Louis CK: 2017 review – buttons are pushed but the set doesn’t achieve lift-off
4th April 2017
When I saw Louis CK perform his newest hour last September at Madison Square Garden, it felt like a return to form. He was smart and creative, personal and introspective, and he seemed to be settling in as an elder statesman of standup. So it’s confounding that his new Netflix special, which premieres today, feels somewhat inert.
He’s sticking with the suit and tie, a look that lends him some gravity and authority. But he can’t quite seem to find his groove, cycling through subjects without ever nailing them. “So you know, I think abortion … ” he begins in his first bit, designed to get a shocked laugh for starting with such a dark, divisive premise.
It works, but no joke is immediately forthcoming instead, he winds himself backwards, setting up his “two sides to the abortion argument” material. It’s not a bad bit, but not strong enough to open with, and sets up the rest of an hour that never quite feels like it peaks. The abortion material melds cleanly into a long, section on suicide.
Both bits could be considered a masterclass in club comedy: take a counterintuitive stand on a controversial topic that will take people aback — women should be allowed to kill babies, suicide is fine because life isn’t that important — then keep pushing that premise to its logical conclusion until it almost breaks. CK has perfected this style over his career, and here he does it perfectly competently but without the quirky turns that have so often elevated his material. The special’s title, 2017, is not just a continuation of CK’s tendency towards minimalist names (2010’s Hilarious, 2011’s Live at the Beacon Theater, 2015’s Live at the Comedy Store).
It becomes significant in a bit about religion and the use of the Gregorian calendar like so much of the special, it’s well done but not memorable. A litany of other topics — rescue dogs, texting and driving, old couples, the courting rituals of middle schoolers — blur together into a perfectly passable hour. He’s at his most compelling when talking about parenting and love, topics that bring out a passion in him.
Musing about the idea that a mother in Heaven should be watching down on everything her child does on Earth, he asks angrily: “When are you done with your fucking kids?” And when he talks about relationships, he argues convincingly both that love is wonderful and that all couples are doomed to eventually hate each other. For him, hope and cynicism live . His final bit, about his fascination with the film Magic Mike, has all the hallmarks of a perfect CK bit.
He confesses his obsession with Matthew McConaughey’s performance, despite never having watched the whole film because “I’m pretty sure the end of Magic Mike is that I’m gay”. It’s not homophobia or gay panic that puts him off, but the idea of adopting an entire new lifestyle at his age. This personal reflection mixes perfectly with the kind of dirty joke he adores — here, using the microphone to simulate 20 seconds of holding a penis in his mouth — and leads into his thoughts about the pros and cons of dating men.
Between September and now, he seems to have dropped some of the more personal and intriguing stories hopefully, they’ll be resurrected in a future hour. Without them, this special never rises to the heights we all know CK can achieve. Instead, we get a very brilliant standup doing a perfectly fine hour of comedy.
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