“I am the worst comedian on the planet,” Louis C.K. muttered near the top of Sunday’s sold-out performance. Fortunately the Forum crowd thought differently, fans including actor Seth Green, comedian Bo Burnham and One Direction’s Harry Styles cheering in defiance to every blustery “That’s enough of that,” or “Shut your fuckin’ mouth!” he barked in jest throughout the evening.
Where opener Todd Glass reveled in playing to the largest venue of his career, C.K. remained dependably dour. He’d admittedly arrived straight from losing out at the Golden Globes (“I’m the first guy to change out of a tux to perform,”) but the former Chris Rock Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien writer was never one to take Hollywood dictum seriously. After 30 years onstage, succumbing to the temptation of an easy laugh disgusts him. “That’s a great sound: 13,000 people going, ‘Uhhn…,’” C.K. acknowledged at one point, later sighing “All right! Fuck!” and rubbing his eyes in mock defeat. An applause break for miming the strangulation of a shrieking infant, however, proved a surprise victory that perked him right up: “You all just clapped for a dead baby!”
C.K. polished his current hour at the Comedy Store throughout November and December, and last week performed four shows at the Chicago Theatre plus New York City’s Madison Square Garden (where he wore a red homemade Charlie Hebdo tee). With only Jan. 14’s second MSG date ahead on his tour calendar, odds are the material will soon comprise his sixth release in eight years.
Like Jim Gaffigan on food or Dave Attell on midgets, C.K. continues finding new angles on such seemingly exhausted topics as sex, raising his daughters, self-loathing, the loathing of others and his complex relationship with air travel. And though he now relies more heavily on character voices — from Bostonians and college girls to Ray Bolger’s Wizard of Oz Scarecrow and “a guy watching rats fuck on the subway platform,” frank admissions concerning his current shortcomings remain unvarnished and self-aware as ever. In a centerpiece story set during a rural vacation, C.K. circuitously reveals how guilt over his divorce’s effect on his kids, a fear of bats and dependency on others threaten an already tenuous sense of masculinity. “I don’t really have any way out of that,” he shrugged, leaving the narrative’s halting end and his inferiority issues for another day.
The prolific stand-up, creator/star/everything else of FX series Louie and champion of content-distribution control thrives on challenge, whether he’s pitted against himself, an audience or the world at large. Asides addressing police shootings and the inevitability of LGBT rights are fleeting yet pointed; only with C.K.’s final chunk after returning for a ten-minute encore did he go deep on not merely sexism or racism, but sexism versus racism. As with many, many former bits, it culminated with his mimicking jerking off.
C.K. permanently changed the business side of the industry by pioneering direct downloads of albums. He also redrew the parameters of confessional material once prior. As his back stooped, knees bent and wrist flailed away, there was a sense that he’s seeking ways to redefine himself once again. His next looming challenge won’t involve shrewd deal-making or merciless introspection, but the institution of live comedy as a whole.
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