Other than my editors and my girlfriend, I don’t really talk to people about this column. It’s uncomfortable.
So, when I get unsolicited feedback, I’m always taken aback. Like, “Holy shit, people actually read this?” Just the other day, a friend of mine pointed out that I always approach things from a negative point of view. This isn’t news to me. I’ve been accused of being negative ever since I can remember. (Although, I’ve realized that when people accuse others of being negative, they’re often mistaking critical thinking for pessimism.)
So, there’s a small sense of vindication every time I get to witness people upend their personality flaws and take ownership of them. It’s glorious, I tell you. And I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s better at turning the negative into positive than comedian Louis C.K.
I’ve been a fan of C.K.’s comedy for years—from his writing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, through his early stand-up specials and his HBO series Lucky Louie. But with his new FX show, Louie, he’s given us the world’s first existential sitcom. I know—that description makes it sounds terrible. But the laughs are still massive, despite the bleak subject matter.
At certain points, it’s playful and slightly surreal, and C.K.’s everyman looks and unassuming demeanor give him an affable quality.
But for the most part, the situations are almost uncomfortably realistic. C.K. explores his recently failed marriage, problematic relationships with his kids and his own deep-seeded misanthropy and morbidity with brutal honesty, all in a format that often defies coherent storylines.
As a friend of mine put it over a couple of beers the other night, “It’s like a really dark version of Seinfeld.”
Except, as The New York Times notes in a profile of the comedian, “the new series does not try to wrap up its narratives tidily or give characters their comeuppances, the ‘joyless things that you feel you have to do’ in traditional halfhour comedies.”
By confronting his problems on screen, C.K. has a way of tapping into the negativity we deal with on a daily basis. This is a society based on “no.” The point seems to be that by embracing negativity—and, most importantly, laughing at how much we can actually bond over it—he never allows himself to be completely consumed by it.
By complete coincidence, I’ve also recently been listening to Wavves’ new album, King of the Beach, which in some ways, like Louie, is also representative of someone who’s attempting to overcome tumultuous personal events.
Wavves frontman and native San Diegan Nathan Williams has been vilified by many music fans for his actions during the past year-and-a-half, a period that even his publicists have called “both a highlight reel and a total shit show.”
No need to revisit his recent tribulations, as they’ve been repeated on the internet ad nauseam, but what I will say is that King of the Beach is triumphant in the strangest of ways. Sure, his PR people seem to be attempting to position him as an “underdog” now, but there’s honesty in Williams’ approach that can’t be neatly summarized in a one-sheet press release.
Although self-loathing is a common topic, Williams embraces the negativity he perceives, rather than completely shunning it, allowing him to make the best of an undesirable situation. On “Idiot,” he sings, “I’m not supposed to be a kid / But I’m an idiot / I’d say I’m sorry / But it wouldn’t mean shit,” before claiming “I won’t ever die / I’m a hero in my mind.”
He’s not someone to feel sorry for; nor is he necessarily someone to look up to. He’s a guy in his early 20s who gets into trouble because he doesn’t have anything better to do. These days, anybody that age isn’t exactly expected to be a saint—even less so if they’re touring the planet behind a few rock records. He has plenty of irresponsible years ahead, so he’s allowed to shrug off whatever mistakes he’s made so far.
So, Louie has the makings of a cult classic, and King of the Beach is a pretty good pop record. There’s really no overarching connection between the two, but I will say this: It’s certainly entertaining—and occasionally inspiring—to see the negative creeps get their days in the sun.