If the experience is demoralizing and alienating, our community has squandered your potential. The tricky part is that the computer has no idea that you’re just a beginner.
Whenever we invent something new, our neuroses rush over there and get writ large.
George Saunders. And further in his LARB interview:
A definition of parenting: “That state in which, because of the existence of great love, an individual feels that he or she has failed, or is failing, or will soon fail.”
Well, this is awesome. (via) Here we have an edited transcript of Jonah Weiner’s interview with Louis CK that was used for the Rolling Stone profile last fall. Lots of good stuff here. Here’s Louis CK on the importance of those early failures and growing experiences:
Stand-up, I didn’t know what that was going to feel like. I guess I thought it would feel like it does in TV shows or movies: they’re going to laugh. That’s part of it, right? You tell a joke and then they laugh. It has this feel to it that I knew, and boy, when you realize how wrong you are, that’s a fucking cold slap in the face. I think that’s true of anybody’s first time. […] You need to enter stand-up with that cold slap in the face, or you’ll never really understand what you’re doing.
This next part rang really true for me. I thought for a long time that I was headed to grad school right after college, but each fall afterward I just couldn’t bring myself to do the paperwork. That’s me sending myself a message. CK on resisting college and keeping a day job while he chased his dreams (cf. Steve Reich):
An old teacher of mine got me an interview at NYU film school, and I brought all these videos I’d made, and photographs, a portfolio – I’d gotten into photography and stuff, and they said that they would accept me to go to film school. So I quit my job with that in mind, and I’d been doing stand-up, but not well or successfully, and then I never filled in – I got these forms from this guy to fill in, on the floor of my apartment somewhere, but I couldn’t get my brain to…I was supposed to go back to my high school and get my transcripts, and the idea of doing all that, just that paperwork – going to NYU film school was this dream come true for me, but I couldn’t fill out the thing, couldn’t fill it out and go to the Xerox machine and put a stamp on an envelope, all that stuff. It made me want to vomit. That sort of thing has always been the case for me, I can’t get that done. That’s why I have an assistant. Now if I just dream up shit I want to do, I have her to take care of it.
So I decided, “Fuck it, I’m a comedian. I’m just going to do that, I’m going to stay in Boston.” That’s when I worked at the garage. I stopped working at local-access cable. I drove a cab for a while. I started taking shitty jobs so I could do stand-up, I didn’t want an all-encompassing job. I liked that, I just liked having dead-end jobs and doing stand-up. I thought, “Fuck it, that’s what I’m going to try to do.” I had an instinct that if I just kept hammering it and hammering it, I had a head start on people, I was very young, and I was resilient, I didn’t mind living stupidly, I wasn’t anxious about making a living, just played it close to the bottom for a long time, and I knew how to do that, it didn’t bother me. I liked the freedom, I didn’t have a job-job, I’m not working for a company, I’m not going to a school, I live on my own.
And, wow, on the typical sitcom plot:
With a lot of these shows, I know what’s going on, and I think the audience does, too. Here comes the part where they’re going to walk in the door while the credits are still rolling. They’re going to trade quick barbs, “What did you do?” “I went to the store to get a coffee and they had the Michael J. Fox coffee today, so they spilled it.” “Oh, ha ha ha.” “What happened to you today?” Kind of inconsequential jokes. Joke, joke, joke, then somebody goes, “Somebody was here to ask you about this” – here comes the story, and it gets quiet, and then, “Oh, I can’t go, because I have this thing,” “He’s only in town for one day,” and now we’re laying pipe and it’s getting quiet. “What are you going to do about that?” “I don’t know,” because here’s a joke about the character that is an outside world joke or observational joke, and then the blow, the big fucking blow to get out of the scene – you have to have a blow, a big enough laugh, and it’s something really contrived: people sat there in the writer’s room, fucking eating fast food and going, “Where’s the blow for this scene, I want to go home.”
Then here comes the funny character, the guest star, who’s in town, and we find out what the lead character hates about him, and then there’s the guy, the character, that carries all the jokes. He says dumb things and keeps it going, there’s this energy, he’s like a circuit or something, just does this one thing. […] So there’s a guy on every show that does that, he has his one way, he has his variety, about eight different joke formulas, and you refill them with different stuff. He’s either the dumb guy or, like, Lisa Kudrow’s character on Friends or whatever. “I thought coffee was from Brazil.” “Ugh, no the guy’s name is Coffee. He’s from Italy.” Garbage like that. Then you start building the story, then you go away on an act break. Then you build a third act that just is the train wreck of not really much fun, but it pays everything off, it leaves everybody feeling exactly the same way they left, that they felt before the show started. That’s what shows are meant to do, is leave on par and leave a few jokes behind, to be printed in Entertainment Weekly’s sound bites.
On kids and growing up:
Having kids, you don’t escape from it, you seize onto it, it’s a big, stressful, exhilarating, real life thing. And it’s permanent, it’s something that you have to evolve for. Some people don’t, but I think you have to actually change your values system, and you have to revolutionize yourself in order to do it properly, because kids can’t raise kids, and I think you’re somewhat a kid until you have them, then you really have to grow up.
Lastly on being in control, experimenting, being wrong, being interesting:
I’m not a dictator, because I’m not in control of anything, I’m just deciding what to try. To me, it’s not that I control a bunch of people, it’s just that nobody controls me. There’s nothing above me except responsibility to the product. That’s the ultimate responsibility, is if the show sucks, then what was the fucking point of being in charge? I’m right about these things on the show, and when I’m not, it’s interesting to watch me be wrong. I don’t think you have to be perfect, you just have to be compelling in the work you do.
By seven everyone is gone. They all offered to help, and you waved them away. There is a shabby nobility in failing all by yourself.
Excerpt from Bright Lights, Big City, a swift, often funny book with a terrible ending. Another favorite bit:
You have friends who actually care about you and speak the language of the inner self. You have avoided them of late. Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, and until you can clean it up a little you don’t want to invite anyone inside.
The better part of my work on media is actually somewhat like a safe-cracker’s. I don’t know what’s inside; maybe it’s nothing. I just sit down and start to work. I grope, I listen, I test, I accept and discard; I try out different sequences — until the tumblers fall and the doors spring open.
Nothing that matters comes without dread. It’s the dread of failure. One team will get to cheat death; thirty-one will meet with the end to end all ends. For that damned lot, their tournament will turn out to have been a series of attempts to delay the mortal coil shuffle for just one more round, like someone joining a gym, or praying furiously. The beautiful cruelty of the World Cup is that it is held every four years, and four years is a purgatory of a time to wait for reincarnation. Every game assumes an unreasonable importance, which is what makes it such fun.
If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, “What is your greatest failure?” I always have the same answer – We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!