Here’s Why Louis C.K. Keeps Getting Better

I’ve got a three month old son in the house, so I spend alot of early mornings (before 4am) throwing on a movie or a TV show via Googlecast as I feed the little guy. A couple of days ago, I found an interview with Louis C.K on the Charlie Rose Show.

For the longest time, I didn’t like Louis C.K.’s style of comedy. I don’t exactly know why. But the more I found out about him, the more I began to like him. His interview with Charlie Rose solidified my interest in his comedy, but more importantly, in the man.

Challenging The Status Quo

Rose raised a couple of fascinating questions. The first centered around Louie’s interest in questioning conventional assumptions in the comedy business. Here is an example.

Traditionally, venues book hot comedians and pay them market price in order to draw a larger audience. The comedians (talent) would ask for the highest price point they could, which the venue would pay, applying pressure on the promoter to spend more advertising dollars to draw an audience. Both of these inputs put upward pressure on ticket prices so that the venue could pay for the overhead of the talent and marketing costs. This would ultimately have an affect on a customer’s ability to enjoy the show because it has a direct effect on their expectations.

Louis turned this model on its head. What if the talent took a much lower fee, or nothing? This approach improves the relationship with the venue, puts downward pressure on marketing, and allows ticket prices to be substantially lower. The venue could be filled quicker with less overhead, and the audience experience is drastically improved…leading to a longer term relationship with the talent and venue, leading to repeat sales, product purchases, etc.

Think about it. Louis C.K. chooses to forgo more money up front to focus on the customer…with the idea that he trusts his ability to perform at a high level, so the customer (both the ticket buyer and the venue) is happier in the long run. He is developing a long term relationship.

He’s done the same thing with his comedy albums and his new TV show, Horace and Pete. He’s built a platform, and email list, that allows him to distribute to his fans DIRECTLY and at a reduced cost. This is a complete disruption of the current music and television content distribution model.

Leaning Into Adversity To Become Better

Another takeaway from his interview with Rose, is how he continues to challenge himself as an artist. Louis pointed to one specific exercise in developing his craft: backing himself into a corner, so he is forced to innovate his way out, or fail (learn).
For example, a minority of professional comedians get an opportunity to do a 60 minute set. Most working comedians are working five minute and ten minute sets…so a 60 minute set or HBO special is a unique opportunity; one that leads to financial rewards and a certain level of professional success.

The traditional way of “setting up” a 60 minute set, is as follows:

First 20 minutes: Pretty good jokes
Middle 20 minutes: Weaker jokes
Closing 20 minutes: Best jokes

This design is the surest way of taking the audience on a journey that naturally builds into a successful ending, with great applause and a positive review of the artist’s performance.

It also mirrors good story structure. When we think about the three act structure, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid, we tend to see a strong beginning (the hook), a slow build in the middle, and a stronger payoff to close the story.

Louis takes a slightly different approach. Louis believes that traditional set design is too comfortable, that any comedian who has developed his craft can ensure success within this structure. Louis wants to push himself, and push his audience. So what does he do?

Louis delivers his best jokes within the FIRST 20 minutes of the show. His best stuff. This leaves his weak and pretty good jokes for the rest of the show! He’s backed himself into a corner to see how he can deliver a great performance for his audience, without his best material. He intentionally challenges himself outside of his comfort zone.

Who puts themselves in that sort of position? The top 1% in any profession who want to keep getting better, that’s who. They create conflict, they create stakes, that they are forced to succeed or perish. The outcome, regardless? A sharpened set of skills, and more experience. This is the difference between the good performers and the great performers; the great from the best.

There is one more secret benefit from Louis C.K.’s approach. Knowing that he is putting himself in a tough position, he prepares better material. That means, instead of 5 hours of jokes, he’s got 20. With 20 hours of jokes, that means more “can’t miss” jokes, less weak jokes, and more strong jokes. The more preparation, the more jokes, and the better chance Louis has of delivering a superb performance; regardless of how he structures his 60 minute set.

Amateurs lean on comfort. Pro’s lean on discomfort.

What decisions will you make today?Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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