Louis C.K. Live at the Comedy Store
(Self Distribution – 2015)
(Comedy, Stand Up)
The experience of Louis C. K.’s latest stand-up special, released independently through his website, is summed up before you even start Live at the Comedy Store, when you fill out the download information; the last box is an opt-out signup for C. K.’s mailing list, with “No, leave me alone forever, you fat idiot” automatically checked, thus depriving the marketing database of the oblivious clickers. Most companies defer to automatic opt-in as their default; not C. K. It makes sense—much of C. K.’s comedy is, in one way or another, concerned with opting out, whether it’s encouraging his children to give up dance and school in favor of eating food in solitude or the tossing out of deeper social mores.
Live at the Comedy Store is an intentionally rougher set, with C. K. periodically ending a bit with an “…alright” or an “I don’t know” as though he’s scratching failed experiments off of a mental setlist. It doesn’t feel ill-prepared so much as it feels inclusive; C. K. has always been a comedian who is comfortable being uncomfortable, who is more concerned with comedic praxis than with developing surprising material. His goal is to make the audience laugh at the mechanics of comedy rather than the absurdity of society—a stand-up who starts jokes with “Some of you are wondering—(beat)—none of you are wondering,” a comedian who includes the audience not just through laughter, but in the actual setup to laughter: the audience as conspirator. C. K.’s a comedian who escalates with an implacable but warped logic—he tightens the gears of social tension until they strip, as when he points out that it’s possible to essentially hijack a plane by making noises until the pilot is forced to land—that shifts instantly into vulnerability, as when he mimes strangling a baby and presents the “corpse” to the audience before chiding them: “You all just applauded for a dead baby.” It’s that same torque that characterizes his onstage philosophy of calling others out while wallowing in his own personal feculence, as when he talks about youth and technology, then segues into the feasibility of texting his ex-wife’s mother pictures of his genitals, or when he refers to a teenager girl’s life of “bad sexual experiences” as “walking through a blizzard of dicks.” C. K. lives for tension—sometimes to the detriment of his act. His tendency to drop into the exact same voice for every woman he impersonates—a nasal, vocally-fried drawl—is dispiriting, as is the hypocrisy of one bit, wherein he recreates a dialogue between two women (both voiced in that SoCo sneer) he heard while eavesdropping at a restaurant, then concludes: “Self-love is a good thing, but self-awareness is more—important.” Indeed, self-awareness is vital—you’d expect a comedian with the reported self-awareness of Louis C. K. to turn that penetrative gaze to himself.
I watched the special twice—once on a lunch break, and once—in the interest of science—two beers in, to match the two-drink minimum of the old guard of comedy clubs, and found my attention wandering both times during the more prolonged bits. C. K. sometimes has difficulty hitting the sweet spot between “intellectualized observational comedy” and “pointless abstraction,” and in Live at the Comedy Store, he heads far more towards stereotyped voices and digressive self-amusement. Still, as ever, he’s a comedian worth watching, one capable of pungent simplicity (“What is it like when a rat comes? Is it, like, just a biological thing—just a dispassionate eeh!”), and one who is never anything less than exhilarating, in terms of his audience control and ability to convert awkwardness into improvisational—or improvisational-feeling—confession. It’s all an interesting contrast to the opening act, the punchy and slouchy Jay London, whose one-liner style is as playful and stylized as C. K.’s is loose and oscillatory. Hunched over, his hair in congo-style clumps, clutching a sheaf of paper and wearing a tattered suit-vest over a t-shirt, London is a primal figure—as he’s been known to put it, “the fourth figure from the left on the evolutionary chart”—while C. K. stands upright, mannerly holding the microphone between index finger and thumb, rigid and wide-eyed. It’s two different views of the humor in humanity, but connected by the deep, structured ridiculousness of all of human history, that eternal “leave me alone forever, you fat idiot” that echoes inside us on difficult days and that Louis C. K. uses as his dominant voice.