Last night Louis CK stepped onstage in blue jeans and an orange t-shirt — a little brighter than usual— with the words ‘Charlie Hebdo’ scrawled across his chest in black marker. It was a nod to the tragedy earlier that day when 12 staff members of the satirical French newspaper were brutally killed. Standing on stage in Madison Square Garden, Louis didn’t say a word about the shirt. Louis doesn’t like attention like that. He even meets the generous applause of thousands of fans with the growl of, “Oh, just shut up.”
It was my third time seeing him, which makes me an extremely lucky individual. It also gives me the privilege of watching his comedy warp with him — his daughters have gone from diaper changes to imminent sex talks, his body image has shifted from self-loathing donut binges to a complacent self-acceptance (“I would like to be in good enough shape that if I died, you would ask, ‘What happened?’” he conceded in one brilliant bit). Even Louis’ own secular gospel has descended from loftier concerns like white privilege, belief in God, and the limits of our love to the sidewalk of dead dogs, country houses, and rat orgasms. It was lighter than what we come to expect from the pitch perfect almost-comedy of his last six stand-up specials or his brilliant FX show Louie. Still, I’d be stupid and also wrong if I didn’t admit it was still damn good comedy.
But then Louis stepped onstage for an encore and re-polished the night. His dry social commentary always pierces hard when he talks about relationships between men and women and oftentimes how unforgivably awful they both are. “Men are the number one threat to women in the world,” he proclaimed in 2013’s Oh My God, comparing going on dates with men to going out alone with a “lion-bear hybrid.” It’s these incisive bits that make Louis CK a necessary voice and cultural commentator. Louis is a good man, he gets it, and he’ll throttle you with his own grotesqueness, his own errors, and sexisms before you can condemn him.
So we can forget the t-shirt, forget his Wizard of Oz impressions, and leave behind the rats having sex on the subway tracks — because the most memorable piece of new material to come out of last night’s performance was about sexism and lust. Louis sets up the scene with a tangent about America’s foreign policy:
“We’re not great at self-awareness in this country […] I think sometimes that we’re the worst shitty girlfriend. Because America, when something happens to America, she remembers it forever, like it was yesterday. But if America does something shitty to someone else, she’s like, “What, I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me.” “But you killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs.” “But 9-11, okay? And fuck you!” “Yeah, but you’re torturing people.” “It wasn’t torture. Oh my god, don’t be such a baby.” I’m saying that about women because that’s the opposite sex to me. That’s just how I feel. I’m sure women have a way they feel about men.
That’s why sexism and racism are different, I think. Because racism is just like a mistake. It’s just like an error, we don’t need it, and it will probably go away at some point. But sexism is not going anywhere. Because even though it’s wrong, it comes from way the fuck deep down. It’s mixed in with love and lust and we can’t help it. We blame all of you all at the same time.”
To drive the point home, Louis began shouting “Women!” with his fist in the air. Then he immediately alternates to shouting “women!” while mock masturbating, hunching into the joke with his raw physicality. He shouts, “Men!” in a high pitch tone with his fist in the air and then alternates to breathily screaming “men!” while mock fingering his crotch. He repeats the bit about ten times until he’s jerking around in a dizzying cacophony of embittered and lecherous “men” and “women,” “men” and “women.”
It was brilliant. It was simple. It was the thread worth the ticket. Nobody shut up.