Has Louis C.K. run out of things to say?

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Louis C.K. in a sharp suit for his new hour-plus comedy special '2017'. Photo / Netflix

By Karl Puschmann

From the moment Louis C.K. walked onstage to the sound of rapturous applause something seemed a little off. It all felt so slick, so glossy, so ... show biz.

Titled 2017 this hour-plus comedy special was something of a surprise release. Not because we didn't know it was coming, we did, but rather because it was coming to Netflix.

His last couple of specials, along with some audio releases and his dramedy series Horace and Pete, were all released on C.K.'s own website, with prices ranging from a couple of bucks and up to pay-what-you-want.

There'd been some speculation that C.K. partnered with Netflix on this and another forthcoming special to recoup some of the cash that he'd dropped on the entirely self-funded, hugely ambitious H&P.

Some might decry this as "selling out". Not me. I was stoked Netflix saved me from having to shell out $5US to watch it ...

Anyway, C.K. walked out in a suit so sharp I was amazed he wasn't covered in blood-soaked bandages. It was a far cry from his usual unstylish uniform of black T-shirt and blue jeans. Maybe they were in the wash. Maybe he just got sick of constantly being labelled a schlub. Whatever the case, gotta say, the dude looked good.

A gutsy opener set Louis C.K. up to launch right into what he does so well; brutally honest ranting. Photo / Netflix
A gutsy opener set Louis C.K. up to launch right into what he does so well; brutally honest ranting. Photo / Netflix

Fair enough. He is one of the most successful, respected and influential comedians working today. You can't begrudge the guy for wanting to rebrand. His commitment to the whole "regular schmoe" look lasted a whole lot longer than could be reasonably expected.

"Um... ," he began, casually scratching his nose as he did so, "I think abortion is ... um... here's what I think."

A gutsy opener - if you pardon the expression. And a solid shock laugh that set him up to launch right into what he does so well; brutally honest ranting punctuated with intimately personal stories and absurdist flights of fancy.

Only this time he didn't soar. He pushed into the darkest of territories but couldn't seem to squirrel out a point.

"I think you should not get an abortion," he said with authoritative gravitas. "Unless you need one. In which case you better get one."

This flip-flop, while funny, lasted the whole bit. He likened abortion to taking a poo. He did silly voices. He made poo noises. He acted like there was a point coming. There wasn't.

His commentary being that the two opposing teams issue will never agree. Abortion is either a woman's right to choose or it's "100 per cent" murdering a baby. The only common ground being the one the two sides picket on.

Continued below.

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His conclusion , "I think women should be allowed to kill babies," being the sort of thing a shock jock might say for a cheap laugh.

It led directly into a bit about suicide. This wasn't much better. Because, again, he didn't really have anything to say about it. Not really.

"You don't have to do anything you don't want to," he declared. "Because you can kill yourself."

Now, I expect healthy chunks of bleak cynicism from C.K. but I also expect it to be a) funny or b) have some thinking behind it.

Here it felt like he was talking about this stuff because they were dark, heavy or taboo and not because he had anything meaningful to say.

Which would be fine if it was funny - this is stand-up, not the news - but the lols just weren't there. The topics lightened as he went on, shifting effortlessly from public school teachers, to rescue dogs to Greek mythology, to stereotypes to parental responsibility in the afterlife.

There was some pleasingly humorous absurdity. A bit on 9/11 deniers -a group of nine people who don't believe in the number eleven - was inspired, as was his musings on how Christianity won religion due to the world's acceptance of their calendar.

Louis C.K. is usually so successful at straddling the line between high- and lowbrow humour. Photo / Netflix
Louis C.K. is usually so successful at straddling the line between high- and lowbrow humour. Photo / Netflix

But it was in the personal - usually his strongest area - that disappointed most. A routine on email fights didn't land, nor did the bit about a future transsexual stealing his prom date when they were both boys.

Although the vitriolic delivery of his aggrieved line, 'F**k you! Because you're just an a**hole who became a c**t," did generate a loud snort from my couch due to the sheer audacity of its glorious explicitness.

From there we got roughly 20 minutes which can be boiled down to, "Dicks! LOL" to close the show.

C.K., who is usually so successful at straddling the line between high- and lowbrow humour, often mashing them together to wring out a unique and honest truth, just failed to fire. He aimed low, took cheap laughs, didn't push boundaries or drop big truth bombs.

I'm not sure if it was his heart or his mind that just wasn't into it. I'm not sure what's worse.

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