Artwork by SAM SPRATT
Louis C.K. is the perfect comic for right now, for the Age of Lessness, when the economy is as clinically depressed as the national psyche is tortured, and the imperial hubris of American exceptionalism turned out to be just another Sarah Palin fever dream for people high on Fox News. He is a prophet of white male failure in the time when aging Caucasian alpha dogs are losing their lock on entitlement as society is increasingly bred to be more inclusive and egalitarian. And he dresses the part: droopy muffin-topped jeans, too-small black tee stretched across his lumpy thorax and cod-white limbs, a pruned-back Bozo-like shock of ginger hair and matching goatee. Part man, part manatee, he looks more like a roadie than a rock star, and yet he is.
Torching just about every illusion of nobility we hold dear as a species with side-splitting precision, he channels the bummer zeitgeist of the dawning of the 21st century the way Seinfeld defined the smug zeitgeist of the end of the 20th. Seinfeld had nothing to worry about. Louis C.K. has everything to worry about. Where Seinfeld was trim and fussy, anal retentive and proud of it, Louis C.K. is soft and sloppy, he sweats when he eats, he’s divorced and loving it! You can almost hear the sleep apnea in his voice.
And yet his comedy has a much broader appeal than just beleaguered suburban schlubs beached on the shoals of middle age. His audience is younger and less fat and bald than you might expect. You would think that his act would have all the chick appeal of a left-up toilet seat or a still-warm sweatsock, but his live audience skews 50/50 male/female. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise, because when you get right down to it everybody hurts and everybody laughs and C.K.’s humor rides that thin line in between.
Like Girls‘ Lena Dunham, he does not shy away from the flabby truth of his physicality when he holds a mirror up to himself and by extension his audience. That this should be so jarring and, in some quarters, disturbing, only points out how addicted we’ve become to being shown what we wish we looked like instead of what we actually look like. His comedy says ‘I don’t look like Brad Pitt and let’s face it neither do you. And you know what? I’m OK with that and you can be too.’ And yet his act transcends the one-note revelry in sloth, indolence and the cheap vicissitudes of encroaching decrepitude of lesser comedians. There is a freedom in the way he transmutes lacerating self-loathing, envy and resentment into comedic gold. His comedy doesn’t just afford his audience the opportunity to laugh at themselves, it gives them permission to be who they are. — JONATHAN VALANIA
LOUIS CK PERFORMS @ THE WELLS FARGO CENTER THURSDAY NOV. 3RD