Say what you will about Louis C.K., he knows how to get your attention.
He began 2010’s Hilarious on a macabre note by reflecting on how there are more dead people than living people, and how everyone in the crowd are “just dead people who haven’t died yet”.
And in 2015’s Live at the Comedy Store, Louis opened with his “gay voice”, threatening to perform the entire show in the “very offensive stereotype of a Mexican”.
But on 2017, released Tuesday on Netflix, the master comedian — the best on the planet, many would argue — has outdone himself with his intro.
“So I think abortion is …” he starts musing, as the crowd laughs, some of them nervously. “Here’s what I think: I think you should not get an — abortion unless you need one. In which case, you better get one. I mean seriously. If you need an abortion, you better get one! Don’t f**k around. And hurry!
“Not getting an abortion that you need is like not taking a s**t, that’s how bad that is,” he continues. “I think an abortion is exactly like taking a s**t. I think it’s 100 per cent exact the same thing as taking a s**t. Or is or it isn’t. It’s either taking a s**t or killing a baby. It’s only one of those two things.”
And so begins Louis C.K.’s seventh hour-long special.
Unlike his previous programs, Louis dressed up for this one, suit and all. Fans will recall David Letterman having mocked him for not wearing duds when he appeared on the (pre-Colbert) “Late Show” — after which he succumbed. But only on that show. Louis’s other appearances inevitably saw him in his standard black-shirt-and-jeans getup.
But as spiffy as he may be this time around, Louis is no less crude. His diatribe on abortion, in which he seems to convince the crowd on why it shouldn’t be that controversial a procedure, goes on for about 13 minutes.
He says the worst part about being beheaded, by a member of Isis for example, is that “you look really dumb right after”. And, of course, he returns to the subject that made him famous: swearing at his kids.
So, in some ways, not a lot has changed for Louis C.K., who has deftly avoided being labeled as a gratuitously provocative comedian (despite his close friendship with shock-jocks Opie and Anthony).
The NPR lover has a reputation as a smart comedian, underscored by his arty FX comedy/drama, Louie, and a slew of trophies he has won: a Peabody Award, six Emmys and two Grammys. That’s a lot of hardware for a guy whose routines invariably involve dick jokes.
Nonetheless, Louis C.K.’s main allure has become his ability to stay down to earth while making profound comments on culture, a la George Carlin or Richard Pryor.
In 2017, for example, he intelligently remarks on how calling this year 2017 only makes sense if you’re a Christian.
“How is that not a win for the Christians?” he asks. “ ‘There was no time before Jesus.’ And the whole world went, ‘OK’.”
He also revisits another topic — public-schools education — that garnered him news headlines a few years ago when he blasted Common Core on Twitter. This time around, he empathizes with public school teachers who make dirt but commit themselves to a noble cause.
Two of the funniest moments in the special also come in his discussion an even more mundane topic: matrimony.
“I’ve been to a lot of gay weddings,” he says, before admitting: “Which is not true. It’s not true at all.”
And later, he astutely jokes, “Love plus time minus distance equals hate.” (Heavy metal album title, anyone?)
Oh, and there’s one more priceless line he delivers, when railing against a transgender woman who snatched away his date when he was a kid: “You’re an a**hole…who became a c**t.”
There are a few dull diatribes, such as his rant about accidentally sent emails (a tired topic) and his Matthew McConaughey impression (David Cross just did a much better one on his latest special, Making America Great Again!). That said, this is Louis C.K.’s strongest stand-up special since 2013’s Oh My God.
If there’s an underlying theme to 2017 — not just Louis C.K.’s but maybe our own, too — it’s not life: It’s death.
Beyond abortion and beheadings, he riffs about wanting his dog to be put down, kids getting run over by cars, the River Styx, wanting to die before your 60th birthday, and elderly people meeting their fate.
What better topic for a year in which Donald Trump is Our Lord. Louis masterfully avoids mentioning the president, maybe because making jokes about him is too easy or maybe because talking about Voldemort would bum out the crowd even more than his bits on death.
But make no doubt about it: The specter of Trump looms over this program.
2017 is the first of two stand-up comedy specials that Louis CK is creating exclusively for Netflix. (He also has a multi-year development deal with FX that encompasses not only Louie but also Baskets with Zach Galifianakis and Better Things with frequent collaborator Pamela Adlon.)
The title and release date for the second Netflix special are TBD.
Bonus: Check out our choice of the 10 most hilarious Louis C.K. quotes ever.
2017 is available now on Netflix.