The comedian covers everything from suicide to 'Magic Mike'
Louis C.K. is getting older and wiser. Years after breaking into the mainstream with stand-up sets that hilariously interrogated the many mundanities of modern life (from eating to the point of self-hate to masturbating on Sept. 11, 2001), the comedian/writer/director is starting to settle into an elder statesman role for American pop culture, now working behind the camera as often as in front. Still, his signature style of vulgar and honest self-exploration continues to influence comedy from Girls to Broad City.
This transformation makes itself clear several times in C.K.’s new Netflix special, 2017, most notably with his outfit. Gone is the black George Carlin-style t-shirt, now replaced by a jacket and tie. But the change of clothing and role hasn’t led to C.K. going soft. Instead, the comedian demonstrates throughout 2017 that he is willing to use his bigger platform to explore more controversial topics, knowing that he’s built up enough trust with his audience over the years that they’ll follow him into complex comedy terrain.
The first joke of 2017, for example, is about abortion. C.K. literally kicks off the special (which he also directed) by saying, “Here’s what I think: You should not get an abortion unless you need one. In which case, you better get one.” The battle lines of this country’s abortion debate were drawn in the sand years ago, but C.K. starts threading between them, exploring abortion alternatively as a moral issue (in which case it’s “killing a baby,” he says) or a health one (he compares it to “taking a sh–“). The bit eventually grows to encompass thoughts on suicide, proper beheading techniques, and why no one chooses the color tan, before ending with a full-throated defense of abortion rights, stated in the most C.K. way possible: “If there’s a dude in your p—y, you’re allowed to kill them. I think that’s pretty fundamental. You’re allowed to kill someone if they’re in your house.” And so concludes the first 10 minutes of the special.
Below, check out five other highlights from 2017, now streaming on Netflix, and gear up for C.K.’s Saturday Night Live hosting gig this weekend.
1. Why don’t we talk about suicide? C.K. hasn’t mined suicide for comedy purposes before, but he gets to it here and twists the complex topic until he reaches a life-affirming conclusion: “The whole world is just full of people who didn’t kill themselves today. The whole world is just made of people who went, ‘F— it, I’ll keep doing it.’ That’s an interesting thing about life: Life can get very sad and upsetting, but you really don’t have to do it. You don’t have to do anything because you can kill yourself. It’s interesting because even when life gets bad, people generally choose it over nothing. Even the worst version of life, even a sh–ty life, is worth living, apparently, because folks are living the f— out of them.” (If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the National Institute of Mental Health online at nimh.nih.gov. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255.)
2. His thoughts on Christianity. In the titular bit of the special, C.K. explores the year “2017” itself — and finds an answer that proves not all religions have equal power and privilege: “We are counting the days since Jesus, together. Which makes sense if you’re Christian, but what the f— are the rest of us doing? ‘Jesus was here, Jesus was here’ — everybody! Scientists, historians! Jesus plus two, Jesus plus three, Jesus plus four! Jesus plus 2017 years, four months, and three days is when your license expires. How is that not a win for the Christians? That’s not a Monday off in October.”
3. Greek myths as lessons for parents. Never thought I’d hear Louis C.K. speak the words “River Styx” on stage, but even in his daughters’ Greek mythology lessons, the comedian found hilarious material about modern parent-child relationships. In the story of Achilles, the legendary Greek warrior was all but impervious to harm because his mother dipped him in the magic waters of the River Styx as a baby, but she held him by his heel, where he became infamously vulnerable. This triggered a question from C.K.’s daughter, who appears to share his common-sense insight: “How come his mother didn’t just dip him again? Did you ever color an Easter egg? You dip it, then you hold it differently, and you dip it again. It’s not that complicated. Smart kid, I was proud of her. But at the same time I thought, ‘Who the f— are you to judge this woman?’ It bothered me. Because here’s what the story of Achilles teaches me: If you’re a parent, it’s never enough what you do for these motherf—ers. It’s never enough. It’s still going to be your fault.”
4. A journey with Jeff. C.K. recounts the adolescent story of the first time a girl agreed to go to a dance with him, only to shortly abandon him for another person, Jeff. Years later, C.K. found out that Jeff is transgender: “She has a whole blog on Facebook about becoming a woman. I was up all night reading it, I was crying, like, this is incredible! And then at the end there’s a picture of her and she says, ‘I didn’t change, I knew what I was all along, I knew I was a girl from 6 years old.’ And I read that, and I thought, ‘Why’d you take my f—ing date then? You knew? You piece of sh–. F— you, Jeff. Hooray for transgender, but f— you! You’re just an a–hole who became a c—.”
5. Playing chicken with Magic Mike. C.K. moves from the Jeff bit to an exploration of his own sexuality, rooted in the everyday experience of finding Magic Mike playing on TV: “Every time I see it on, I stop. And then I play a little game of chicken with this movie. I stop because it’s a good movie, well-made, so then I get into it. And then they start stripping. And I start getting all these feelings… Anyway, I’ll never watch the whole movie. I know what the end of Magic Mike is. I’m pretty sure that the ending of Magic Mike is I’m gay.”