Louis C.K. has always had a DIY ethic about him. He famously writes, directs and edits his absolutely essential FX series Louie by himself, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that he also cooks everything on the craft services table and personally buys all the film as well. Rather than going through HBO, Comedy Central or traditional retail for his new special C.K. has cut out as many middlemen as possible by offering Live at the Beacon Theater, the production of which he paid for himself, via his website for five dollars. You can stream or download it with “No DRM, no regional restrictions, no crap.” (As hands on as ever, audio instructions all bear C.K.’s distinctive down-to-earth voice. If you don’t want to join his mailing list, click “No, leave me alone forever, you fat idiot.” It’s a nice touch.)
On Beacon, Louis C.K. dreams about waterboarding a child and brags about getting away with ditching a rental car in front of an airport rather than going through the effort to return it. In its own way, the bit once again confirms C.K.’s status as one of the great moralists of our time. That waterboarding wish comes after he watches an unsupervised boy at his daughter’s school run around and punch other kids. C.K. relishes hating the child, imagining how happy he will be when the kid ends up digging ditches for a living. But he sounds genuinely disgusted with the boy’s mother, who allows him to throw whatever he likes on the ground and constantly cleans up after him. Previous C.K. specials like Chewed Up and Shameless chronicled C.K.’s struggle to grow into the role of a father, as well as his desire to sometimes murder his children when they refused to eat. C.K. takes his responsibilities as a father, a man and an entertainer very seriously. He never lets himself (or anyone else) off the hook and always pushes himself (and everyone else) to be better. The palpable level of contempt he has for a mother not doing her job electrifies him and pushes his jokes to bizarre levels; I won’t spoil how elaborate his plan to ruin the child’s life gets, but having sex with said terrible mom twice and not calling her afterward is just the start of a hilariously detailed plan.
C.K. loves to attack the hypocrisy and lax ethics others willfully ignore. One of the funniest parts of Beacon is when he imagines how European settlers just decided Native Americans should be called “Indians” because they were too conceited to admit they didn’t land in India, and that misnomer continues to this day as an example of intellectual laziness. He then imagines how God would feel if he came back and saw what a mess mankind made of the planet he left them. (“Why are the polar bears brown? What did you do to the polar bears?”) But there’s no one he loves to attack more than himself. There’s a masochist glee he takes in dressing himself down for feeling proud after imagining giving his first-class seat up for a soldier, even though he’s once never done it. He later sounds genuinely exhausted and sickened when he confesses to wishing he didn’t continually have perverted thoughts (what he jerks off to is too great to reveal here) and what a burden it is to be disgusting. He makes this confession sound oddly brave; as always it’s his job to keep everyone honest. Especially himself.
C.K. is lauded for his no-bullshit attitude (he begins the evening by saying, “There’s no opening act. Fuck it, let’s start!”) and tireless work ethic. It’s well known that he comes up with a fresh hour’s worth of material every year. He then films a special, drops that material from his set and starts over. This is all but unheard of in the industry, especially for a comedian of his popularity. It keeps his sets fresh and sharp; the hunger for new angles to explore on his favorite topics (family, getting old, disappointment, masturbation) and new hypocrisies to expose gives his performances a live-wire feel. He could coast for the rest of his career off the material he’s already written, but each new special reveals a man pounding the ground to come up with something different and go even further than he did last time. This pace also alleviates the pressure for each new special to be perfect. It’s no big deal if there are a few dead moments because there will be another one next year. Beacon never comes close to replacing Chewed Up as the essential C.K. special; some pot and masturbation jokes are hilarious but feel like they could have come from anyone, and he’s backed a couple of steps away from the relentless exploration of his disappointments and shame that made Chewed feel like a peek into C.K.’s dark night of the soul. But it’s another solid entry into an increasingly peerless, thoroughly original body of work.