Louis CK's brilliant surreal humor deserves plaudits at MSG
Louis CK is a juggernaut in the sphere of stand-up comedy: a shark in a koi pond. Selling out MSG for days in a row, he added another show to the 12,000 capacity arena, and Popdust had a chance to see him perform from his latest tour.
And. It. Was. Great.
Louis's comedy relies largely on his observational humor, but his particular success into the oft-tread waters of observational stand up comedy comes from Louis's ability to view and reframe the world around as though he were an outside observer. Therein lies his brilliance. From the point of view of Louis CK, we live in an absurd world that we accept as reality. The various mechanisms and systems in place of our society, both local and global, are unintuitive and unusual, and he demonstrates his views in such a vivid and distinct way that the audience experiences the world as Louis sees it. This results in stories and allegories told in a very surreal narrative, covering a diverse range of subject matter including anything from Greek mythology, the hegemony of Christianity, abortion, and Louis's personal flirtations with homosexual tendencies.
Louis CK uses perspectives to great effect, most notably in a joke regarding abortion protesters. Telling a seemingly more progressive New York audience that while protestors at abortion critics may seem shrill, they believe that they're protesting the literal genocide of babies. In that way, Louis's brilliance in his material comes out. He doesn't need to pander toward any audience as he can fluidly and expertly navigate through various points of view for audiences, no matter how sympathetic they may be. Louis CK is an excellent storyteller, in itself, but he is also a prodigious preacher for the other point of view which may be often underrepresented, especially considering today's political zeitgeist.
A newer weapon in Louis CK's arsenal is his employment of various accents, something that isn't prevalent in his past material. It is a peculiar device that Mr. CK chooses to implement, as it really only results in an occasional cheap laugh on its own. However, as is the case with much of his material, Louis uses what may be otherwise viewed as insensitive vocal inflections (stereotypically black American and Japanese accents) with full awareness of the possible harm that he is causing. Previously, his material often consisted of Louis using words like "nigger", "faggot", and "cunt" liberally, yet he has not seen the full ire of those who are inclined towards identity politics. This is another strength of the awareness that Louis CK uses, challenging knee-jerk reactions and forcing the audience to ponder about things often accepted simply.
Thematically, the idea of death and finality was prevalent throughout his set, going so far as opening his material by saying "my thoughts on abortion are…" He dwells on the concept of the value of life for the first quarter hour or so, and topics of death and suicide recur throughout this his set. Much of his material, whether it is about parenting or his watching of the film Magic Mike lead to a suggestion that in Mr. CK's current state of life, he has accepted the finality of the product he is today. If this show were to have a thesis statement, it might read: "I lived a lot of life, and this is the way the world is; it's weird, but it's the way it is."
During his encore (he's playing the Garden, I mean), Louis ended by trying new material on the sold-out audience. In many ways, I enjoyed this part of his set maybe more than his tour material. In some ways, his jokes meandered slightly too long during his standard set, yet his encore delivered punchier jokes, getting to the point quicker. The encore felt very intimate, like being at a comedy club in the village with 12,000 other people, and he wasn't constrained by keeping to the theme of the rest of his set.
Overall, Louis CK's brilliance continues in this set, and he further cements his legacy as a comedy giant. If Louis is touring near you, I'd very much recommend you watch his show… if you can get tickets.