Before I get to my thoughts on Louis CK Thursday night, I’d like to take some time out to address the gentleman who was sitting behind me:
Hello. I’m glad you enjoyed the show. Now, I assume that, since you didn’t seem to be in any immediate distress, you attended of your own volition, and therefore had a pretty good idea of the kind of content the show would contain. And, since no one else around you appeared to be in similar distress, that we were also aware of the type of show we had purchased tickets to see. So, barring you or your companion having some sort of short-term memory disorder that required constant reminders of what was going on around you, howling, “That’s so funny!” after every other joke was really unnecessary. Please try to curb this tendency before the next comedy show you see, or less charitable souls than myself might decide to repeatedly shatter fluorescent light bulbs over your head. Then point and say, “That looks like that hurts.”
When Louis CK finally took the stage for his second show Thursday night in Tampa, the moment was almost anti-climactic. We’d politely listened to warm-up act Todd Glass (given the most unenviable task imaginable), and worked ourselves into a frenzy as he finally gave way to the headliner. And in complete opposition to the level of adulation roaring towards the stage, out walked … just this guy. His clothes were drab shades of black, and more than a little rumpled. One pant leg wasn’t quite pulled down over the top of the boot below it, giving him a somewhat tilted appearance. His shirt was untucked. His hair was a messy red tangle over only two-thirds of his head, and he moved with the gait of a man who’d gotten used to the physical burden of a few extra pounds but still wasn’t entirely happy about it. In short, he looked more like someone who should have been out in the audience than the one the audience was there to see.
But as soon as he opened his mouth, he was impossible to ignore. Maybe it’s because Louis CK isn’t going to dazzle you with his physical appearance that it’s so easy to get drawn in by his words. Or maybe it’s just the brilliance of those words. Whatever the case, for over ninety minutes, he commanded the stage and our attention with an effortless set remarkable for the fact that it was coming on the heels of another show that had ended not an hour earlier. By equal turns aggressive and self-deprecating, CK tackled some sacred cows while at the same time bemoaning the state in which his forty-five years of life have left him. And it’s that introspective humility that plays a large part in letting him get away with poking fun at Make-a-Wish kids and wounded veterans; by the finale of the show where he goes into his amazing “Of Course … But Maybe” routine, we’re on his side. He’s won us over as just this regular guy who’s had the kind of problems we can all relate to. So it’s not some snarky celebrity up there wondering why we don’t just let everyone with nut allergies die and get it over with. It’s your favorite uncle, your drinking buddy, the neighbor you see every day. And he’s bared his soul to us.
Being only a year younger than him, I found a lot of his material particularly resonant. While I doubt he means for us to take seriously his call to accept being fat as the size we were meant to be, there’s an underlying current of being happy with who you are in that bit. Though he might be joking when he says that men our age do better sexually because we’re pretty much the only options out there, he’s also speaking about confidence and experience. He might come across as this miserable schlub, but miserable schlubs don’t have the presence and talent to command an audience the way he does.
Throughout the show, the message was, “Yeah, this is where I’ve ended up. But I had a hell of a time getting here, and being here isn’t that bad either.” As he memorably said near the end of his act, we’re given this great gift of being here, and of having these great bodies with all these holes we can put stuff into. So why not put as much into those holes as we can? Louis CK has slowly become a hero of mine, mostly on the strength of his brilliant show Louie. Seeing him live from only three rows from the stage wasn’t so much a life-changing event as a life-affirming one. He may have been above us on stage, he may have been on the pedestal on which we put him, but when it comes right down to it, he’s down there in it with the rest of us.