If you saw Ricky Gervais' widely panned tour this year you will have watched, as part of the show's opening sequence, the burly ginger American comic Louis CK deliver a recorded plea for certain bodily fluids to keep Gervais alive. While the skit was indicative of the base notes of Gervais' show, it was totally unrepresentative of CK's talents, much in evidence at this London show.
CK (born Szekely), a friend of Gervais and his co-star in The Invention of Lying, has plied his trade for nearly a quarter of a century in the US, but in the last few years has hit his stride with an Emmy-nominated stand-up special. While HBO didn't run his sitcom, Lucky Louie, past the first season, he has a new show on FX next year and a healthy international fanbase to boot.
Tonight his UK fans warmed to his US sensibilities, from his disdain for whiny, white, middle-class trash who let "words secrete out of their heads" to his amusement toward antsy passengers on planes. CK depicts both sets of irritants through effective vocal caricatures and apposite wordcraft.
CK's biggest gift, however, is the ability to pitch his musings at such a level as to make his audience feel they are part of a discussion. This is achieved in part thanks to the integral honesty of his act; he moans about moaners and he knows that he's not blameless on that score. He's under no illusions about his own shortcomings, particularly so when it comes to his parenting skills. He elicits "ahhs" when he describes how one of his daughters described birds as "paintbrushes that make patterns in the sky" and then guffaws as his put-upon dad persona threatens to illustrate their mortality in front of her.
An earlier routine about the death of the family dog is echoed here, in which CK describes buying a puppy as a sign that "we are all going to cry soon". Fleeting happiness is all that we can expect is the message, but it's never delivered in a way that seems malign. In fact, CK wears a natural, benign smile throughout his act, happy to accept his lot in life the way, he says, New York accepts the homeless as inevitable.
Uncompromising in the most pragmatic way, no quarter was asked of CK by his audience and none was given. While it could not exactly be considered as wholesome, it was as complete a night of comedy as you could want.
Louis CK's DVD, Chewed Up, is available now ( www.louisck.net)