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Louis C.K. At Madison Square Garden, Saturday, January 24th, 2015, Reviewed

Louis C.K., January 2015, MSG: notice the funny faces

Louis C.K., January 2015, MSG: notice the funny faces

In 2012 at City Center (here) , the comedian etc etc etc Louis C.K. had a riff about how when you’re an adult you get to put chocolate in your mouth, and in 2015 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, C.K. simplified life to putting food in your mouth and shitting it out,  and later in the evening performed a repulsive bit imagining an abusive relationship with his toilet with too much in common with an abusive relationship with a loved one. Scatological humor is one thing, but borderline misogynistic stupidity is another. In 2012 he was funny, in 2015 less so. C.K. had too many moments where the far too long 90 minute stand up performance wasn’t nearly funny enough, along with moments where he lived up to his reputation for greatness.

C.K.’s problem is, he has become the 1990s Prince, he won’t stop releasing stand up. 90 minutes of fresh material a year is his incredible output for what? the past five years?  That’s more than Saturday Night Live manage in a decade. He tapes and sells on his website the old stuff (and makes a mint) and  throws out what worked and what doesn’t and reboots and this reboot was not where he needed to be. Essentially it was year 47 in the story of C.K. and it wasn’t much of a year, as C.K. himself admits, nothing happens to you when you’re 47 that didn’t happen when you were 46. So with nothing much more than a trip to the countryside to fill us in on, he takes side trip after side trip and some of them don’t work.

The show begins promptly at 8pm comes the warning. Show up at 810 and you’re screwed. Actually, it did nothing of the sort. At 820, a disembodied irritating voice told us C.K. prefers to perform without an audience, would we head for the exit; it was the comedian himself and what a card, and only the first of many irritating voices we’d have to suffer through. He then introduced New Yorker  Greer Barnes. Barnes gave a hit and miss 15 minutes,  touching on New York police (but not TOUCHING ON New York police) and the MTA  he was quite funny, and Tea Party politicians who are gagging to call the president a “nigger” was also good, but sometimes he missed. Blacks on horseback, not so much.

C.K. came out with a terrible, grating Boston accent about how he was taught to mispronounce words by his teacher in sex ed which hit the nadir of the evening early with a misplaced “fuck” (if you’re trying to sell us on the reality of your teacher in the 70s, don’t pretend she used the f word). All of C.K.’s accents, with the  exception of the Scarecrow in the Wizard Of Oz,  are beyond bad but worst is the  ridiculous teenage girl voice, the same one that Jimmy Fallon uses. It isn’t realistic and it isn’t funny, apparently all teen girls sound like Moon Zappa) and since, with an invasion of privacy that borders on I’ll be seeing you in court 20 years from now, 13 year old daughter to his credit, he should certainly know better.

Then he gives the game away “47 is a year where nothing happens…” and describes how his heart pumps blood to his stomach. I just didn’t laugh. All of this should have been scrapped. Soon we’re on “the noise I made when I come is now the noise I make when I pee” and the abused toilet.

Sometimes when he got it right, he screwed it up. In one of his funniest lines he imagines strangling his baby because it was disturbing people on an airplane (an image he stole from the last episode of MASH) he blows it by claiming  “You all just clapped for a dead baby!” -nobody actually clapped,  which puts him on autopilot.

Not everything here falls flat, indeed the majority works fine,  but imagining the faces a girl who is not into having sex with him pulls while they are doing it doggystyle would be a lot funnier if you could see his face and again he needed to work the specific room: the close circuit TV I was watching didn’t really show it, but I bet it kills when he sells the video next week. A great line is thrown in there somewhere (I’ll try not to steal too many more), when he calls it the place where consensual sex becomes borderline rape.

It goes on and on and on, bats in urban New York, dishwashers mistaken for witches, tap dancers, rats having sex, not knowing when you are gonna die, the pace is relentless and the laughs well placed, and some are great laughs, but they are too self-centered to add up to much. For every “you know what happens when gay people get married? Nothing” there is a dozen pieces of self-loathing. It comes off as bragging and it comes off as fake, late in the show C.K. compares the US’s foreign policy to a bad girlfriend (“yeah we bombed your schoolhouse, but what about 9-11?”) it is a good line but it reflects right back on him as well. C.K. has something of the bad girlfriend in him, he seems to misstate his childhood to gain sympathy and misstate his adulthood to fake humility.

If he wasn’t so popular I wouldn’t be so hard on him, but he plays an everyman and it is a form of false humility. This somewhat overweight (he isn’t Santa Claus) balding guy is sexually attractive and powerful because he is famous and that is all there is to it, so when he tries to join us he fails, it isn’t true, it is as true as that teacher  saying “fuck” and everything he builds into his stand up when it doesn’t work feeds off the opposite of what it should be feeding on.

When I reviewed his City Centre gig I didn’t do too much research because I enjoyed it so much, but this time I went home and tried to piece together what I was missing out on while the world was laughing itself sick. Personally, I agree with his best line in the whole show, “self love is good but self awareness is much better”. But if he was being self-aware it would reek of self-love, he is too blessed to be real at all. “All the things you do, I do better versions of those things” he said in 2011… but not here.

Here is the first paragraph of C.K.’s Wikipedia entry: “C.K. was born in Washington, D.C.,the son of Mary Louise Szekely (née Davis), a software engineer, and Luis Székely, an economist. C.K.’s parents met at Harvard University, where his mother was completing her degree in a summer-school program. They were married at St. Francis Church in Traverse City, Michigan. He has three sisters.” In what sense does this make the comedian an everyman of any stripe or form? When he goes on about his upbringing (half Jewish, half Mexican) he gives the impression he was raised blue collar. No, he wasn’t. Unless his parents are the stupidest people on earth, even while divorced, two Harvard Grads are gonna be quite well to do. It is all a fantasy, it is self-love (or loath: the same difference).

When you read his reviews you get his resumes, it’s all $5 video downloads, $1M in sales, complete artistic control, Letterman, wrote and directed “Pootie Tang”…  man, the man is a one person industry. So what am I meant to take away from these fantasies he performs?

Humor is subjective, much more than, say, music, and he doesn’t coincide well enough with my experience, all the family stuff is nothing to do with me, all the scatalogical references are nauseating for me. In ancient Greece, in 500 BC, the citizens did not eat in front of each other because they were meant to be the vassals of God and therefore should have no bodily functions necessary. I think we carry that with us but even if we don’t, what use is shit and piss jokes? I never liked Howard Stern’s Fartman stuff, it is too yucky for my tastes.

Worse is C.K.’s take on the relationship between the sexes, the sexism versus racism line should be taken outside and shot at dawn. Better is C.K. on childhood, his dog that hated him (running away like a slave at every chance -biggest laugh of the evening, a superb line)  was one of the finest remembrances you’ll hear. The seven year old C.K. telling his neighbor that one day the neighbor would die was the equal, “Reaaaaally…??” he exclaims when the six year old neighbour’s mom told him Lincoln could be still alive if he wasn’t shot. “She’s a fucking idiot”, his Mom comforts him after. “Don’t worry, you’re gonna die”.

As a performer, Louis is minimal, he doesn’t do what Eddie Izzard does, he doesn’t do theme work, he does subject work: his life, his kids, his opinions, in a vision of life,  and though it isn’t really like yours (I don’t own a house in the country and in the city) it could be somebodies biography. Like a rapper,  he is all flow and punctuated harshness. He can’t do Pryor acting out just about anything under the sun, C.K.’s blood flowing to his stomach is NOT Richard Pryor talking about having a heart attack. C.K. doesn’t do voices very well, doesn’t use his body much, he isn’t rolling on the floor or standing on chairs (I didn’t even notice his water bottle but I was so far away I wouldn’t have). But his voice is very effective, he has tone, he uses inflection and power, he can tell stories and he tells stories, he does stories and he mixes in aphorisms on both sides of em. The stories have a point and the point is like a reflex against the hypocrisy of everything. Maybe a third of the time, it doesn’t hit. Though if you went to a concert and about a third of it was a drag, how much would you complain (I know,I know)?

Yes,  there are moments where I really laughed very very hard, moments when I bought in. The audience loved him as well, though I promise you they laughed harder at City Centre. Maybe the size of the arena stymied him. It is hard to be intimate and let me add that he didn’t much try to play the room as a room to make up for the lack of intimacy. While the ticket might cost a third of Queen, for sure Queen spent ten times as much on their presentation, and there’s five of em, and musicians, and stage and lightning. This had zero, nothing nada. Not even a film. Not even start it at 730 instead of 820 and show us episode 1, Season 5… do something, you’re at MSG. For a man who fancies himself such a hot shot think out the box he didn’t think inside the square. Why didn’t he consider a new way to present stand up for such a huge place?

This comes off as harsher than I feel, partially because the reviews I read were ridiculously overstating the case in his favor. Why are they lying? It’s like those blurbs from periodicals you’ve never heard of on bad comedies posters: “I laughed till I cried”.  I laughed and laughed hard, sometimes. Sometimes I didn’t laugh at all. This is one man’s life and I’m happy, or maybe, sorry for him. He has everything,we are the schmucks who are paying to hear him deny his great good fortune (and genius) brings him happiness. Self aware, right?

Grade: B

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