Saturday night in Tel Aviv, comedian Louis C.K. made a well-received return to Israel, performing two sold-out shows at the Hangar 11 concert hall in front of a combined 4,000 young, hip urbanites, and a good mix of men and women.
To those who may already be turned off by use of the words “well-received,” keep reading.
Reviewing this standup comedy show is a challenge for many reasons: first, as a fellow comedian; second, in today’s climate; and lastly, because it’s Louis C.K.
C.K.’s last show in Israel was in 2016 and about a year later, as #MeToo allegations rocked Hollywood, he was accused by colleagues of sexual misconduct, confessed to the indecent behavior and was forced to put his career on hold.
But over the last year, C.K. has returned to the stage, making unadvertised appearances at comedy clubs and performing more internationally, where comedic sensibilities may differ and the spotlight may shine less brightly.
Context matters in comedy. Some people can separate art from the artist, and many respond differently to a joke depending on who tells it. (If you don’t believe me, try to imagine Jerry Seinfeld performing Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” routine.) For over 20 years, I have watched C.K. become as sharp, edgy, and provocative a comedian as has ever lived. He has made a career of boldly entering a proverbial minefield, unafraid to step on a single mine, and walking out unscathed, thanks to his smile, serving as a wink that these are “just jokes.” C.K.’s show has never been for the overly sensitive or the “woke.”
The comedian lost countless fans when his sexual misconduct became public. Saturday night’s show was not for them. Had they chosen to come however, they would have witnessed the same iconic comedian they had cheered before.
Before the show, about five women protested outside the hall, holding signs reading “I Don’t Want to See Your Dick” and “We Believe Victims.” One woman asked the approaching crowd via megaphone if the nine-month break C.K. took from the stage was long enough. Considering they had snatched up their tickets within hours, their answer was clearly “yes.”
I watched this show as a comedian, not as a judge of C.K.’s character. The audience response at a comedy show is always a democratic one. At the end of the day, majority rules: only the crowd in attendance can decide if the show is funny, not the keyboard warriors who have never stepped onto a stage or written a joke.
We all knew what we were getting when we walked in the door and without question, we received our money’s worth, with C.K. bringing to the stage the same level of professionalism, craftsmanship, and wordsmithing that has made him one of the best in the business.
C.K. never met a topic he was scared to tackle, so it wasn’t surprising that he began with the one he couldn’t avoid: himself. Weaving together brutal honesty, vulnerability, and self-effacing humor, he addressed his publicly documented behavior and the topic of consent, noting that even if women say “yes” to what he confessed to doing, “you still shouldn’t do it,” adding that while everybody has their personal kinks and fetishes, his are now public.
An unintended consequence of his exposure to new (non-American) crowds was a new and larger perspective of the world. All comedians know that with new experiences come new material for jokes, and C.K.’s show is now a bit richer than before, with a more insightful understanding of his own culture.
C.K.’s material has grown deeper with age and Saturday night’s set was no different, with him talking about his mother’s death and God (what better place to cover the latter?). An atheist himself, he asked if the crowd believed in God. When the majority remained silent, he responded with surprise: “Wow, if only a few people believe here, it’s over.”
What’s not over is his time in Israel. After a few shows in Europe, C.K. will be back on Thursday for a show in Holon. Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket. You won’t see this show on Netflix.