Although comedian Louis C.K. has gained prominence in the last few years for his leading role on the critically praised FX television series “Louie,” C.K. continues to reach out to live audiences across the country. The television show utilizes a mixture of scripted storylines and C.K.’s stand−up comedy routines, providing viewers with a taste of C.K.’sself−deprecating humor. While the show features original material for each episode, C.K.’s live stand−up shows parallel the stories within “Louie” as he describes his everyday ordeals with his daughters, women and the rest of society.
C.K. performed several stand−up shows at the Boston Symphony Hall from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5 on his most recent tour. Each night consisted of an early show beginning at 7 p.m. and a late show beginning at 10 p.m.
For the late show on C.K.’s final night in Boston, comedian Gary Gulman opened the performance with a 15−minuteroutine. Gulman, who has appeared on both “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and“The Late Show with David Letterman,” also earned the spot of runner−up during two seasons of “Last Comic Standing,” and received a positive response from the Boston audience. Gulman, employing a Boston accent, played up the show’s location by presenting a well−liked bit on the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady.
When Gulman introduced C.K. onstage, the audience applauded wildly, clearly eagerly anticipating the next hour and a half. C.K. introduced his act with a short anecdote about his first trip to Boston Symphony Hall, when he came with his father to see a classical music performance. C.K. divulged that this trip marked the first moment he realized he had full control over the act of killing himself. The audience roared with laughter in response.
C.K. is known for telling simple stories that simultaneously resonate with broader existential concepts, and this evening’s performance was no different. C.K. continued life and death themes throughout various segments of his show, including a hilarious piece on why people are so lucky to have time on earth. While audience members who may not be familiar with C.K.’s style might have expected a more uplifting indicator of the human race’s good fortune, C.K. fans were unsurprised when the comedian reduced the equation to, “We get to have sex!” The joke itself does not necessarily appear original or creative when taken out of context, but C.K. succeeds because he forms clear connections with his audience. In his fearlessness, he keeps nothing from them and in doing so builds up a bond similar an old friend who knows us at our best but more particularly at our worst. The awkward, the painful and the crude are all fair play because of this trust C.K. establishes. We are all in the same position as he is and we all share similar experiences.
The most controversial section of C.K.’s show was without a doubt his finale, which the comedian began by explaining that he often views events and ideas with an “of course, but maybe” mentality. For example, he first states that “of course” safety measures should be taken for people with nut allergies. “But maybe,” C.K. continued, those who are so allergic that contact with nuts is fatal should be allowed to die. He went on to set up another instance using the Make a Wish Foundation and the audience began to murmur and groan, deeming the topic inappropriate for humor.
C.K. maintained his hold on the audience, however, and moved on to the subject of soldiers being killed in action. At this point, heads shook and “oh mans” could be heard across the theatre, but C.K. interjected, “Hey, you laughed at those other ones — you’re all in this with me now.” The now complicit audience laughed with a sense of guilt as C.K. finished the bit. They recognized that the master comedian had proved that there is a comic dichotomy: a comedian can remain distant from a subject and stay on the outside, never taking a chance with a controversial punch line for fear of going into the politically incorrect, or a comedian can allow themself to be pulled into the comic abyss and find side−splitting and profound humor in even the darkest of subjects. C.K. has always chosen the latter, and his ability to balance with the scandalous with the thought−provoking and the profound speaks to his immense skill.
1 The media loves him.
Time called him “Steven Spielberg without the beard and with humor.” Entertainment Weeklynamed him “The World’s Greatest Comedian.” In an essay spiked with references to Kierkegaard and Marshall McLuhan, The Atlantic called him “America’s unlikely conscience.”
“There’s a media embracing of him I haven’t seen with anybody else,” said comic Andy Kindler, another longtime road warrior with stints on Everybody Loves Raymond and Late Show with David Letterman whose State of the Industry rant at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal included a long section criticizing Louis C.K.
“In the old days, it was hard to get attention for anything that wasn’t mainstream,” added Kindler, who criticized Louis C.K. for talking too much about all the work he does on his FX show, promoting himself while also appearing to resist promotion. “Are we celebrating the art of things, or are we celebrating that they’re successful?”
2 He’s successfully taken control of his art, looking out for fans in the process.
Louis C.K.’s FX show Louie is as close to a one-man-band as possible, with the comedian writing, directing, casting and even helping create the music for his show, to Emmy-winning results.
Likewise, he sold his last concert, Live at the Beacon, online to fans for $5 a pop, earning more than $1 million in less than two weeks. His tickets for concerts, including tonight’s sold-out stand at the Straz Center in Tampa, were sold at $45 each using techniques to cut down on scalping.
A multimillionaire star who is willing to leave concert revenue on the table to thwart scalpers? What fan wouldn’t love an artist like that?
3 He’s hilariously self-deprecating while shocking the audience in ways they don’t expect.
Filthy as Louis C.K. can be onstage, nobody gets nailed worse than the man himself, who describes himself as “a bag of leaves nobody tied up.”
Critics like Kindler suspect his modesty is just a pose. But comic Gilbert Gottfried, who famously lost a job voicing the duck in commercials for insurance company Aflac after tweeting jokes about the tsunami in Japan, said audiences are often drawn to the kind of edgy, self-effacing material that scares corporations and big institutions.
“People are willing to follow you down some dark places — not corporations, but the people will,” he said, laughing. “When that (firing) happened, it became a major news item, it was all over the place, but you realize the public doesn’t care. … They get it.”
4 His creativity, once unleashed, brings amazing results.
Ask how the comic creates such a fitting score for Louie and he reveals the secret: Often the music comes first, before scenes are written.
“We always make music before I start writing,” he said. “The first thing I do all season is make two days worth of music. And some of that music helps me write. I listen to it when I’m writing.”
Like so much else on the show, the quality comes from Louis C.K. following his instincts wherever they lead. For fans of great comedy, there really isn’t anything more compelling than that.
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