Louis CK marched onto the stage at Austin's Moody Theater tonight wearing a crisp, black suit. Without breaking stride, he grabbed the mic, moved to one end of the stage, and got right down to it: "So, here's the thing about abortion ..."
Thus began an 80-minute set that ranked among the best I've ever seen from CK, a highly-polished collection of bits expertly woven into a hilarious, pitch-black tapestry. The set didn't quite reach the delirious heights of 2013's Oh My God (still the high-water mark for me when it comes to Louis CK specials), but it's certainly on par with 2011's Hilarious.
We can quibble over the ranking of these specials all day, but why bother? The bottom line here is: the new material is razor-sharp - a legit return to form after 2015's somewhat-flabby Live At The Comedy Store - and fans should start getting excited about the special that will inevitably be built around it.
Just be aware that this is some of the darkest stuff CK's ever written.
The opening bit about abortion led into a lengthy diatribe on the various upsides of suicide. The suicide bit took a brief detour to touch on ISIS ("The worst thing about being beheaded is how stupid you look afterwards") before arriving at religion, at which point CK laid out a brilliant theory declaring Christianity the world's greatest religion ... if only because everyone seems so willing to embrace the standardization of the Gregorian calendar.
That's maybe the first third of the show. The rest careened wildly between topics - rescue dogs, the process of getting in an "email fight", the double-edged sword of stereotypes, CK's kids misinterpreting the phrase "9-11 deniers" - while feeling practiced, but never overly rehearsed. My understanding is that CK's been on the road with this material for many months now, and it shows.
All of this material's been honed to a fine point, but two bits felt a lot like instant all-timers. The first concerns the politics inherent in tweenage kids asking one another out ("He tells his friend to ask her friend to ask her what she'd say if he were to ask her out"), which CK then reimagines as an Elizabethan drawing-room drama. The second is a lengthy discussion of Magic Mike, of all things, and how CK suspects that watching the film in full might turn him fully gay (note: this bit features a pitch-perfect Matthew McConaughey impression). The entire show killed, but these two segments really blew the roof off the place.
Interestingly enough, CK never got around to taking any shots at the biggest bullseye in standup, former game show host and now President-elect Donald Trump. One of his three opening acts (the great Morgan Murphy) briefly touched on Trump's forthcoming reign of incompetence, but otherwise the topic went unmentioned. I found that surprising, but then again, the pronounced darkness of CK's new material often felt like a reaction to society's ongoing meltdown, and being given permission to laugh at some of our (new) lowest points as a species definitely felt timely. Therapeutic, even.
I'm told that the material Louis performed tonight will eventually be filmed for his next special, and I'm thrilled to hear it, because I can't wait to hear it all again. If you can't wait, either - and if you happen to live in Washington (DC), Denver, Portland, or Toronto - be aware that this tour still has dates throughout the rest of the month. You can look into that here (but good luck getting tickets at this point). Everyone else should standby for another worthy addition to CK's ever-expanding oeuvre.