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Much More Than Good Laughs, Louie and Wilfred on FX.

Wilfred and Louie just blew my mind and broke my heart. Those shows are soul shattering, skull f*cking and sensory overloads. On the surface, they’re funny, peculiar and at times, outrageous. But, when you pay attention, there’s so much depth to each character, so much meaning providing through-lines in each episode. I just teared up at the season finale of Louie. That may sound ridiculous and even sad to you, that I’d invest so much in a piece of fiction, but that’s what art does. It is evocative and provocative. It’s inspires pondering and conversation. Like food, good TV brings people together. This is why I find it difficult to be friends with people who claim not to watch TV or like going to the movies? What? Are you some neo-nazi war criminal? Or chronically depressed? Boring? Dull? Probably. Do yourself a favor, too cool for TV peeps (I’m excluding the homeless and my friends who are too cheap to pay for cable), Netflix or torrent these shows, now. They are sure to change your life. I know it seems a hyperbolic statement, but I stand confident in my claim. FX is slewing out some home fricken runs. I’m not mad at them. I’m not mad at AMC either. There will be a love/lust letter for Mad Men and Breaking Bad and all other alliterated titles on that brilliant channel, in due time. Patience, young ones. (No ones asking, or cares? Right.)

Louie and Wilfred are too complex to even dissect or recollect for you now. Plus, I’d be an asshole to suggest a show, and implore you to watch, and then tell you important details that are fun surprises as a new viewer. So I will not do that. I’ll provide you with details you should already know, if you’re a semi-modern human being. If not, you’re most certainly not reading my blog. And if you are, please write me and explain yourself.

Louie is written, produced, directed and acted by the capital B Brilliant Louis. C. MothafucKin K. He deserves the title. He is the quintessential, ultimate New York City comic. A regular, still, at the Comedy Cellar, Louis was born to be a stand-up. He never went to college, at 19 started with 90 second sets, bombed, and just kept going. He had the same hour-long act (discussed in the moving tribute to George Carlin below) for 15 years until he took the late, great George Carlin’s advice and kept his material fresh every single year thereafter; every single special, no matter what. I know Louie’s Comedy Central Presents from 2001 by heart, along with Shameless, Chewed Up, and Hilarious. We recently saw him in the Chicago Theatre and he was beyond brilliant, as always, some of the material taking residence in my nerve-endings, I’m still quoting it.

Back on track, the show. After an unsuccessful, and bizarre first sitcom on HBO, called Lucky Louie, Louis took a break, got back to his act, did a few movies and then landed the deal of the century with FX. What seems to happen on this network is artists are given cart-blanche to do whatever the hell they want, as long as it’s high quality and gets decent ratings. Louis came in with a cult comedy following and his previous notoriety (the infamous beef with Dane Cook, brilliantly covered on this season’s Louie), and with amazing guest-stars like one of my top five favorite human beings, Ricky Gervais, good ratings on a cable show were cake.

The show is an artistic interpretation of Louis’ life. He’s divorced, with two girls, a fairly famous comedian with famous comic friends, living in New York City. The beautiful stories told in each episode provide insight into Louis as a man, as a comedian, as a father, and a non-melodramatic, humorous take on how shitty life can be. It’s so relatable and yet so extraordinary and unusual. It’s unlike anything else on television. Dare I say it’s better than Seinfeld, Roseanne, Mad About You, Ellen, Home Improvement, Full House, or any other stand-up comic show starring a popular 80’s comic that didn’t make it to Eddie Murphy status. Those are great and have their place, I still love them, keep your panties on, I’m just saying Louie, pound for pound, is better.

Two of my favorite men, doing what they do best. Don't mind Louie's ass.

Wilfred is wacktastically different and incredible and beautiful and simple and complex and daring and heavy and light-hearted and deeply amazing. This show has impacted my life. It has inspired me to think outside of the box, as a person and as an aspiring artist. It’s such a far-cry from my current life situation and yet, somehow it resonates with me. The most commonly experienced human emotions are the focal points in each episode and through their strange and interesting struggle, you understand your own. You must buy into the implausibility of the premise, like most movies and TV shows (and I’m including reality shows, those people never really love/like each other). It’s worth buying in for the ride.

What is it really about? I shan’t provide too many details of course but essentially, Ryan, played impeccably by the adorably big-eyed Elijah Wood (one of the lone child-star survivors from the 90’s), is a deeply depressed man who swallows dozens of pills expecting to die and instead, he survives and now sees his neighbor crush’s dog as a human dressed in a dog suit named Wilfred. Make sense? It’s somewhat convoluted as it reveals itself but also tremendously poetic. Wilfred is played by an unknown (to Americans) Australian (the very talented Jason Gann), but man I want to see him outside that suit. He happens to be the writer, creator and star of the Aussie version. He’s so brilliantly funny and convincing that he's magnetic. I’m drawn to him.

Anyway, Wilfred is as insightful and wise as he is simple and primal. The mere placement of a hump-able animal (stuffed or live), or bubbles, is enough of a distraction from his otherwise mature, helpful advice. He also smokes a lot of pot, drinks alcohol, has a dirty mouth and mind, and is slinging out some of the most clever, well delivered comedy on any screen. This may sound too bizarre or complicated but give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You’re probably smart enough to follow it, and if not, you don’t know it so no harm no foul. Just give it a shot, okay? You will not regret it. I do think it helps to know or love dogs, so if you don't, not sure how you'll react. Also not sure if I trust you regardless, gotta love animals to enjoy this crazy world. For my time and energy, along with other critical minds I respect, it's the best new show on TV.

Please enjoy this quick compilation of Wilfred's moments from both versions of the show.

What both of these shows generously give in buckets is a swift kick in the inner workings of your solar plexus, where your semblance of a soul resides. You feel so deeply for these people and somehow their scripted pain is more real than seemingly fake problems/complaints from people you know. They’re gut-wrenching, heart-pounding and soul-stirring, to provide some phrases. They’re fitness regimes for your head and heart. Give your entire body a once over by doing yoga poses during the commercials or something. Triple whammy. You’re welcome.

What have I said a million times? Either in my head or outwardly, it’s quality over quantity. Have some standards. You’re losing brain cells at a constant rate, some of you quicker than others, so don’t waste what you’re currently destroying on mindless, dull television. Watch what your brain and heart need, well written, directed, acted pieces of art. You deserve it. Enjoy.

Artistry and intelligence in motion: Improv Olympic (iO)

My name is Danielle and I’m a comedy nerd. I just walked out of a small, packed room, with a tiny, unassuming stage, to emerge high off of something I’m unable to pinpoint. My facial muscles are spasming from overuse. My very full belly now half digested from the 90 minutes of gut-busting laughter. My mind now a crock-pot of characters, accents, phrases, and quirky ideas. I yearn to contribute, I’m ready to experience it all again, but that moment is gone. The beautiful quality of improv is the main ingredient of presence. The memory will live on, but that magic will never be re-created and will gradually lose all semblance of sense in our brains, fading away into obscurity, with the rest of the days. Like a junkie aiming to regulate, or elevate, we must keep going back for more, more moment to moment genius, more creativity in motion, more antidotes to stress. I’m attracted to the element of danger and even bravery inherent in every improv actor and on every comedy stage. How will this go? Will there be collective moments of awkward silences? Could I be stuck in a room with dozens of others, all thinking the same thing, “I hope this gets funny soon.” You can predict the potential negative outcomes, but the positive, that's uncharted territory. You’ll find yourself laughing in ways you never have, often while cringing or even crying. There are many “pat yourself on the back” moments when an actor or the group in general refers back to an earlier scene, many many minutes ago, and you’re in on the joke. You get it. You’re laughing, for the right reasons. It’s, in a word, awesome.

I have deep, profound appreciation for every genre comedy emerges from, and each interpretation inspired by it. Stand-up has been a long favorite, most likely because of it’s popularity and amount of exposure. Being a child of the 80’s, my foray into comedy came from a decade that idolized comedians, hoisted them up on a pedestal with the likes of hair bands. These artists were catapulted into super-stardom, being given their own sitcoms, massively successful stand-up specials, many even becoming legendary film stars. If images or soundbites are what link us to memories, then Eddie Murphy in a bright red leather suit, 2 seconds of the Seinfeld theme, and Johnny Carson inviting a deserving comedian up to his couch are triggers from my comedic upbringing.

Today, being a stand-up comic does not get you as much money, as many fans, or as many career options as it used to, but it still garners tremendous respect among those with the knowledge and appreciation. I’d imagine the smartest comedians prefer a cult following to massive success because that forces you to stay sharp and creative, the most important result being respect amongst your fellow comedians. As a writer, if I’m ever successful, I prefer my readers to be like-minded people whom I’d respect as well, rather than hoards of mediocre, semi-intelligent fans. But we take what we can get.

Louis C.K. is one who’s created an admirable amount of success by staying true to himself, continuing to pursue his craft, while still appealing to only the smartest, impossible to offend people. Back in the 80’s, being offered a TV show on cable, not a network, on a channel like FX, would most likely look like a step down, a concession. Today, some of the best writing and acting is happening on television, on channels like FX, Comedy Central, AMC, HBO, Showtime and Adult Swim. I enjoy shows like Community, Modern Family, and 30 Rock, but I’d still choose Louie, Wilfred, Workaholics or Jon Benjamin has a Van any day. I wish more people felt the same. But the cult following does make it feel special, a unique piece of art you and other smart (nerdy) people enjoy. What makes you laugh says a lot about who you are and I take that very seriously.

Cycling back to improv and focusing on the rare occurrence of sketch comedy on the small screen, I’m majorly inspired by this form of comedy and feel it deserves slightly more respect from the masses than it receives. Genius shows like Mr. Show, the 90’s classics like the State and Kids in the Hall would struggle to survive today, leading to limited options for middle America. SNL continues to evolve, and their brilliant writers and actors are still emerging from the Chicago improv scene, but my hope is for more appreciation for Upright Citizens Brigade, Jon Benjamin has a Van, Little Britain, and other clever, irreverent, and purely innovative art making a name for itself today. And with that in mind I’d like to encourage not only my fellow Chicagoans, lucky to live in the best comedy city in the world, but all of you around this country of ours desperately in need of some levity. Times are a bit depressing at the moment. It is not the time to cut funding for the arts. It is time to get your big butt off your couch and into a comedy club, supporting those aiming to elevate our moods and provoke thought.

Improv Olympic (iO) is home to some of the biggest comedy stars you know today, from SNL, MADtv, and a slew of great films and TV shows. It happens to be maybe 100 steps from my apartment, so I’m fortunate, but even if it was 30 minutes away, I’d make the trek and support groups like Cook County Social Club and the Reckoning, some of the smartest, most talented improv artists this country has to offer. These people amuse and entertain you, on the spot, off the cuff, for pennies, because they love it, because they have to do it. I’m there and I yearn to take classes, to get up there, and perhaps I’ll finally get the courage one day. For now, I’ll support and pay my respect to the courageous, who give me the greatest gift one can bestow, the gift of laughter. And here, there is no script, no preparation, just rapidly spinning minds, firing funny on all cylinders. Part of the magic is the audience. We are apart of this story unfolding, so the dozens of us in a room are sharing an experience, a very unique and memorable one. Improv is an act of social chess, mental ping-pong, a collaborative sport worth exposing and absorbing.

Above is a compilation made by iO to promote CCSC. It doesn't do much justice but you can get an idea of their range and talent. When we saw Cook County, two actors were absent. We watched two of them riff a scene for 45 minutes about Don't Ask Don't Tell. It was incredible, we laughed til it hurt.

Please do not stop supporting the arts. And please do not overlook that comedy is art, potentially the most influential form. Maintain high standards, seek it out, drink it in. Enjoy.