“Hello. Thank you. Very much. Thank you,” booms Louis C.K., bounding on stage to rapturous applause. Dressed in a suit, with top button of his shirt undone and the knot of his tie loose, he looks like a salesman in a hotel bar, winding down with tequila after a busy conference. Which, in a sense, is the sort of stage persona he’s cultivated – an everyman with stuff to say, a nice guy but cynical as all hell. And opinions. He has opinions.
The applause and whoops die down. C.K. grins and he begins: “So… I think abortion…” Whoops and cheers from the crowd. This is what they’ve come to see. A guy talking about abortion. Not entirely seriously. But serious enough to have a point. “I think women shouldn’t get an abortion…” Pause. Grin. “Unless they need one. Then they better get one and quick.”
He’s not a comfortable stand-up to watch; for UK readers, he’s the American equivalent of our favourite comedy arseholes Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle – intelligent, socially and politically liberal, but resolutely un-PC. When C.K. says “Racial stereotypes are harmful but the voices are funny”, he’s being both flippant and giving himself, and us, permission to laugh at his generic African American in da hood voice. Which is probably incredibly dodgy, except we’re laughing too hard right now – can we give it some liberal hand-wringing later?
For those who dislike C.K.’s choice of subject matter, best to give this comedy special a miss. From abortion C.K. segues into suicide, then Isis beheadings (“the worst thing about it is that stupid look on your face once you have your head cut off”). It’s funny, but the better material comes when he begins mining his own life; a routine on a protracted email fight is fantastic and his frank discussion about his own sexuality is as hilarious as it is frank and thought-provoking. He confesses to an obsession with male stripping movie Magic Mike but says: “I never want to see the end of that movie because I think I know how that movie ends – it ends with me being gay.” A belly laugh, but born from an uncomfortable truth – C.K. at his best. Plus, just wait until you see his Matthew McConaughey impression.
His material regarding Christianity is solid, though he veers into unintentional ignorance. “The Christians won everything a long time ago. And if you don’t believe me – what year is it?” He has a point, and gets his laugh, but doesn’t really acknowledge all the other religions still keeping track of their calendars. As anyone who’s ever spent time in a Muslim country knows, 31st December is a date that goes by pretty much unnoticed.
Overall, though, this is a fairly average outing for C.K. and doesn’t touch some of his earlier, more ribald and even less fearless specials. Some observations that his recent Saturday Night Live monologue is better than this Netflix special are not without merit. Especially puzzling is why C.K., notoriously an outspoken critic of Trump, chooses to call his special 2017, but, other than a vague reference to a post-apocalyptic near-future, includes no material that is specific to ‘now’ – everything he says here would have gone down equally well in 2013.
The whole special fizzles out and, when C.K. returns to the stage we, the Netflix subscribers, aren’t permitted to watch it, getting a fade out instead. Perhaps C.K. was just following the comedy maxim of “leave ‘em wanting more”. Or maybe his encore just wasn’t that funny.
Louis C.K. 2017 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.