If you’ve been watching Louis C.K.’s phenomenal new show “Louie,” which just wrapped an against-expectations successful season on FX, you might, on seeing the man live, feel a strong urge to give him a hug. He seems like he could use one. C.K., who brought his stand-up concert doc “Louis C.K.: Hilarious,” shot at a 2009 performance in Milwaukee, to NYC’s IFC Center last night and tonight, is a maestro of his own misery, using breathtakingly profane comedy to chronicle his recent divorce, his reentry into the dating scene, his experiences caring for his two daughters, aging, his looks and, overall, the ever-more-real threat of mortality. There have always been comics who’ve traded on failure and self-loathing, but there’s a warmth to “Louie” that belies its notably dark territory.
Whether being bullied by a teenager, discussing gay slurs over poker or looking up an old crush on Facebook, C.K. embodies a practically spiritual belief in the power of unswerving honesty. That inability to disassemble, seen in both the variation on himself he plays and in the characters he encounters, leads to excruciatingly awkward scenes (“Its easier to masturbate if I use this lubricant,” he explains to a TSA worker in episode five) but also moments of blindsiding humanity and connection that are all the more powerful for coming out of such unsentimental situations.
“Louis C.K.: Hilarious,” which had its premiere as the first stand-up concert film to screen at Sundance earlier this year, is, like “Louie,” written and directed by C.K. The film’s playing in eights cities before heading to a TV premiere on Epix on the 18th and, eventually, DVD. “Hilarious” differs from typical comedy specials by being shot up close and personal on the RED, with a jib and a Steadicam on stage — C.K. said in the Q&A after the screening that he was inspired by Led Zeppelin concert film “The Song Remains the Same.”
The results are mixed — there’s an intimacy that you can’t get from a camera mounted in the back of the room, but the relentless lean in can start to seem a little claustrophobic, skipping larger movement (a bit about taking the jerk-off gesture to its conclusion loses something when, initially, the gesture takes place out of frame) in favor of watching the sweat bead on C.K.’s forehead.
But it’s engrossing to see the progress of C.K.’s material, which he breaks down as evolving over about a year, starting with formative gigs in NYC comedy clubs, leading to first 20, then 45 minutes of material that becomes a headline tour show and ultimately a special or, this year, the series. “Hilarious” covers plenty of C.K.’s (and “Louie”‘s) favorite themes, and has some obvious through lines, from his compulsive solitary consumption of ice cream to being told by a doctor “you’re only cosmetically overweight” to a trip to a nightclub to a tale of childcare disaster and epiphany that echoes the final show in the series. Other segments are consistent in sentiment, from a bit on the “white person problems” Americans complain about (uncaring about the far more serious issues plenty of people in the rest of the world face) to hyperbole in word choice — “we go right to the top shelf with words these days” — leading to the film’s title.
Answering questions after the screening, C.K. addressed the show (FX doesn’t give notes until a full episode is delivered) and its renewal (called in for a meeting, he expected problems with the just finished “God” episode, and instead was told season two was a go). He also discussed last week’s drunken Twitter tirade, during which he took shots at Sarah Palin (who he described as “a beautiful villain”), only to end up guesting on “The Tonight Show” with her daughter Bristol the next day. “It was weird to sit next Hitler’s daughter, who’s famous for having a baby too young,” he noted, but in characteristic fashion, the anecdote ended with his realizing she was terrified and nervous, and telling her she’d done a good job: “She’s just a person.”