Todd Barry took the stage a little bit after 8:30 and did a very funny set, as would be expected from such a great comedian. Or as he put it, "I'm much too famous to be the opening act." What followed him completely marveled me for the next hour and a half. I don't want to go too much into jokes or what he said in any kind of specificity. But I will say this: Louis CK is the best comedian alive today and is rapidly approaching, if he's not already, being one of the best of all time. What struck me the most while watching him, that more than ever before he speaks with a complete freedom.
I can't imagine there being anything that he would like to say but that he isn't saying. He drops words like "faggot" and "cunt" like they're every day parts of his vocabulary and makes no apologies for them. He speaks about subjects that would (and did) make normal people squeamish and uncomfortable or even offended, and then made those people see things his way and laugh about them. His audience isn't just made up of nihilistic fuck-ups like me who will not have a second thought about laughing at a joke about raping a dead child -- for instance, the group of middle aged women near me were dying at that, even when he kept going in more horrific detail.
Which, I guess, brings me to my larger point. Louis CK never had to sell out or go clean or pander to get a mainstream audience. He never had to tone it down. He never had to go to where the audience was to get them. He's become one of the biggest touring acts of stand-up simply by being the best and the audience came to him. And on his Hilarious tour, he's become more graphic, more extreme, more descriptive of all the horrific details, and yeah, even funnier. He's at the top of the stand-up game being dirty, but also when he's talking about airplanes, or how we use words and language. He can talk about anything and still be the best at it.
Another thing that struck me was how loud on the mic he would get when he was angry. And it wasn't at all artificial like some angry comedians who are known for their yelling. It was completely natural frustration. That's what I felt was most important about the show. Everything he talked about mattered to him. Even when he would get into digressions about the silly or gross, it still led to a larger point or philosophy, so when he did raise his voice in anger, it felt like it mattered to him, so it mattered to me. And yet, he was completely loose and it felt like a natural conversation or dialogue. CK has become the model that all comedians should emulate. Not his style or his subject matter or his delivery. Just that he got to the top by doing the stuff he wanted to do rather than what he thought others wanted him to do. And the result is the single best night of stand-up comedy I've ever seen.
- Luke Giordano is a Phiadelphia comedian and host of the STAND-UP AT THE BULLY PULPIT show at Drexel University on Friday, March 13th.