For famous artists there is a lot to hide live and loyal fans are often not the most difficult audience. With the new, untitled show by American stand-up comedian Louis CK (54) it is tempting to let yourself be carried away by the emotions of the audience. That’s almost impossible, with the support act that CK has brought along, there is laughter in which the impatience can hardly be hidden. When the last support act announces that ‘the funniest man on the planet’ is coming, CK receives a round of applause that would reward many an artist with a generous encore at the end. What do you want from me, CK asks sarcastically when the audience has calmed down somewhat. His presence seems to be enough for many people.
It’s not all that interesting in terms of content. CK would like to sand and look for the edges, but does this much too forcefully, so that it has little effect. He soon starts talking about racism, but he doesn’t really have anything useful to say about it. Something can be racist and true at the same time, says CK. He tests this hypothesis in a story about differences between people in colder and warmer climates (‘now it’s not racist’). It’s mostly not very funny. And in an act in which he imitates a Japanese, Norwegian, Italian and Frenchman, the echo of stand-up comedy from some time ago resounds. So boring.
There are also quite nice songs, which also show that CK is a good actor. For example, if he visually explains why the sentence for murder should depend on how many years of life the victim still has to go. He also has a strong, theatrical act about Jesus Christ: CK has discovered that there are many more stories about the messiah than just the fragments from Jesus’ biography that are incorporated in films. CK has therefore brought a strong sample of Bible stories that he brings with great pleasure.
In CK’s best work, you are given a tour of his occasionally insane brain, in which the viewer undergoes a process of denial, pity, fear, recognition and catharsis, in varying order and with different results. Unfortunately this is not the case in this show, especially because CK does not deal with very exciting topics. He’s still a great stand-upper, but if your show is predictable, the harvest is far from optimal.
The lack of originality and tension is somewhat compensated for by the presence of a different kind of tension: how does CK deal with its double legacy? In 2017, he temporarily stepped out of the spotlight, at a time when he had just confessed to being guilty of sexually transgressive behavior and while he was indeed seen by many as ‘the funniest man on the planet’. CK is one of the first artists to try to get themselves back to the pedestal of the stage after a MeToo scandal of object of public fury. It creates a certain tension and discomfort when you see CK in progress, but it has little to do with his stage performance.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of June 23, 2022