Described as "the comedy love child of Bill Hicks and George Carlin" by Vanity Fair, (one of many such combinations that can variously include Richard Pryor), the matter-of-factly dark humour of red-haired Bostonian, Louis CK, has been popular with British comedy fans for some years now. With this 02 visit the 45-year-old elder statesman has stepped up another rung in his overseas appeal.
While more than earning his dues during a career spanning nearly three decades, it was the late George Carlin who persuaded CK (born Szekely) to go beyond his circuit act and dig deep for something more personal. Digging deep reaped golden rewards, including his Emmy award-winning TV show Louie (the second series of which airs in the UK next month) and his web-distributed comedy special, Live at the Beacon Theater, which netted $1m in 10 days, at $5 a download.
After tonight's support – a short jazz trumpet solo – CK, wasted little time in bringing us joy through the painful existence of others. He started with his neighbours, including one old lady and her pet dog, as incapacitated as she is. "I hope she goes first", CK ventures, "so that she doesn't miss him... the dog doesn't have a clue who is holding the end of his lead."
The demise of dogs is something of a recurring motif in CK's work. An old routine of his equates bringing one home to his family as tantamount to delayed sadness because of its relatively short lifespan: it's a benchmark moment in his user-friendly nihilism, one that is equalled at various points tonight.
While CK's bark is worse than his bite, he's an uncanny knack of pointing out that life is a bitch. Ever consider that if murder were legal you would be stepping over a lot of children who had perished at the hands of their parents?
And so it goes. And yet CK is never at risk of falling foul of cynicism or pessimism.
To close the show CK employs a very Carlinesque structure he calls "Of course... but maybe..." The construct recognises that we all consider certain things as bad, but that some of them could be looked at in a different light and might not seem so bad. He uses this to undermine war overseas, riches that have come from slavery and technology that enslaves us – a little bite with his bark after all.
Quite simply if you love Louie and the gentle vignettes woven around his stand up, you will surely love Louis live and the artful way he has of pulling no punches.