Louis CK, review: His days at the summit of comedy feel long gone

Comedian Louis CK - Getty Images North America/Ben Gabbe
Comedian Louis CK - Getty Images North America/Ben Gabbe

Louis CK is reading a passage of the Bible to thousands of gathered faithful. This may not be a religious reckoning, but the Apollo is staging his rebirth: the comedian’s first London show since a raft of MeToo allegations in 2017 saw him wiped from stand-up rosters.

After being accused of sexual misconduct by five women, CK’s TV show was pulled; live dates set - and then instantly scrapped - after outcry. No such response at this sold-out first night of three UK dates, where the momentum of his hero’s welcome lasts through to the final ovation.

One of two routes have been taken by famous people hit by MeToo: run and hide, or double down. Evidently done with the former, the self-described "disgraced, disgusting" CK returns for a cycle-through of unsayables, moving swiftly from jokes about abortion and paedophilia to the eye shape of a Korean Jesus.

An Emmy and Grammy winner who has sold out Madison Square Gardens eight times, tonight falls far short of his riotous beginnings.

Save for his gripes with Jesus and an amusing portion mulling the benefits of early parental death, the routine skips between subjects too quickly - half the topics at twice the length would have felt far more satisfying.

That cursoriness is reinforced when he returns for the encore, deciding which jokes to end with by leafing through his book of remaining gags. Closing out with a tepid aside about travel surely can’t have been the best of it.

CK used to be an edgy comic in centrist dad’s clothing. The garb remains, but the edge feels worn down; the biggest laughs of the night earned via low-hanging fruit like accents and gay jokes. Which were present in the CK days of old, but with enough grown-up handling to elevate them above the basic.

Perhaps it no longer matters; the 55-year-old’s cancellation-turned-uncancelling has served to boost his cachet, this show one sellout of many on an international tour for which demand means he has had to add multiple dates.

Auditoriums may be full, but the days of the "tastemaker and auteur" with "few equals in comedy", as he was described in the aftermath of 2017’s allegations, feel far away.