Published Jul 26, 2015Saturday night played host to the final Midnight Surprise showcase of the Just For Laughs Festival this year. A wildcard night of comedians of any stature, style or origin, it has become a mainstay for Just For Laughs festival veterans and comedy nerds alike. All comedians on the bill are completely unannounced. If Just For Laughs staff have any insider information, they guard it jealously. The Midnight Surprise series kicked off earlier in the week with an hour-long set by none other than Dave Chappelle, and what better way to bring the series to a close than with the charmingly grumpy cynical wunderkind himself, Louis CK.
Rather than enjoy a well-earned vacation, Louis, with yet another new hour of stand-up clearly in the works — which he had scribbled on an unceremoniously folded piece of paper — seemed to figure it best to work on his new material the old fashioned way, tossing joke after joke at a small audience to see what sticks.
Louis's work ethic is somewhat famous in the comedy world. He writes a new hour of comedy most every year. Most of those hours become comedy specials, some go into his show Louie, chopped up into Seinfeld-esque vignettes. Once a special has been released and toured, Louis kills that hour. Louis does not recycle jokes.
As such, the jokes he told at the cozy Theatre De St Catherine (about the size of a long and narrow cafe) were raw. He could be heard muttering into the microphone phrases such as "it's too linear, ahhh, it's shit, that's awful" and "ah they like that one." Of course, to the audience's ears, every joke was a hit. Everyone loved Louis. He could have sat on a stool doing the mashed potato for half an hour and not one person would have left. A lot of that love and appreciation came from his celebrity status and the calibre of work he's put out, but a great deal of it came from his willingness to be vulnerable when he almost certainly doesn't have to be.
His willingness to put himself out there with unfinished material in the interest of making it better, to break the genius illusion — whether he is one or not — and appear as someone with decent ideas who works hard to hone them like anyone else, was felt to the core. It was a massive moment for all involved. That he seemed to be having a good time as well certainly didn't hurt. He joked about Midnight Surprise host and friend Todd Glass failing casting auditions for Louie. He reminisced about his father's "gross, disgusting dick" and being born in Mexico. He spoke about his family, dogs — particularly stupid ones — and middle school dances, also decidedly dumb.
What proved absent was a concrete theme or train of thought. The binding principle that gives an hour of Louis CK that ludicrous, sometimes cutting or even charming edge may still be eluding him. Perhaps he was just playing his cards closer to the chest than he let on. Nevertheless, watching one of the biggest names in comedy practice his chops with humility and poise was more than enough for all concerned. It felt like a "remember when" moment as soon as he left the stage. A 30-minute performance by Louis CK in a small cafe/theatre is tough to beat. Future Midnight Surprise shows have been given a lot to live up to.