As anyone who pays attention to the comedy racket must know by now, this is Louis C.K.’s time.
He’s got a critically adored series on FX, Louie, he turned the comedy business upside down by making and selling his own monster-hit online special, he’s done a hugely successful tour sold through his own website and he’s just about to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Look at him. Listen to him. He’s an unlikely It guy of comedy. Mid-forties, balding and permanently rumpled, there’s nothing in the least showbiz about his appearance and presence.
So, why is Louis C.K. the iconic comedian of the moment? In part, because everything about him is a riposte to popular culture’s insistence on the specialness of the new, the young, the shiny and the callow. He’s the anti-cute, anti-shallow guy.
His charisma and his comedy are rooted in a weary-but-optimistic view of the world. On Louie and in his stand-up, he talks about his divorce, his kids and worrying about his aches and pains. He’s funny about it all, often shockingly blunt about sex and women. To some, unwise to his charm, he’s merely selling offensive jokes. But there’s depth beneath the veneer of bluntness and swearing.
Louis C.K.: Oh My God (Saturday, HBO Canada, 10 p.m.) is actually his fourth HBO stand-up special but it’s the one that shows us how much he had honed his act. A good deal of it is unprintable in a newspaper. (It’s strictly for adults, by the way.) This might seem surprising given that his topics and riffs cover such matters as, sitting down, socks, getting old and his admiration for young people who are dating.
In fact, it’s hard to believe that a long comedy bit that begins, “I love sitting so much” could be scabrously funny. But it is. “At my age if I’m sitting down and somebody tells me I need to get up and go to another room, I need all the information about why,” he says. “Getting up is a whole thing. First, I need to decide if I even want to be alive any more.”
And there’s the thing – he actually does want to be alive and a good deal of his seemingly casual, observational comedy is about the joy of living, no matter how much the body aches, the kids today seem stupid and how hard it is to put on socks.
Another portion of his act that can actually be quoted, in part, is his emphasis on the unacknowledged pleasure of aging: ‘If you‘re older, you’re smarter. A 55-year-old garbage man is a million times smarter than a 28-year-old with three PhDs.” He goes on to explain the odd but satisfying experiences that the 55-year-old garbage man can recall and how that makes him a lot smarter. You have to see it to get the details.
In his catalogue of phobias and preoccupations – sex, kids, the body, allergies – he taps into a collective unease about our culture’s obsession with youth and beauty. All those online photo galleries of young celebrities in swimsuits. The inanity of so-called “surprising” photos of young female celebrities without makeup. All the coverage of the hookups and breakups of the handsome but fabulously untalented.
Louis C.K. has a flair for turning plain-spoken observations into wry, ruthless comedy. At first you think there’s something lazy, conventional and even sloppy about his comedy. But it’s the bit by bit building to a hilarious view of the world that matters in the end.
It’s possible to suggest that although he’s the comedian of the moment, he’s no genius. He’s just the right man at the right time to counter the prevailing superficiality. There he goes, swearing and sometimes shocking, in his unpressed pants, polo shirt and uncool shoes, telling the audience what they are grateful to hear, for once.
The Moment (Bravo, 10 p.m.) is a ridiculous new reality series, from the USA network, that promises to “give ordinary Americans the opportunity to realize their dreams and rewrite their life stories.” A guy gets to race a sailboat, a woman gets to fulfill her dream of becoming a Sports Illustrated photographer. It’s beyond banal and what it’s doing on our so-called arts channel is beyond me.
Marketplace (CBC, 8 p.m.) reaches its season finale by examining online group buying and daily deal websites. The ostentatious, we’re-on-a-mission style of Marketplace can be irritating, but often there’s a genuine payoff in the warning to consumers.