Louis C.K. is such a massively popular comedian that an entire festival has been put on his schlubby shoulders – if you wanted to see any of his four shows in Toronto on Thursday and Friday, you had to shell out $99 for the entire JFL42 festival.
It’s a hefty price, but as organizers promised, the 45-year-old would be doing all new material for the first time, a pretty rare treat for comedy fans. Of course, all new material doesn’t mean it’s all polished.
C.K.’s first Toronto show on Thursday night was proof, if any is still required, that he is the most brilliant stand-up comedian working today. It was also proof that his success – including two Emmy wins this month for his eponymous television show and his last special – hasn’t turned him in to an easygoing nice guy. Early in the show he told one audience member to “shut up for the rest of your life.”
But while his themes were those that he’s mined for gold in the past – the indignities of aging, the inanities of our digital lives, the hardships of dating, how we can all be such jerks so easily–a lot his new material also felt like a work in progress.
There was one bit about introducing his daughters to the concept of dating that just sort of trailed off and was dropped, among a handful of others. C.K. (nee Szekely) is so comfortable on stage he’s content to raise a subject and, if it doesn’t go anywhere, move on to something else. That’s part of doing new material, especially when you’re doing an hour of it.
The 3,000 people at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts didn’t mind, partly because the guy is given the reverence of a latter-day George Carlin (one of his heroes who also had genius-level talent and the serious cojones it takes to throw out all his old material and start fresh every year) but also because when he nails it he does it so hysterically well that you forget looking at your watch just a few moments ago.
See, for instance, his bit about smoking weed that he’s been carrying around in a shoe since the ’90s, which will surely be on YouTube any day now. Or his opinion that if murder wasn’t illegal we’d all be doing a lot more murdering, particularly of annoying children.
C.K. might be mellowing slightly with age and the success that comes from making more than $1-million from his last comedy special, Live at the Beacon Theatre. One set piece from his Toronto show about why we should be happy with our natures rather than killing ourselves at the gym to lose weight almost felt more like self-help than stand-up.
But, like I said, there’s also the murder. No one is better than C.K. at taking audiences in to dark, uncomfortable places and making us laugh. In his best set piece, he explores a type of thinking he calls “Of course … but maybe.” Of course we should all go out of our way to protect people with peanut allergies … but maybe if touching a nut will kill you, he said, you deserve to die. Every other example he cited covered similar moral certainties and then blew them up with explosive punchlines, including both the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Slavery, mention of which made the entire audience tense up. He knew that was going to happen and he did it anyway, which is precisely what makes him so uncomfortably compelling.
Of course all new material isn’t going to be perfect right out of the gate, but it still confirmed C.K. as the greatest stand-up comedian working today. No maybes about it.