20 December 2019

The Disgraced Funnyman Louis C.K.

Thursday night at the Royal Oak Music Theater I attended a comedy performance by the disgraced funnyman Louis C.K.  You will remember C.K. got caught in the #MeToo wave a couple years ago when stories surfaced alleging Louis had a *tendency* to expose his penis and stroke it until ejaculation in front of women who didn't ask to see that particular *stand-up* act.  When C.K. confessed to his offensive masturbation mania, his skyrocketing career immediately crashed and burned: a completed movie was pulled from distribution, FX, with whom he had several successful projects, dropped him, TBS canceled a planned series, Netflix canceled a concert show and HBO removed his specials from their on-demand service.  Louis has claimed his aggressive wanking habit cost him $35 million in lost income.

But now Louis is back on the stand-up circuit trying to resurrect his career, and he began his Thursday night set by asking: so how's your last two years been?  He told the audience he learned a lot in his exile: how to eat alone in a restaurant while people point a middle finger at him, who his real friends are (sadly, not the cool people he liked, but the insufferable boors he could previously barely tolerate).  After this quick recap, C.K. veered into a quixotic array of topics: religion, three-legged dogs, legless humans, Auschwitz, 9/11, the sex lives of mothers, European villages, little shops, retardation, and many others—all skillfully woven together in Louis' trademark narrative style examining the often-absurd minutiae of human experience and revealing our hypocritical, irrational, or just plain dumb reactions to the everyday events of our bewildering lives.  And yes, Louis is still the funniest son-of-a-bitch out there.  He received a well-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of his roughly 40 minute performance.

Late in the set C.K. did return more specifically to the solo sex acts which caused his downfall.  He claimed he always asked the women first if he could show them his penis before exposing it, and that his real mistake was not being able to discern that their seeming acceptance of his masturbation masked a disgust they were too intimidated to express.  By splicing this defense into a couple jokes, it was clear Louis felt his punishment (public shame/lost income) far exceeded his *crime.*  Should this detract from our estimation of C.K.?  I've learned from toiling nine years in a county jail that Judas hanging himself over his misdeed is the exception, rather than the rule, of human nature.  Most of us tend to be more merciful to ourselves than our neighbors.  

What was more troubling was the angry nihilism in much of C.K.'s routine, particularly the bits focused on *religion.*  A self-proclaimed *atheist,* C.K. spent a fair amount of his time belligerently pondering God's nature, and, in one regrettable instance, posited a vulgar second death for Jesus.  Due to Louis' spiritual vitriol, one could suspect a latent tendency common to *atheists:* the blame of God for their plagues.  Unable or unwilling to fully locate the source of their troubles within themselves, they look for a supernatural cause.  We suspect C.K. of a subconscious accusation against God: God caused Louis' fall from his beloved celebrity.  God either cursed him with his masturbation mania, or refused to protect him from its revelation.  Why me, God?

It would have been obvious to even the most casual observer in Thursday night's audience that the disgraced funnyman Louis CK bemoans his besmirched state.  Though there was always a mordant tinge to C.K.'s humor, it was leavened with a schlub's optimism.  Though undeniably still funny, the laughs are now produced by a bitter, resentful wit.  While watching C.K.'s almost *thanks for nothing* acceptance of the audience's ovation, I couldn't help but imagine a dark ending for the still-master jokester if he proves unable to rehabilitate his celebrity.

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