Louis CK at the Hammersmith Apollo

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

If he didn’t have stand-up as an outlet, Louis CK would be the sort of man who’d find himself being escorted noisily out of bookshops for scrawling graffitied heckles on inspirational posters of kittens.

His earnestly-held belief is that your life’s not special, your marriage won’t last, and you won’t get anywhere with platitudinous self-belief and bullshit positive thinking. Through an astute skill in seeing through the nonsense, he’s concluded that self-hatred and regret are your only friends if you’re to survive this feral world, in which it’s every man for himself.

But, cleverly and almost uniquely, his cynicism isn’t negative. This brutish life may be full of disappointment, compromise and selfishness – all factors which inform the darker corners of his material – but, hey, c’est la vie! It’s not so bad if you accept, even embrace, the situation, warts and and all. He finds joy in the fact that society still works despite all this. Women still date loathsome, potentially lethal, men, for example. And there are pleasures in life, like bacon or sex, that are easily won.

He’s Homer Simpson with self-awareness – a lazy, overweight asshole led by primal urges which he can quell just enough enough to be an acceptable parent and near-functioning member of society. Those raw impulses are primarily for boobs or for petty retribution, leading to one hilariously black vignette in which he imagines what the world would be like if murder wasn’t illegal, partly inspired by his own fury behind the wheel.

In another, self-analytical, routine he describes how he has become a better bet for women as he’s aged. The teenage version of him is not a catch, but as the good-looking boys with their lithe waists eventually decay, a solvent, grateful man eventually becomes an acceptable option. More importantly, though, his mind and his powers of observation have heightened over his 45 years on this planet, giving the lie to Frankie Boyle’s provocative idea that comedians over 40 are irrelevant. CK has the experience to know how life ticks, the awareness to accept his own failings, and even the knowledge to offer an occasional searing insight into how technology has fundamentally changed our society.

Sure, plenty of comics before him have opined on an audience living their lives through the 5in screens of their smartphones, but CK describes it so perfectly, and extrapolates into rich comic territory so convincingly. The only disappointment is none of this sinks in, and as he returns for his richly-deserved encore, the cameraphones pop out.

There are a few familiar themes here (and strangely he has a story about the self-absorption that fame instils that’s near-identical to a Dara O’Briain routine) but on almost every subject he tackles, CK has the definitive take on it. This show isn’t even him at his very best, but even in idling mode, Louis CK is in the top echelon of stand-ups, as proved when, forever cutting out the middle man, he acts as his own warm-up, making even trite observations like ‘cars are fast, aren’t they?’ into a decent gag. Elsewhere he makes the whimsical thoughts of embarrassed sharks or zoo-bound animals a funny cutesy-free zone, too.

But it’s the honesty with which he reports on the real world that makes him stand out, on everything from the joys of divorce to old women in casinos. He’s so insightful, he even sees into his own brain – the prehistoric, instinctive reptile mind arguing with the more rational 21st Century side like a cranial Odd Couple. But as well as a keen insight into seeing the bigger picture of human behaviour, he has the linguistic tools to describe the foibles in a nuanced, expressive way, comically oblique yet nailing the point. Both the ideas and the metaphors stick hard, reinforcing each other.

The easily sold-out Hammersmith Apollo certainly appreciated the masterful craftsmanship of this impressive 90 minutes of ungimmicky stand-up – hopefully enough to hasten his return to these grateful shores.

Review date: 22 Mar 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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