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Louis CK’s Life Lessons

Louis CK is such a multifaceted comedian. His masturbation-obsessed hilarity on stage contrasts with a touching and insightful—though still funny—personality exhibited in interviews and on his FX show “Louie.” CK makes me laugh while I’m crying. And he makes me think.

Perhaps it’s because CK isn’t afraid to admit he’s still learning—about himself, about life, about … masturbation. He recently wrote this about deciding to sell the video of his new “Live at the Beacon Theater” special online for $5, which cut into his profit but also cut costs for his fans:

I learned that money can be a lot of things. It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest[—]jokes about garbage, penises and parenthood.

That’s not a bad lesson. As people occupy the streets and as the U.S. Congress again threatens to shut down the government—both largely because of monetary disputes in one of the richest countries on earth—it’s nice to know that people can reject greed without necessarily rejecting free enterprise. And see something magical in the whole thing.

CK’s effort also struck a blow for the right of artists to own—and profit from—their content. So far, he said he’s grossed about $200,000 for selling the video of the show. This, he conceded, is “less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to” fans for about $20 per download. He said a large company would have sold fans “an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely.”

To fans who buy his comedy special for five bucks on his website, CK is simply asking them—trusting them—not to reproduce it and give it away for free. He’s saying to them: ‘Respect my work and you’ll be rewarded with an hour’s worth of low-cost, high-value entertainment.’ And it seems that people have largely complied with his request. They’ve agreed to enter into this artist–fan compact, probably because it’s eminently fair, simple, sensible, and small-d democratic.

CK calls his experiment a success. That’s very good news for his fans, and for fans of other funny people who inevitably will follow CK’s lead.

Buy the thing here. Listen to CK’s recent interview on Fresh Air here and below.