From Beyoncé to Bradley Cooper, Washington, D.C., has been a celebrity mecca in early 2013, but none has been funnier than Louis C.K., who performed two sold-out shows at the Kennedy Center last week. While not exactly a household name, C.K. is the star of the surprise hit television showLouie on FX and has a huge following thanks to the DVDs of his hilarious stand-up routines.
The new material performed by the Emmy-winning comic was as dark, biting and hysterically funny as ever, but it was also far more polished and profound than his earlier work. Dressed in his signature slob style (think of what your dad wears to go to Home Depot) to perform in what he reverentially referred to as a “national monument,” C.K. brought the house down as he addressed such topics as old ladies, little dogs, the horrors of his own aging body and, of all things, former President Richard Nixon.
After polling the audience on their ages, C.K. concluded that people under the age of 45 (and therefore younger than he) predominated the crowd. Older people are smarter, he said. A middle-aged garbage man is far wiser than a young triple Ph.D. because the garbage man has lived longer. He knows more because he’s experienced more.
C.K. then went on to say that no matter what horrors our generation has lived through (9/11 and a few wars come to mind), the fact that we did not watch our president weep on television and subsequently board a helicopter separates us from our elders. “How frightening is that,” he asked, “to see the leader of your country just fly away?” It was the kind of riff that was both funny and true, which is a hallmark of the C.K. sensibility. Of course, the Kennedy Center is just across the street from The Watergate Hotel, the building and namesake of the scandal that brought Nixon’s house down.
C.K. had the audience on his side from the minute he stepped on stage and, towards the end of his set, C.K. led them to a dangerous comic precipice in a bit he called “Of course … but maybe.” This edgy material skirted the thin line between funny and offensive, but in true C.K. style, the comic danced nimbly along that line like a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
It went something like this. Of course, we should make the world safe for people with nut allergies. “Of course,” C.K. declared emphatically. Then, after a slight pause and in a small voice like the one each of us has in our heads, he intoned, “But maybe, if touching a nut kills you, you’re supposed to die.”
As uncomfortable and politically incorrect as dismissing nut allergies is, it was only the beginning. He then went on to “Of course … but maybe” increasingly difficult and awkward topics like slavery and the Make-a-Wish foundation. With each new, inappropriately funny theme, the audience laughed but grew noticeably more self-conscious. He culminated the “Of course … but maybe” diatribe with soldiers who fight and die for their country. As the audience drew back just a bit, CK, the consummate pro, reminded then that they had just laughed their heads off at nut allergies and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “There’s no turning back now.” And, like that, the audience grabbed C.K.’s outstretched hand and jumped over that comic edge right alongside him. Laughing all the way.