Life and death play a center role in the new Netflix comedy special 2017 from veteran Louis C.K. As the A.V. Club put it, this stand-up special is “gloriously gloomy.” Great comedians are often like superpowered people from fiction. They’re reality benders. Warping what you know into what they want to tell you. The joke is a journey that doesn’t end where the audience expects it too. This process of crafting mini-journeys like this is what makes comedians artists and, ideally, funny AF.
Louis C.K. is 25 years deep into a career with numerous classic specials, two television shows, and lots and lots of edgy jokes. CK is a master at it, though, doing it so effortlessly it’s sometimes hard to separate the humor from the man. Is Louis CK on the verge of suicide? No. But criticisms of his latest special dwell on the subject of a lot of his jokes — death.
From the very start, CK brings up abortion and how it’s a battle between two sides and two awful things. As per his usual skill, he dances along the edge of the topic, seemingly in favor and then opposed. That’s part of CK’s ability, though, to bring you into the mind of a person struggling with debate and arguing both sides in his head. The audience is watching it unfold with strategically strange yet honest and human thoughts.
Louis CK fearlessly flows onto suicide where he twists and turns the crowd through gloomy, yet somehow positive thought process. Consider when CK says, “Think of everything shitty, that’s in life.” CK continues, “But the world is made up of people who didn’t commit suicide.” It’s all so gloomy on the surface, but the comedians intent, aside from making us laugh along the ride, is to allow this kind of dialogue to occur. So often, as CK points out through a bit about his therapist and suicide, we don’t talk about things. It’s out of fear of consequence which causes silence and a growing avalanche of problems.
2017 breaks up the consistent brushes with bleakness with lighter bits about family. CK tells us about a rule at home about not cursing around his kids. But then proceeds to hand them a bowl of soup while saying, “Here … have your fucking bowl of soup.” Going to church is a no-go for CK because he’s not getting up early on a Sunday. “F that!” the comedy proclaims.
“If you go to a restaurant, you’re probably going to see your dad’s dick. I should probably explain that a bit.” – Louis CK
From abortion to suicide, to family, to Christians winning the world because “What year is it?” Alluding to the fact that 99% of the world uses the Christian calendar. And yet, CK is saying this, not from the point of support, but a fair look at reality. CK is comedy at the edge of mainstream thought that equally forces left-wing and right-wing people to think against their instincts without truly getting political.
Another edgy bit finds Louis CK approaching racist stereotypes, particularly with voices. Several times he mentions the accents he uses. In one case, it’s a black voice reminiscent of the slave-era African-Americans Hollywood perpetuated in the early days of film. CK’s kids love it, they have no idea what sort of deeper context there is to it, and CK didn’t do it to be racist. It was just a funny voice that came out. It’s a personal moment at home that CK is presenting that happens in homes all over.
Since the late 90s, when CK started writing for Conan O’Brian and Chris Rock through television shows, and acclaimed comedy albums and specials (see Shameless, one CK’s absolute best), CK is a proven master of the comedy craft. 2017 is more of what everyone loves about Louis CK, it’s gloriously gloomy in a way that few other comics, if any, can pull off.