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Louis C.K.'s "Oh My God" And How The Experience of Age Has Made Him the Best Stand Up Act on the Planet

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | April 15, 2013 | Comments ()


By the time most successful stand-up comics are 45 years old, they're living off of the fat of their television show's royalties (Jerry Seinfeld) or they've sold out their successful feature film career for the easy money of family films (Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy). Granted, Chris Rock has managed to stay mostly relevant despite being Adam Sandler's family-film bitch, while Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and Mitch Hedburg were dead by the time they were 45. Richard Pryor was on the other side of a shaky film career and had just been diagnosed with multiple scleroris by that age. In fact, only George Carlin -- the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation -- managed to stay as relevant as Louis this late in his life.

At 45, Louis C.K. -- this generation's best stand-up comic -- has never been better, as his latest HBO special, Louis C.K.: Oh My God, demonstrates. He is as funny as ever, and there's plenty of insight, too, but what Louis C.K. does better than anyone is to take you to a place where you're afraid to go, and turn that fear into epiphany. The thematic through line in most of Oh My God is the fact that experience makes us smarter, and after 45 years of experiences, Louis is the smartest guy in the room.

In Oh My God, Louis tackles middle age, both the good, the bad (ineffectual assholes, "like bags of leaves that nobody tied up, puking leaves onto the grass with every wisp of wind") and the worst (putting on a pair of socks is like "folding a bowling ball in half"). Only Louis C.K., in fact, can compare putting on a pair of socks with Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's and not only get away with it, but do it in such a way that even Michael J. Fox -- maybe, especially Michael J. Fox -- would laugh.

The hour-long special is not as dark, either, as his sitcom, "Louie," has become, which is not a slight against his brilliant show. In fact, there was one story that Louis told about being mistaken for a homeless asshole by one of his snooty apartment complex neighbors that would've felt right at home in the first season of "Louie." But Oh My God is not as glum or as rooted in sexual dysfunction as the sitcom, which gives us a refreshing change of pace, and even some optimism, as Louis delves into the fact that pasty, middle-aged white guys of a certain means suddenly own the sexual marketplace. "As long as you stay relatively employed and washed, you're going to be amazing in your 40s. You're going to be the branch that she lands on before she hits the ground. It just takes time for her circumstances to match your looks. There's a formula to this: It's 'P*ssy plus Time Over Income²."

It's that experience that comes with age that also informs Louis' perspective on politics. "Today people are like, 'The president's kind of disappointing.' Really? Our president [Nixon] wept like an insane person and then got on a helicopter and flew away!"

Sex, and dating, and divorce is a major topic of conversation in Oh My God, and while observations about a man's blind ability to feel a boob with his elbow through six layers of clothing felt like it could've been the funniest bit in anyone's act, Louis digs deeper into sexual politics, exploring the courage/insanity it must take for a woman to agree to go on a date with a stranger. "How do women still agree to go out with guys when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We're the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we're the worst thing that ever ever happens to them." Like the best stand-up comics, Louis C.K. also has the incredibly ability to pierce into something so deep about sex and gender that we feel uncomfortable laughing in front of our dates and spouses, as though we're embarrassed about acknowledging the truth of his observations.

But what I've admired most of late about Louis C.K. is his optimistic philosophy on life, his New Testament, the Commandments he lives by. It's here where his age has really provided the best perspective. Louis C.K. does not take life for granted. There are no excuses for boredom. If we can put down our goddamn phones and stay off of Facebook, life is amazing. You get to "be on Earth and look at sh*t. You get to put bacon in your mouth ... you get to f**k ... you get to read To Kill a Mockingbird." What more could we possibly want?

Again, however, what truly sets Louis C.K. apart from everyone else is his ability to go into those dark places and slaughter those sacred cows, but before we're able to react or take offense, we've found that we've climbed down into those holes with him. That's where Louis takes us at the end of Oh My God, into a risky bit that feels touch-and-go until the final seconds, when he brings us wide-eyed to the surface where he has mirror waiting for us to look into our own hypocrisy.

It's the classic bit that we'll still be quoting a decade from now.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • captainsmith

    I love Louis C.K. and think he is a comedic genius. However, to say that he is the best of this generation is stretching it because Chris Rock is only 3 years older. They have two very different styles but both are funny as fuck. I think it would be prudent to add "arguably" instead of making a blanket statement.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    I like his comedy, faith and true I do, and had you qualified the statement by saying the best American comedian I would have given my whole hearted agreement. But I think there are some UK based comedians who have him beat. The more esoteric Eddie Izzard is the first that springs to mind, but if you like pain and anger there is always Frankie Boyle. Or if pithy, offensive, one-liners are you bag then Jimmy Carr is the man for you. For the surreal and abstract Noel Fielding is fantastic. And finally, for awkwardness and depression Simon Amstell is pretty great, though Louis C.K. does have him beat in that regard. So maybe you don't need the American qualifier. The best at shredding his personal life, the best at twisted ways of viewing the world (no I still give that one to Franky). But just one qualifier and I could concur with your statement completely.

  • Mrcreosote

    There's a moment in the stand up special where Louis says "I'm from New York" and someone in the audience starts to go whoooooo and he just says deadpan "There's no point in you doing that " (I'm paraphrasing). It's quietly awesome. Well, so is the rest of the special but that part was spot on.

    I would like someone to force him to wear Eddie Murphy's leather outfit from Raw however.

  • Robert

    Strange. A number of female comedians like Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and Lily Tomlin maintained their relevance long past 45 and aren't mentioned in this post. I guess they didn't fit the narrative somehow.

  • duckandcover

    I learned more about certain comedians dying than anything today.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Saw him in Minneapolis earlier this year - I was pleasantly surprised how much the beginning of his set was just riffing about the city and how the theater we were in looked like the Galactic Senate. I'd put him second only to Paul F Tompkins in riffability.

  • e jerry powell

    But yes, C.K. is fucking genius. At some point in the last few years I think he actually started watching older routines and realized how dark his material had gotten, and his last two or three specials have been a lot lighter because of it, though the shift in tone hasn't quite filtered into the sitcom, which I think is kind of intended to be a little more uncomfortable to watch, and funnier because of it.

  • e jerry powell

    Oh, and again, Dustin, I have to remind you:

    George Carlin was born in 1937. Know who else was born in 1937?

    Yeah, that's right, Bill Cosby. In fact, Cosby is two months younger than Carlin. Pryor is three years younger. As far as Carlin's generation goes, or as far as other comedians' late-career relevance...

  • e jerry powell

    I'll give you that Carlin was still Carlin in 1982. After about 1991, though, Carlin turned into a meaner Don Rickles, or you could say that he moved into a more openly hostile Lenny Bruce phase of his career. Just a cranky old fart who spent far more time ranting than being funny.

  • cruzzercruz

    Saw this material in NYC and it killed. Especially the end. But then again, how could Louie not kill in New York?

  • I can easily see a lesser comedian making a career out of "Of course...but maybe" including a book, a sitcom, a movie, a best of special and a follow up book all leading him to the host role on a shitty game show 10 years later. With Louis it's a closer to an act that he ran with for a year and that he'll toss out for good now that it's been on TV. The guy's work ethic and sensibilities are amazing.

  • e jerry powell

    A new hour of material every year, goddammit. That's nuts. Everybody should have such a work ethic (I'm looking at you, Margaret Cho).

  • Slash

    RE "“How do women still agree to go out with guys when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the worst thing that ever ever happens to them.”

    Hey, Louis, could you clue in the other 3.5 billion males? Because they seem not to understand that. Or not care.

    I actually don't usually enjoy awkward situations in comedies, but I like it better when Louis CK does it, for some reason. Not sure why. I always found Woody Allen to be unfunny (mostly) and creepy. Louis is more sad, which just doesn't bother me as much. (shrug) I know, it doesn't really make sense, but there you go.

  • duckandcover

    That's because Woody Allen is unfunny and creepy. His history with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi is heavily documented and really shoots anyone's attempt to like him right in the face.

  • John G.

    well, Louis never fucked his own daughter. maybe that's it.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Is Chris Rock really still relevant? Not sure if it's my own impression or just a lot of holdover goodwill built up amongst his fans, but besides his participation in "Talking Funny", I can't really name anything influential he's done for a few years.

  • John G.

    I saw this material live, and I'm glad some of the best stuff made it to the special.

  • snusnu

    I saw him in Houston and the "but maybe" went over like a lead balloon when he got to the army scenario. It was the only time I've ever EVER seen a stand up act where the entire building was completely silent. No one was booing, but after a beat or two, you could hear a collective rustle as people leaned back and crossed their arms. In retrospect, it was funny, but just so shocking to me that I didn't laugh. which is probably good because I have a very... shall we say... Roseanne Barr-esque laugh.

  • barlowjk

    Houston is EXACTLY where that should be funny, but.... yeah. Maybe everyone else was as nervous as you.

    We should admire CK's balls for telling it anyway, though. I recount all kinds of jokes from his stand-up, but if I was speaking to someone who had, or had a child who had, a


    nut allergy, I would totally self-edit.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I'm gonna keep talking about it cause it was my 5 minutes (far less than your standard 15) of glory, but I was at one of the shows they taped and it was special. I got the feeling everyone in attendance knew it as well.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr


    Also, I would add to your list Gilda Radner who died at 42 from cancer.

  • xFILESx

    I see he's upgraded from the tshirt to a polo.

  • JJ

    And he didn't sweat through this one! He only dribbled water on himself.

  • Kristen Mc

    You must not have looked at his pits. They were pretty swampy. The navy did a pretty good job at hiding it. I think I actually saw sweat fly off his head at one point. It only makes me love him more.

  • JJ

    Damn shadows and my lack of HD. I miss out on all the good stuff!

  • barlowjk

    My husband and I saw Louis CK live at the Hammersmith Apollo a few weeks ago and have been making up our own "Of course... but MAYBE" bits ever since. We both work in education so we've been pretty productive.

  • James

    If Patrice O'Neal was still alive CK would be the second best standup working today.

  • John G.

    Patrices was a genius, but I think Louis' got it over Patrice with regard to material on women. Patrice's point of view was always a bit sexist for my taste, but still genius.

  • Bert_McGurt

    You could maybe argue that The Cos managed to avoid the later-life pitfalls of the typical stand-up as well (Ghost Dad notwithstanding, he at least QUIT making movies) since he was 55 at the end of "The Cosby Show". But Louis is definitely at the top of his game.

    I'm glad this is as good as I'd hoped. It'll make for an excellent alternative to staring at this stupid April snowstorm tonight.

  • Guest

    Louis C.K.'s "Oh My God" is F!#@ING AWESOME!


  • MrsAtaxxia

    God I adore Louis C.K. I have seen him live, I have watched the specials but I could not watch Louis. It made me physically uncomfortable. I am not proud of this but I could not do it. It made me pull my shirt over my head an hide in a heap of nigh-sublime awkward transference. So I guess, good job?

  • jollies

    We have the same disease. The awkward things that some people laugh at, I find painful and I am forced to leave the room. Borat? No thank you. Louis CK's sitcom? Not quite as bad, but it gets so close to my tolerance zone that I've given it up to avoid the fear that it might cross that line. There are worse problems to have, I guess ...

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Its strange though, seeing his stand up doesn't trigger me the same way. I can deal with hearing him describe a situation and I can laugh and commiserate but on his show? Seeing the situation play out? Oooooh no. Too much too much too much *shirt tent*

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Super awkward comedy is painful for me. I get proximity embarrassment and its just...awful and anxiety inducing. And for someone already dealing with an anxiety disorder, yes I am in the leave the room crowd too.

  • MikeRoorda

    This, and so many other/better reasons, is why I can't watch any movie that's primarily "move from one embarrassing situation to the next." (Anything Ben Stiller has ever done ever.) If someone on the screen is being humiliated or feeling shame, I too, am experiencing that emotion. To the point where it's painful for me to watch. Makes watching early episodes of The Office like participating a masochistic exercise wherein I earn no pleasure or rewards.

    I have no idea where this stems from, or why I feel this way, but man is that thing there and not going anywhere.

  • Salieri2

    Yep. I'm a cringer too.

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