Louis C.K.’s fourth HBO comedy special, “Oh My God” premiered this Sunday with more hype than it could possibly live up to. Nevertheless, the most popular and successful stand-up comedian of the last decade (does “C.K.” stand for “Comedy King”? It’s starting to look that way) delivered another solid hour of ingeniously filthy jokes.
Oh My God
C.K.’s comedy specials seem to age like a fine wine. This one too looks promising for a second and third listen-through when he puts it up on his website for five dollars in September. But for now, “Oh My God” just isn’t as “hilarious” in the sense of the word that C.K. so brilliantly tore apart in his third, and perhaps best, album, and which forces audiences to hold him to such an incredibly high standard.
There are countless moments when C.K. is at his best, though. If possible, he has actually improved at being vulgar. It’s almost therapeutic or refreshing to laugh at his twistedness — like he’s giving everyone a much-needed break from riding their moral, politically correct high horse. Who else can make a joke out of killing an old blind dog, the benefits of slavery and suffocating a kid in a plastic bag? (Of course, it’s funnier when he tells it). Somehow, he manages to use this level of vulgarity without second thought and in jokes that are flat-out brilliant.
In the rare moments that wane, or during the bits that just aren’t as sidesplitting, that brilliance is still there. That’s what separates C.K. from any run-of-the-mill John Caparulo: There is always a profundity to what he is saying — that what is being talked about, in his best joke or worst, has a sense of importance and relevance. Like any good joke should, his topics shine a spotlight on some truth of society, but it’s a truth that always seems to exist beyond just his own fat, white-guy point of view, and which you will inevitably encounter yourself when standing in an elevator, watching seals at the zoo or, as C.K. suggests, filming your own asshole for 20 minutes to put on Facebook.
While “Shameless,” “Chewed Up” and “Hilarious” are now untouchable hours of comedy, “Oh My God” joins “Live at the Beacon Theater” and “WORD: Live at Carnegie Hall” as C.K.’s second-tier specials, though still worlds above most. Perhaps “Oh My God” lacks the specificity of these earlier albums, in which C.K. would delve into lengthy, situational tangents that layer brilliant observation on top of brilliant observation. Some jokes feel like they are abandoned early, or cut short by the man who usually takes things too far. Sure, you’ve got Sigourney Weaver breast-feeding, but it’s just not quite the same as the detailed recounting of a 4-year-old slipping and falling in a pile of her own shit.
If you’ve watched only one of C.K.’s stand-up specials or even just a single episode of “Louie,” you’d know that he loves his kids. His two daughters undoubtedly come up in each of his albums and like everything else that comes out of his mouth, it’s funny without fail. But they are much less present in “Oh My God.” It’s almost as if there isn’t anything more for C.K. to say about them. The absurdity of a 9-year-old is just not different enough from the absurdity of an 11-year-old to keep it fresh. And five years removed from divorce, C.K.’s relationship status threatens to bear this same staleness. Just wait until he remarries, or his kids hit puberty, get boyfriends and start smoking weed. That’s going to be one hell of an album.