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.