a feature not a bug) just make it unwatchable for me.


Next time Scott does a lecture or tutorial, I encourage his students to heckle and text. See how he likes it.


I hear you on the bug/feature ratio in the Stanhope episode. That's one of the reasons I'm unlikely to put myself through Punch-Drunk Love or Margot at the Wedding sometime again soon (or even that episode). It's nearly audience abuse, which comedians know well. It sort of a bummer that with the basically continuity-free nature of Louie we won't get that reaction.

On the second track here, you are not taking crazy pills which is one of the more frustrating aspects of the conversation. It's almost entirely framed as about the purity of the play, but it's about the purity of the experience for the other audience members.



Thanks for confirming my lack of insanity. At least in this instance. Seriously, tho, I think that Scott is partially correct in that what is really about the audience is framed rhetorically often as being about the art. I mean, yes, the people on stage are working very hard and you should respect them and we have certain behaviors that we have decided equal respect (ones I generally agree with) but because most of the time the people talking about audience behavior are artists, it gets framed as being about the artists rather than the audience. People are, you know, self-centered. I just disagree that because of that we need to seriously start changing all the norms.

Graham Schmidt

Hey 99 - I generally agree with the sentiment expressed by Louis regarding whether audiences should participate. However, it is emphatically true that audiences should react (indeed, that is the point), and those reactions should be authentic. If not handled with a degree of skill, rape is a subject that can be particularly painful. That sucks. Louis's rape jokes are not all that hurtful. For ex, there are two rape references in the above clip. The first I didn't get - it's unintelligible after two listens. The other involves a woman raping a man (subverting what actually happens most of the time). In "Shameless" he fantasizes about raping Hitler. My revulsion at the idea of rape is toyed with in these jokes, but my authentic reaction is a chuckle. By contrast, Tosh invited the audience to imagine an audience member getting gang-raped, to shut someone down. Now, doing some math (1 in 5 college-aged or older women have been raped in their lives), it's a certainty that there were a few dozen women in that audience who *had* been raped. Basically (and speaking as a performer/artist), rape jokes are not off-limits, but if a performer makes shitty non-jokes (or lazy jokes) about rape and the audience reacts badly and even vocally, then I've got no sympathy. Tosh should a) be better at comedy, and b) be a better person. Also much of this is cribbed from comedian Curtis Luciani's masterful response to the subject: http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/07-12-12-14-37-the-best-response-weve-heard-to-daniel-toshs-misquoted-rape-jokes/

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