For many longtime fans of Louis C.K.‘s stand-up comedy, his appearance in the first of two new Netflix specials, 2017 will first prompt some shock at what they see. Instead of the George Carlin-esque black shirt, jeans and sneakers that populated previous specials like Hilarious and Live at the Beacon Theater, C.K. here dons a two-piece blue suit with a matching tie and button-down shirt. While the jarring wardrobe change will inevitably turn heads, those who’ve been paying attention shouldn’t be too surprised, as C.K. and his comedy have done some growing up.
“I [dressed] like a 10-year-old since I was 10,” C.K. joked during his May 2016 appearance on Conan — while wearing a suit. “That’s how long it took me to catch up to, you know, ‘What am I doing?’ There’s probably a lot of other things I [should’ve started] changing a long time ago. I liked it for a long time, and then all at once I hated it. I hated the last 20 years of looking like a shithead all the time.”
This response to Conan O’Brien’s questions felt raw back then, though it was evidently something C.K. had been thinking about for quite some time. Hence why, when The Tonight Show‘s Jimmy Fallon asked the comedian about the suit almost a year later, C.K.’s answer had evolved into a bit about kids thinking entry into adulthood required a suit. He also spent far less time discussing his appearance. When Fallon brought up his 2017 suit, C.K. acknowledged the comment and quickly moved on to other subjects.
As for 2017, C.K. never once mentions what he’s wearing. Both the special and the comic plow right into the routine with little fanfare. Previous specials have lightly peppered the first few minutes with simple introductions — an odd opening act spliced with shots of the dressing room in Live at the Comedy Store, or C.K.’s walk to the venue in Beacon Theater — yet 2017 cuts to the chase with Louis waiting in the wings. He tells a stagehand to raise the lights, asks his opener to announce him, then takes the stage ready to initiate an extended riff on abortion. Less than a minute and a half passes between the opening shot and the first joke, suggesting C.K. isn’t interested in wasting time on matters like what he’s wearing.
Of course the differences go beyond his choice of attire. The stand-up doesn’t waste any time — not just with the first few minutes, but throughout the entire 74-minute set. Many of his signature pauses and odd, smiley looks are still there, designed to encourage the audience to respond a certain way to a morally dubious premise, or a hilariously awful punchline waiting to be revealed. Be it abortion, suicide, or repressed homoerotic feelings for Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, the time between these pauses and C.K.’s delivery feels much quicker It’s almost as if the comedian thinks he doesn’t have time to screw around like before.
Hilarious, the 2010 concert film C.K. produced and distributed via Epix, clocks in at a whopping 82 minutes. 2017 is C.K.’s second-longest comedy special. Unlike Hilarious and his shorter comedy films, however, it’s one of his tightest. Not only are the intentionally awkward pauses between the topical premises and their jokes shorter, but his transitions don’t drag on either. Which is odd, since C.K. famously left an otherwise funny screwed-up segment in Hilarious when a cameraman got too close. As Jim Norton, Jim Jefferies and other comics with Netflix specials on their resumés have attested, the streaming service does little to rein in their creativity. In a sense, C.K. had every opportunity to make 2017 as long as he wanted — as he did with Hilarious at Epix. Yet nothing extra or unnecessary appears in the special. Much like the new dress code, its final cut is polished to near perfection.
In this way, the new Netflix special feels more like C.K.’s excellent monologue from Saturday Night Live‘s 40th season finale. Throughout the nine and a half-minute routine, he weaves personal subjects (his daughters, being “mildly” racist) into worldly issues (Israel and Palestine, religion, pedophilia) without wasting a single second. That’s not just because of SNL‘s limited airtime, but as C.K. would later tell Dave Chappelle, because believes the monologue is all that matters. The comedy he performed then, for the first 10 minutes, could make or break the rest of the episode.
Fifteen minutes into 2017, the momentary shock of seeing C.K. in a suit will be long gone. Viewers will instead be unable to stop laughing and crying at a brilliant opening bit about abortion that, among other things, argues women should have the right to kill babies for reasons as disparate as improving the human species and the right to take one’s own life. “So that’s what I think about abortion,” the comedian concludes briefly before moving on to the next topic.
Louis C.K.: 2017 is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.