How Louis C.K. Became Funny and Why it Matters to Your Professional Growth

GQ-coverHow was 2015? Did you crush your quota? If you did, congratulations, but don’t expect yesterday’s success to work today. In 2016, focus on your professional growth by challenging yourself to push the envelope and take the road less traveled, rather than just doing what is comfortable or easy.

If you don’t do this, you could get stuck in a circle of mediocrity like one of my all-time favorite comedians – Louis C.K. He told his story several years ago at a memorial for George Carlin. It was not his typical stand-up act, rather it sheds light on a profound moment in his career that helped him break out of mediocrity and into star status.

Louis C. K.’s plateau

Turns out Louis C.K. wasn’t always a great comedian. In fact, he hit a low point about 15 years into his career. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t getting any better either. He was just stuck in a circle that didn’t take him anywhere.

“I use to hear my acts and think, this is shit, I hate it…. I had been doing the same hour of comedy for 15 years, and it was shit, I promise you.” he said with disgust in his voice.

How Louis C.K. broke out of mediocrity

What makes this video clip so interesting is that Louis C.K. goes onto explain how he broke out of the circle of mediocrity.

He was doing a show at a Chinese restaurant one evening, where the patrons were there to eat and didn’t even want to be bothered with a comedy act. After the show, Louis C.K. was sitting in his car listening to an interview with George Carlin. When the interviewer asked how Carlin kept his content so fresh, Louis C.K. was all ears. Carlin said his method was to record one comedy special each year and then chuck it out and start over.

“That’s crazy! How do you just throw it away?” questioned Louis C.K. “It took me 15 years to build this shitty hour. If I throw it away I have nothing.”

But he realized something. Carlin’s sets kept getting better and better each year. The reason is that his approach forced him to dig deeper and seek out new topics. So Louis C.K. started down this road. Four years later, he was named one of the 100 funniest stand-ups by Comedy Central, and today his fame speaks for itself. He has achieved success in both television and film as well as on the live stage. His FX comedy-drama series, Louie, has received numerous awards and on a recent tour he was the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden three times in a single tour.

Professional growth and finding your George Carlin

If you are looking to break through a plateau and achieve professional growth like Louis C.K., I’d challenge you to start by finding your George Carlin, someone whose career you admire. This could be someone in your department, at your company, or even someone outside of your organization. Seek them out as a mentor, study what they do that is different, and be inspired by them to try something new.

If you don’t want to go this big at first, start by identifying a gap in your own skill set that might be holding you back, and find someone you admire that has filled that gap well. Maybe you struggle with prospecting, or you want to improve your leadership skills. Find someone you admire for their skill set in this areas and study what they do. Then, try out aspects of their approach.

Just remember, if it’s easy, you aren’t getting better.


Alyssa headshot Alyssa Trenkamp is the director of marketing communications at Velocify and a 15 year veteran in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to Velocify, Alyssa spent nearly a decade as a marketing and public relations consultant for Microsoft. Alyssa holds a BA in Journalism from Western Washington University.

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