I just read an email that the comedian Louis C.K. sent out announcing cancellation of his Tuesday night show at New York's Madison Square Garden. It seems a "historic" storm is threatening the Northeast, and he's afraid of the potential harm the tempest may pose to the fans who are coming to see him. "So," he says. "No show."
C.K. is one of my favorite comics. The guy might use profanity a bit too much for some people's tastes, but that's never bothered me (just ask anyone I've ever worked with). What I love is his ability to hit straight at the heart of the human condition, to reveal a common truth about humanity — whether that truth involves narcissism, hypocrisy or outright stupidity — and do so in a self-effacing, humorous manner.
Take this skit. Or this one.
I particularly like the closing line of his email: "Take care of yourself and don't be a jerk to people." I think that's as intimate and honest as you can get. And it's something I try to practice in my own life.
Of course, I fail. Often. The other night at a crowded book reading, the organizer came through counting open seats. When he discovered that two separate chairs in my row were free, one of which was to my immediate right, he politely asked me and my brother — who were sitting on the aisle — to move in. I, a little too abruptly, said, "No." My brother and I had arrived a half hour early, had chosen our seats carefully, wanting to be on the aisle so that we could make an early exit if we wanted (while disturbing as few others as possible). The young guy looked at me curiously, but just proceeded to another row. And I immediately felt bad.
Worse, a couple that was sitting to my right, moved one seat to their right, thereby turning the single separate seat into a double. I turned to them, thanked them, and said, "You've much more accommodating than I am." The woman, without looking at me, said, "I try to be."
So … I wish I could say that I enjoyed the next half-hour's reading. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some part of me did. The young author read well, explained herself well and was poised, open and enthusiastic in her efforts to answer the several questions audience members posed to her. Even the one I asked.
But that was only a small part of me. A much larger part kept reliving the whole experience — the request to switch seats, my refusal, the silent disapproval I felt from the other couple — over and over. I found myself stuck on a loop where I kept thinking that I should have talked about my brother's emotional fragility, about my own inherent sense of claustrophobia, about the irritation I felt at being asked to alter a situation that I had made special effort to set up. And then I chastised myself for being weak, for not having the strength to let the whole thing go, for feeling anger at having to explain myself in the first place.
And here it is, three days later, and I'm still meditating about the whole incident, still unable to let it go.
Until I read that quote from Louis C.K., a guy whose talent rests in the exercise of reminding us that we're all just human, that we make mistakes, and that we just need to be nicer to one another.
So I'm going to go out in public today. I'm going try to take care of myself. And I'm going to do my best to avoid being a jerk to anyone.
That seems likes a human thing to do.
Below: Just a warning, the Louis CK clip embedded below is NSFW.