Hilarity, linguistically deconstructed

by Randall & Elizabeth

This week, both members of Mapped were in London. The reason, besides friendship, was to see Louis CK’s standup in a ridiculously large arena show.

I (Randall) am studying linguistics, for officialZ, and as a result, we (Randall & Elizabeth) are linguistic Rain Men. We analyse every phrase for sound, syllabic structure, aspiration, etc. When you talk to us, 95% of the time we’re not really listening to you.



While we were waiting for Louis CK to come on, Elizabeth said, “Louis CK’s always restating what he just said in declarative sentences.” I was all, “Word?”

Turns out, she’s right. Take his bit on ‘the n-word’ for example:

When you say ‘the n-word’, you put the word ‘nigger’ in the listener’s head. That’s what saying a word is.

He does something like this again when he talks about slavery on Jay Leno:

I’ve heard educated white people say “slavery was 400 years ago.” No it very wasn’t. It was 140 years ago. That’s two 70-year-old ladies living and dying back to back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy.

His observations make us uncomfortable because they’re true, and what makes them so funny is as much about how he says them as what he says. “Here’s what I notice. That’s what it is.” It’s like a mirror that tells you you’re an asshole.

Thus ends our observation. Thanks London; it’s been real.

Image: ‘Portrait of chess players’ by Marcel Duchamp


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One response to Hilarity, linguistically deconstructed

  1. I went to see Stewart Lee a couple of nights back in Vicar Street. He was working out segments, half hour chunks, for a new BBC series next year. It was experimental, but as he often does, he used the same repetitive technique to hammer the point. In this case, it was the word Latvian, and also the phrase ‘These days you get put in jail for saying you’re English.’ And the more it gets repeated, the more the brain falls in with its assonance, then gets wrong-footed by its dissonance, and all the while (because we are fans of him and his work) a more elevated and calculating part of the brain relates this repetition to his presumed intent. Doesn’t mean it’ll actually hit the mark and be funny, but usually it does. A lot of comedians use it. Chris Rock elevates it, and has a trick of making it louder and blunter the second time. And beyond comedy, Lester Bangs latched onto it in Van Morrison’s earliest solo album brilliantly here. https://personal.cis.strath.ac.uk/murray.wood/astral.html

    And, um, that’s all, folks. Bye!

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About Mapped.

We're two writers who make web things. We're interested in what makes stories go: in our brains, online, in design, fiction, culture and everywhere.

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