One of the best stand-ups working slays with 'Louis CK: Hilarious'
Louis C.K. is one of the best stand-up comics working, cut from the same cloth as the greats of the profession like Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, and he spent last year building an all-new set, then shooting it, and "Louis C.K.: Hilarious" is the result. It is indeed preposterously funny, so funny that my body simply gave out halfway through and I found myself completely unable to laugh anymore, the first time that's ever happened to me.
If that's all I had to say about the film, that would still pretty much sum up what you can expect if you get the chance to see the film theatrically. It starts with him walking onstage and ends with him walking onstage. There's no awkward framing device, no attempt to make it "more" than a concert film. I've seen him live many times over the years, but I'd say in the last five or six years, he's really jumped to a new level as a performer. His writing has gotten sharper and sharper, and the way he's blended shockingly confessional material with the sort of observational humor that many comics build their set around is what makes him stand apart. There are times Louis says things that I can't believe anyone would ever have the stones to say them in public. They're things that we all think, but for some reason, we've created a social contract in which we only allow people to voice these thoughts under the cover of art, and Louis C.K. absolutely raises stand-up to an art when he's at his best.
"Louis C.K.: Hilarious" represents him at his best, too. In the last few years, Louis has started each new year by throwing out his entire act and then rebuilding it with all-new material over the following year. It's an exciting way for a comic to handle his act, and it keeps him sharp and smart and current. I didn't realize he'd divorced until watching this film, and the way he offers up the information and then discusses it is savage and insightful. He talks in the film about how stupid he is, but it's just self-deprecation. He's actually a fairly brilliant guy in terms of the study of human behavior and the dissection of the hypocrisy of modern mores, and there's no wasted time in the film. He's not just making jokes to make you laugh... he's got a strong point-of-view that reminds me of Carlin in his heyday. Carlin couldn't tolerate the lies that are part of the fabric of polite society, and neither can Louis. He's like Salenger's Holden Caufield grown up, ranting onstage about the phonies. Louis' voice is authentic at all times, whether he's talking about the end of his marriage or the challenges of being a single father or how miserable it is to start dating again at 41. He's rarely the hero of the stories he tells, which only make me like him more.
The film is very well-directed, even for a concert film. The first big choice he made was to never show the audience. We occasionally see the backs of their heads silhouetted against the stage, but for the most part, the focus remains tight on Louis C.K., and the result is an intimate performance piece that has the effect of drawing you in, making it feel like you're actually there live. It's better than a live performance would be, though, because of how close you are to him, and how subtle much of his expressiveness can be. When he crosses a particularly sensitive line, you can see how much pleasure Louis takes in poking the audience, and it made me feel like I was in on it with him.
Ultimately, this is "just" a concert film, and there's a good chance it won't find a theatrical distributor, especially since Comedy Central already owns the broadcast rights. It would be a shame, though. When I was young, there was a sense that something like "Richard Pryor Live On The Sunset Strip" was an event, and going to see it with a crowd was exciting. I remember the weekend "Eddie Murphy RAW" opened, and it was one of those great audience experiences, everyone electrified by what they were watching. The audience at the Library at Sundance gasped and howled at the film. It was more than just laughing... the responses boiled up out of them, involuntary. Because Louis C.K. is a filmmaker and has been since well before he ever made an appearance on a stage, he's managed to make something that represents the very best of the genre, and it would be a real shame if no one was able to see this on the bigscreen except for the Sundance audiences.
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