Louis CK – Hammersmith Apollo – March 21
Louis CK is the hot US comedian at the moment, but not in a Saturday Night Live kind of way – he’s not goofy and loveable and going to end up making endless terrible movies that for some reason make lots of money. No, he’s a comedian in the vein of George Carlin, someone who has something genuine to say about the world, someone who thinks about the impact of his words and measures them precisely. Which isn’t to say he isn’t crude, just that he doesn’t pepper everything he says with profanity. The routine below from his previous live show, Chewed Up, sums up his stance on language.
CK is also coming off the back of two hugely praised seasons of his almost self-titled TV show, Louie, which does for the stand-up’s sitcom vehicle what Mad Men does for the soap opera. It is a series of short films interspersed with segments of stand-up being delivered by a slightly less successful version of himself. This could sound like a twist on the Seinfeld formula, but it’s another beast entirely (and I speak as a devotee of Seinfeld). Each short film deals with an aspect of Louie’s life, be it family, show-business, dating or daily life in general. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s melancholic (often it’s melancholic), sometimes it’s just downright bizarre. More regularly it’s a little of all these things thrown together.
Live, CK could be a rather unassuming presence. Where many stand-ups might choose some grand set to appear on for a show in such a large venue (I’m thinking of Ross Noble’s giant inflatables or Eddie Izzard’s giant staircase (circa Dress to Kill). Instead, all we have is a stool, a microphone and a big black space. I can only imagine who strange this must have seemed at the far bigger O2 Arena which he played the night before. However, the moment he is on stage, he pulls everyone’s attention with the confidence that can only come from mastery of the craft. There is no grand entrance, instead he just kind of wanders on and apologises for not having an opening act.
The show itself is clearly a series of short routines woven together to fill the 90 minutes he’s on stage and for the most part they are very funny indeed. The subject matter is, for the most part, nothing special. What set it apart is the lens through which CK makes us view it, illuminating scenes of every day life in ways we would never have thought of – something that should be at the core of all great stand-ups.
The show builds to an hilarious and thought-provoking sequence which has us questioning our own moral values which can be summed up, spoiler free, as “Of course… but maybe”. The only problem with this is that it kind of makes you wish he had left time to expand and build on these foundations, rather than end with them. As amusing as some of his material on ageing (he’s only 45) is, it suffers when you are shown what CK is really capable of doing.
For example, from the same show as the above clip comes the one below:
It takes difficult subject matter and makes something both funny and thought-provoking out of it, but it’s rarely seen at the Apollo.
And ultimately that’s the sticking point with the show, what stops it from being truly great. It’s wonderful to see a great comedian ply his trade, it’s just a shame it’s not quite his best material. The show as a whole lacks a unifying theme, a thread that runs through the whole show and builds to a crescendo. There is no narrative. It is, in the end, a series of funny routines sewn together to fill the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but equally, it doesn’t quite elevate it grade A standard.