Louis C.K released his highly anticipated comeback special available for download and streaming on his website for 7.99 It’s a special shot with modest production value, meant to showcase one thing: an hour of standup. It’s a hard-won hour that takes on some of the worst events of C.K’s life with cynicism and truthful exploration that is unflinching.
Sincerely is not a comeback special because it is impossible for Louis C.K to exist in popular culture the same way. “Sincerely” is however the first earnest movement towards redefining his existence as a comedian, and for that reason alone it is worth giving into the enticing curiosity of this Notorious’s comedians latest offering.
Louis C.K is a comedian whose comedy has always been built around feeling uncomfortable and annoyed by societal pressure. He made his reputation living in fear of the worst case scenario and having others laugh at it.
“Sincerely” is the result of waiting one’s whole career for the other shoe to drop and it finally does.
After a brief allude to his scandal, C.K. opens the heart of his special talking about picking up his mother’s body for cremation. That sets the tone that this special will be the type of comedic philosophical dissection that comes from true loss.
The approach to the subject matter is met with the same nihilistic, apathetic hilarity that made him famous. But in “Sincerely,” the subject matter swaps out stories about annoying people on the train with musings about life death and the search for meaning in between. For instance, the places one’s mind goes naturally in the face of a drastic decline both personal and professional. With death, religion is never far away and C.K moves into musings on a literal interpretation of god that is reminiscent of a bit from his 2017 special, where he set up the same premise of god returning (with all the patience of a Boston foreman going through a divorce) to oversee the planet. In “Sincerely” it’s packaged as “God could clear a lot of shit up with a press conference.” It’s his joke so it’s his to recycle. At this part in “Sincerely,” he has yet to address the substance of the sexual misconduct scandal, but its never far from your mind or his, as he make a subtle joke in the vernacular of Boston god: “I don’t care who you fuck I never cared. It was Adam Eve and Steve in the garden of Eden. I was there jerking off we were all having a great time.”
The true talent of Louis C.K comes in his ability to make funny statements that if repeated verbatim would be complaints. And you’ll find him using that technique in abundance and to great effect in this new special. Like his character driven material about his distain for things and places people push on him as “quaint.” Small towns don’t impress him, domestic or foreign, nor do the small shop therein. Does it get mean? Yes, Louis himself will admit, as he grabs a huge laugh from the relatable sentiment, “All my fantasies are about being this mean.”
And this is where things start getting darker, more complex and more controversial. Yes, there is an impression of a Japanese accent, and it is sold in a discussion about whether or not doing it would be an unauthentic representation of a conversation he had. There’s also plenty of sarcasm, taken to a new height for C.K. as unbelievable as that may seem. C.K. makes sure to heighten his mocking tones to defend against the material being taken out of context. His distrust for his public is evident throughout the hour, as is his sadness and the will to overcome that sadness. The most provocative material is a dissertation on the changing perception surrounding the “R word”, Retarded. His approached can only be described as fearless apathy with construction borrowing from material about the word faggot from his 2008 special “Chewed up.” And the controversy deepens as Louis progresses into an onslaught that is both skillful and comedic of a list of controversial topics.Anal thermometers, Auschwitz as a tourist attraction, and infant mortality pop up as well as musings on his own mortality.
“Sincerely’s” merit as a special does not solely rely on uncomfortability, but certainly takes the audience there often using familiar methods for C.K’s fans. And he takes the plunge on topics deeper and bigger than ever, like when he suggests in an exaggerated comically smug tone that maybe Gay sex was a little hotter when it was illegal. “Some people like sex to be a little fucked up,” he says leading into the final minutes of the special where he addressed the allegations of sexual misconduct head on. They are addressed with the same calm psycho sexual confessional, self actualization that made “Louie” the T.V. show genre defying and at times gut wrenching.
There is a belief that in order to laugh at your own pain you must be over the cause. If this analogy is true then C.K. is only alright enough with his public disgrace to speak on it briefly.But it’s admirable that he did not capitalize on the experience, despite that some of the public want a tell-all or a dramatic atonement. The material on his sexual misconduct related fall from grace is delivered with the fundamental understanding that when things are elusive and rare they are captivating, even more so if they are divisive. He does not opt not for a quick fix apology tour nor does he lean into being embraced by the kinkiest sect of comedy fans who get off on the shock.
The hour does not have a call back as a closer nor it does not even end on a particularly bombastic hilarious bit rather one that is disturbing about a mother and son, indicative that for everything Louis C.K has lost, the loss of his mother was the most painful.
“Sincerely” is a special made by a comedian who is coming out of a very dark time. It’s apparent he needed to make art about very dark things. Yet “Sincerely” is not a “dark special.” It is a complicated well crafted special. It’s forged in a direction based on a search to move on. To emerge with a comedic philosophy and voice that is in acknowledgment of the incident but not totally unrecognizable to his fans. Through Sincerely, C.K. shows he is capable of the makings the fans he had lost, curious again.
There is always a shift in a comedian’s stand up that is parallel to their success. Open micers talk about having nothing, road dogs talk of airplane food and hecklers. It’s one of the great paradoxes of comedy. A comedian becomes too famous, lives a life without much adversity, and their challenge then becomes to stay connected to what resonates with their audience. Having everything and only getting more does not have comedic grit. Louis C.K who had everything, discovered its fickle worth while losing it, definitely has grit, and is definitely worth your time.