[In addition to being a regular contributor here at Collider, Evan Valentine has also been doing stand-up comedy for the last decade. We asked him to review some of Netflix’s new specials given his own experience and viewpoint as a comedian.]
Louis C.K. has been a staple in the standup comedy world for years now. Making various appearances in film and television, C.K. really made his mark with his FX series, aptly titled Louie (not to be mistaken with his prior HBO series, Lucky Louie). His previous standup specials, including such outings as Hilarious and Chewed Up, had C.K. weaving tales of fatherhood, the world at large, drugs, and any surreal stories that may have entered into his brain at any given time. With his last special premiering on HBO,C.K. has decided to make the jump to Netflix for his upcoming comedy specials, with Louis C.K. 2017 being the first. Does 2017 manage to display his greatness once again? Well, yes and no.
C.K. has gone through a lot in his life, and you can see this in his comedy. In his early works, C.K. is still fresh and is focusing on his home life with two young daughters and a wife that he seemingly could never quite seem to get along with. Unsurprisingly, he eventually divorced and his standup began focusing on his exploits as a single dad. It was here that some of his best material was born in the form of stories of the disastrous turn of attempting to introduce his daughters to wild ponies, the travails of using the bathroom when you’re the only guardian to toddlers, and the insanity that builds when trying to dress and feed your progeny. It’s in these stories that the comedian is able to find his true strength, regaling audiences with an overview of his sometimes mundane life, and I think when he veers from that path, things can sometimes get choppy.
Obviously, C.K. is a big deal now. He can write his own ticket and doesn’t exactly deal with the same problems that he used to. In a way, this somewhat limits the experiences that he deals with, as more and more of his bits tend to focus on whatever idea that pops into his head rather than life experiences. This isn’t to say that all of these jokes are duds — in fact more often than not, they’re pretty darn good — but there are some that tend to go on for just a little too long. One joke in particular goes into the ancient Greek, Achilles, that moves toward simply stating how ridiculous it is that his heel was a point of weakness for him. I think that this could have been crafted into something memorable, but ultimately it falls flat and goes on for way too long. Still, C.K. does about one new hour of material each year, which in the standup world is pretty insane. Ultimately, he is just fighting against himself as his past specials raised the bar that few could hope to reach them, Louis himself included.
Case in point: when it comes to life experiences and Louis, the funniest joke of the special, to me, is when he details adopting a dog for his daughters, and “discovering its personality” as it learns to live with himself and his daughters had me busting a gut, as he walked through the issues of taking an unknown animal into your home and your heart. This leads into detailing how the older you become as a person, the more your “circle of concern tightens” which is as funny as it is poignant. When you’re young, the world seems so big, but as you age, your priorities shift, you hit a routine, and you focus on the things that really matter. C.K. is able to recognize this and bring it to the forefront in his self deprecating style here in 2017. Again, this special has a number of diamonds strewn throughout the running time, it just doesn’t live up the high standards that were set by his previous outings.
Marriage isn’t entirely off the table in terms of comedic conversation as C.K. delves into the idea of the afterlife and having to be tied to your lover after death. It’s a unique take on a lifelong commitment that many believe continues after we die, and C.K. acting out a mother having to boringly watch her son’s football games is enough to get a good chuckle. The scenario of a husband being told that his wife is coming to heaven in about twenty minutes, only for a twist at the end which ends the joke cleverly. While C.K. may be divorced, it’s clear that some of these questions were spurned on by his own marriage and his thoughts of death. Speaking of which, one of his opening salvo of jokes revolves around the idea of how suicide can be the solution to all your problems. It’s a dark bit to be sure, but the way C.K. dances around the subject, you can’t help but laugh.
One of the best bits is C.K. exploring his sexuality through a viewing of the movie, Magic Mike. C.K. pulls out all the stops by impersonating Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, as they gyrate on the screen, causing him to unexpectedly become excited by these oiled-up muscle men. I mentioned in my last Netflix comedy special review focusing on the stylings of Dave Chappelle that Chappelle took an approach that was pretty insulting to the LGBTQ community. C.K., however, celebrates it by exploring his own potentially latent homosexuality, reveling in the idea of having a big boyfriend to have his back whenever he needed it. It’s a nice change of pace and makes for a nice closer to the special itself.
Ultimately, while not necessarily being one of Louis’ all time greats, 2017 is another welcome addition to the Louis C.K. catalogue and a definite thumbs up for the Netflix stand-up comedy library. There are a few small issues along the way, but it’s still a fun ride. Netflix really has a good thing going here with their standup specials, so I’m really looking forward to the steady stream of comedy hours we have to look forward to.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good