After Three Amazing Specials, “Louis CK: 2017” Feels Like a Step Backwards

Photo Credit: Cara Howe

I think Louis C.K.’s prime is over. He’s one of the best contemporary stand-ups, for sure, but after Live At The Comedy Store, and this new one, something is lacking.

Louis C.K. 2017 (which is a pretty lazy title, by the way) opens with an awful bit about abortion. It’s essentially a pro-choice tirade and a condemnation of conservatives, which is all well and good, but it’s just not very funny. He tries to make a comparison by saying abortion shouldn’t be “rare” as is often said, and that it should be as normal as “taking a shit”. It’s a decently funny metaphor, but he keeps repeating it and repeating it. It goes on too long and the first 10 minutes or so of this special really, really drag. It’s a staggeringly mediocre opening, and possibly one of C.K.’s worst bits.

That’s a lot of what this special is, unfortunately – mostly meandering bits that don’t have a point and don’t seem to go anywhere. And I think I know why: One of the biggest criticisms of his last special, Live At The Comedy Store, was that his regular formula for stand-up had become tiresome (and it had). Most of his jokes and stories came with the same delivery, similar punchlines, and familiar subjects: his age, his kids, his sex life, etc. All that stuff is here too still (he mentions his age five separate times, for the record), but with a different perspective. Instead of telling long, drawn out stories with self-deprecating punchlines, he’s trying out shorter, more scattered topics, and with a rather philosophical, analytical point of view.

The verdict: It only about half works. For a lot of this special, we see the Louis CK we know and love, but then there’s long stretches where it doesn’t seem like he knows quite what was he’s doing. There’s a lot of bits that involve an over-reliance on funny voices and impressions, and those in particular fall extremely flat, probably because he hasn’t had enough experience doing that kind of material. My guess is that Louis listened to some of the criticisms of Live At The Comedy Store and tried to change up his act, which is great, but a lot of it goes in the wrong direction or is just simply, to put it bluntly, not funny.

Another trap Louis falls into here is the annoyingly common trend of comics explaining their jokes either before or after they say them. There’s a bit that involves him doing a variety of accents from all around the world, and at one point he just stops it in its tracks to explain why the voices he’s doing are funny. I have never understood why comics continue to do this. If a bit is funny and successfully garners laughter, you don’t need to explain why. That’s what I’m for.

But like Live At The Comedy Store, 2017 is salvaged by a handful of great bits. The ones  about teachers, suicide, and his experience watching the movie Magic Mike are really funny and contemplative in that classic Louis C.K. way.

The absolute best bit in the whole special is towards the beginning when he’s talking about how, with all the different religions in the world, Christianity has really won everything because the entire world records time according to their mythos. His quote exactly: “The Christians won everything a long time ago. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you a question. What year is it?” Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I never realized that, and the realization had me rolling. The epiphany that somehow the entire world runs according to the Christian calendar, in spite of all the other faiths and non-faiths that exists is something that has just never occurred to me, and Louis’ delivery here is brilliant. It’s some of his best observational, existentialist humor and the highlight of this special, no doubt.

After the triple knockout of Hilarious, Live at The Beacon Theater and Oh My God, Louis CK 2017 feels like a step down for C.K., but I guess it had to happen eventually, right? Almost all of my comments here have been negative, but Louis C.K. 2017 isn’t bad. Parts of it are really, really funny, other parts are extremely unfunny, and a lot if is somewhere in the middle.  It’s a mostly ho-hum special that’s saved by a few great bits. It’s average.


Some selected favorite lines:

“The whole world is full of people who didn’t kill themselves today.”

“We always listen to NPR because we’re better than you.”

“I don’t like dicks. That’s why I’m not gay.”