The Surprise Louis C.K. Sets: Here’s What You Missed Last Night

The biggest star in the comedy galaxy tested out new material at Helium. It was some of his darkest, dirtiest and, yes, funniest stuff yet.

By David Shankbone - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Louis C.K. Photo | David Shankbone via Creative Commons.

Trim and dapper in a dark suit and bright tie, Louis C.K. looked surprisingly businesslike for a guy testing out new material last night at Helium. The club had announced a little after 1 p.m. yesterday that C.K. — arguably the biggest star in the comedy galaxy at the moment — would be that evening’s surprise headliner. Within minutes, a line stretched down Sansom Street and around the corner; hours later, a second show was added, and both were sellouts. Word from those leaving the 8 p.m. set was that he was polished, smooth, hilarious — less like a stand-up sweating it out at the comedy gym and more like he’d been doing these bits for years.

After a worthy warm-up from Philly stand-up all-star Chip Chantry, C.K.’s late show started around 10:45, lasted a little over an hour, and seemed a bit looser than the earlier set — at one point, he reached into his suit jacket for a peek at his notes to remember where he was headed. But aside from that brief moment, C.K. was in total control, pushing into territory that was just a little dirtier, a little darker, than his usual comedy wheelhouse. At times, it seemed he was testing the adoring crowd to see just how far it would go along with him. In one riff, he wondered how old his kids should be before he could kill himself without it bothering them all that much; a bit about watching horrifying videos on YouTube crossed into what might be uncharted comic territory, as C.K. mined beheadings for laughs (the biggest of which came when he worked Ted Cruz into that topic). Even his sex jokes walked a fine line, as he toyed with the dissonance between his support for anyone’s lifestyle and his repulsion toward his own erotic feelings for Channing Tatum in Magic Mike.

As expected, C.K.’s language was blunt and blue. But it’s unfair to pull a line or a word out of context and make too much of it — he’s workshopping, after all, and you really had to be there and take the ride to judge whether he ventured too far. Not sure what this says about me, but I’ve seen C.K. a few times, and this may have been the hardest I’ve laughed yet. The room seemed to agree, as even the moments that inspired groans were met with equal roars. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to even the raunchiest stuff you could never repeat at the water cooler, there’s nowhere C.K. could wander that his fans won’t follow.

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