In Louis C.K.’s (second) email accompanying the announcement of his surprise new special Live at the Comedy Store, the comedian talked about small comedy clubs (as opposed to the larger theaters he’s been performing in) and why they have been — and remain — so important to him as an inventive, constantly performing comedian. Live at the Comedy Store was, as the title suggests, filmed at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, one of the many smaller comedy clubs where C.K. paid his dues as a comedian, and one that he still goes back to. Available via his website for $5, the special is something of a tribute to these clubs. It is also, of course, uproariously funny.
At this point, the idea of a bad Louis C.K. comedy special seems inconceivable. From his earlier Comedy Central half-hours to his huge, Emmy-Award winning 2011 special Live at the Beacon Theater, C.K. doesn’t disappoint his audiences. At an hour long and filmed in a smaller space, with a quick opening set from Jay London (never forget Last Comic Standing), the feel of Live at the Comedy Store is slightly different from his other specials, but C.K.’s signature brand of humor remains mostly intact.
There are fewer long-winded stories than we usually get from C.K. and more short vignettes. In fact, his routine comes off more like workshop material — definitely a reflection of its setting — than like a polished, sold-out Madison Square Garden set, but it still works. He covers the usual topics: the annoyance of babies on planes (“There were two babies on the plane… and other people”), growing older (which means finally giving up the dream of getting in shape), and parenting (he riffs on how he’s raising his daughters gay rather than straight). But one of the things that C.K. is good at it is finding small, refreshing new ways to tackle subjects we’ve heard joked about before.
All of this material — aging, parenting, etc. — has grown mundane and stale in the bigger world of stand-up comedy, and it is especially well trodden by C.K. himself. What saves him are the strange, original, and even surreal approaches he takes to the subjects. The set isn’t exactly connected, nor does it come full circle (the bit he ends on is a gloriously unimportant joke), which gives it more of a loose, casual feel, as if C.K. really did just wander in off the street to do a quick 60. He spins off into a story about strange noises in his kitchen, tells us how he got his childhood dog, and randomly imitates a Boston-accented Sex Ed teacher giving a lesson.
One of the longest (maybe the longest) bit in the entire special is an extended story about the time Louis C.K. watched two rats have sex on the subway, envisioning what it’s like when a rat finishes and demonstrating how to make a female rat orgasm. It sounds bizarre on paper (although what great joke doesn’t?), but works so well that it becomes an impressive achievement. And that’s what Louis C.K. does best: he always impresses — and, more importantly, never disappoints.