The first thing you notice about Louis C.K. as he takes the stage for his new Netflix stand-up comedy special, 2017, is that he’s wearing a suit and tie. Yes, the tie is yanked down, the better to relieve blood pressure to a face that grows increasingly flushed — even beet-red — as he proceeds to talk about topics ranging from rescue pets to elementary-school teachers. The suit is probably a concession to both age and star prominence: He was getting both a bit long in the tooth (“I’m 49, I have two kids,” he reminds us) and too distinguished a filmmaker (Horace and Pete, anyone?) to pull off his old, black T-shirt-and-jeans, just-trying-out-some-new-material-here persona.
Turns out the suit is even more appropriate than expected, since Louis C.K. gets down to business right from the get-go. He leads off 2017 with a chunk of material about abortion. Good comedians have to stake out decisive positions on whatever topic they address, so it’s intriguing to hear the way Louis C.K. navigates this hottest of topics. “I think you should not get an abortion,” he announces, but it turns out he’s just pausing before adding, “unless you need one.” Another beat. “In which case, you better get one.”
Whichever Fox News talking-head finally hears about this bit, which continues in an exceedingly blunt way of saying that women should control their own bodies — I’m guessing it’ll be Bill O’Reilly — will probably heap outrage upon the comedian. As it is, Louis C.K.’s audience here is more than willing to cheer on his train of thought even as it doubles back on itself.
As a performer, Louis C.K. isn’t prone to the kind of eloquent ranting Chris Rock does, nor does he paint vivid scenes the way Dave Chappelle does. He’s very good at making jokes that are carefully constructed and timed down to the syllable sound like ordinary conversation. He adds to his growing catalogue of acute observations about marriage and raising children, and articulates some differences between middle-aged Louis and his more youthful self: “Your circle of concern tightens,” he observes. For example, he’s very leery about rescue animals as pets, which he categorizes as unknown quantities he’s not sure he trusts to leave alone with his children.
His most interesting material here may be his musings on sexuality. He expresses admiration and envy regarding transgender people, who he thinks have “figured out” what it is about their identities that needs to shift to achieve happiness. He contrasts this with his own sagging self, lamenting that he’s never felt comfortable in his own skin. He’s also very funny about his reaction to the film Magic Mike, which he’s watched many times, always with stirrings of arousal he finds pleasantly surprising. Rather than trade on the usual gay-panic joking that lesser comedians indulge in, Louis C.K. demonstrates what lifts him above so many other performers: An honesty he can bend into jokes that provoke laughter while also, perhaps, tapping into ideas and feelings his listeners may recognize in themselves.
Louis C.K. 2017 is streaming now on Netflix.
Read more from Yahoo TV:
Spring TV Preview 2017: Get the Scoop on New and Returning Shows
‘The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: EP/Director Greg Nicotero Talks Eugene’s Shock and the Message Dwight Left Behind
‘Anne’ Trailer: Every Day Is an Adventure in New Netflix Series