Ricky Gervais is friends with Louis CK, who is friends with Chris Rock, who is friends with Jerry Seinfeld. Put these four friends together in a room and let them talk shop for 50 minutes about comedy. That's not a show about nothing. That's Talking Funny, which premieres tonight on HBO.
It opens mid-conversation, just like Showtime's The Green Room with Paul Provenza. But unlike that series, this is a one-time affair, without a studio audience or a moderator. Just four famous funny men, well, talking funny. And talking about the business of being funny. Is that going to be funny?
Of course it is. And not just because they're all established comedians. Let's take a look at an extended peek:
Among the other observations they make about their art:
Gervais acknowledges that he got into stand-up to prove that he had earned his keep as a comedian after the success of The Office. Seinfeld alleges that stand-up comedians are the most criticized and judged people, because of the feedback they receive after every joke, and argues that professional critics shouldn't judge comedy unless they know what it is to write "the act." There's talk about cursing, easy laughs, and the clip above leads into a discussion about slurs. They get into an extended riff after Louis CK says he still remembers a singing comic who bombed 25 years ago. Seinfeld recounts an old bit of his about Superman in which he realized the bit only worked because he had used the F-word, and now he doesn't swear at all onstage.
"I sort of disguise jokes. I don't really make jokes. I think of a joke as the minimum amount of words to get to a punchline." — Ricky Gervais
"That's the problem with so many of these young guys, they think it's all attitude. But it's got to have jokes under this weird persona, under your crazy glasses, under your crazy voice. Whatever gimmick you have. Henny Youngman has to have something to do with it," Chris Rock said. To which Seinfeld added: "You can put all kind of furniture, but you have to have steel in the walls."
Louis CK says that in recent years, he has used his strongest closer as his new opener to force him to write good jokes, prompting Seinfeld to tell Rock, "You see how this kid got good?" There's some mutual love among these guys, and in this first trailer for the screener, you can see that. Roll the clip.
At first, some viewers of this clip wondered if CK was going to call out Seinfeld for doing his bit. But in context, Seinfeld was doing CK's bit, after telling him how much he loved that bit. CK's actual response: "That's a completely Seinfeld-ed version of my joke. You made it nice."
Similarly, in this discussion on early bits, CK and Seinfeld learn that they both used to joke about the grammar and interpretation of street signs. I can think of several other comedians who have plumbed these shallow waters, too. To parallel thinking!
The special ends with them jokingly delivering promos for the 50 minutes. But you already know you should watch this. If you're a comedian. If you're an aspiring comedian. If you're a fan of comedy. If you like to laugh. This may be HBO, but it's also must-see TV.