Wanna hear a joke? Two schlubby middle-aged lesbian guys walk into a bar.
“Boy, I’m fat and bald,” says the first one.
“Boy, I’m lonely and depressed,” says the second one.
OK, it’s probably funnier the way Louis C.K. tells it — in fact I know it is — which would explain why he kicked off a sold out national tour with a three-night run at the Merriam last night and I just sat in the cheap seats. Part man, part manatee, C.K. took the stage last night dressed in muffin-topped jeans and a not entirely flattering blue t-shirt stretched across his lumpy thorax and cod-white limbs, a pruned-back Bozo-like shock of ginger hair and matching goatee.
“I like getting older,” he said. “I want to do an ‘It Gets Better’ for dumpy 17-year-old-boys.”
He looks more like a roadie than a rock star, and yet rock star is what he is. He’s earned millions selling digital downloads of his stand up specials on his web site. He sold 6,000 tickets in Philadelphia, and probably could have sold twice that if he wanted to. He had the audience at “Hello” and never let them go. After nearly two hours of torching just about every illusion of nobility we hold dear as a species with side-splitting precision, the audience gave him a standing ovation. Here’s a taste:
LOUIS C.K.’s DAUGHTER: Daddy, why did my fish die?
LOUIS C.K.: Because who gives a shit? That’s why.
When you have bacon in your mouth — mmmmmmm — it doesn’t even matter who’s president.
Putting on socks is the worst part of my day. Putting on socks with this [gestures towards his middle-aged spread] is like folding a bowling ball in half.
When you’re 45, your a**hole is like a bag of leaves nobody tied up laying out in the yard that some middle school kid kicks over on his way home.
Louis C.K. is the perfect comic for right now, for the Age of Lessness, when the economy is as clinically depressed as the national psyche is tortured, and the imperial hubris of American exceptionalism turns out to be just another Sarah Palin fever dream for people high on Fox News. He is a prophet of white male failure in the time when aging caucasian alpha dogs are losing their lock on entitlement as society is increasingly bred to be more inclusive and egalitarian.
He channels the bummer zeitgeist of the dawning of the 21st century the way Seinfeld defined the smug zeitgeist of the end of the 20th. Seinfeld had nothing to worry about. Louis C.K. has everything to worry about. Where Seinfeld was trim and fussy, anal retentive and proud of it, Louis C.K. is soft and sloppy, he sweats when he eats, he’s divorced and loving it! You can almost hear the sleep apnea in his voice.
And yet his comedy has a much broader appeal than just beleaguered suburban schlubs beached on the shoals of middle age. Last night the audience was younger and less fat and bald than you might expect. You would think that his act would have all the chick appeal of a left-up toilet seat or a still-warm sweat sock, but last night at the Merriam nearly half the audience was female. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise, because when you get right down to it everybody hurts and everybody laughs and C.K.’s humor rides that thin line in between.
Like Girls’ Lena Dunham, he does not shy away from the flabby truth of his physicality when he holds a mirror up to himself and by extension his audience. That this should be so jarring and, in some quarters, disturbing, only points out how addicted we’ve become to being shown what we wish we looked like instead of what we actually look like. His comedy says “I don’t look like Brad Pitt and let’s face it neither do you. And you know what? I’m OK with that and you can be too.” And yet his act transcends the one-note revelry in sloth, indolence and the cheap vicissitudes of encroaching decrepitude of lesser comedians. There is a freedom in the way he transmutes lacerating self-loathing, envy and resentment into comedic gold. His comedy doesn’t just afford his audience the opportunity to laugh at themselves, it gives them permission to be who they are.
Jonathan Valania is the Editor-in-Chief of Phawker.com