"Shameless" is the perfect title for Louis C.K.'s latest HBO stand-up special. The comic spends his time here discussing his miserable sex life, his unmotivated hatred of strangers, his general unattractiveness, his choice for the one guy he'd totally do, and his belief that his four-year-old daughter is, as he puts it, "an asshole." He lays his entire personal masturbatory history out in the open, he wonders if any ex-partners consider him their absolute worst sexual experience, he describes an un-erotic moment with his wife "the worst thing that ever happened in America." Shameless? Absolutely.
But such fearless, wild abandon is what makes Louis C.K. funny. There's a bravery in this kind of vulgar honesty - here is someone willing to openly admit to everything wrong about him, convinced that sooner or later you'll probably relate to something he's saying. He even finds comedy in his honesty about the very dishonesty of being a comedian: he'll openly admit that the set-up to a joke (in which, say, he was in a bar the other night, or he ran into someone the other day) is just a lie, a silly way of getting us to the punchline more easily.
He's not out to expose the sinister side of stand-up, of course; he's just here to tell stories, stories that are disgustingly, uncomfortably, perfectly funny. It's impossible to review a comedy special without ruining all the good jokes, so I'm limited to comments on how as an artist, Louis C.K. is still at the top of his game. Where most comics mellow out after growing up and having kids, and a career in TV (he wrote for "The Chris Rock Show" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien") would lead to watered-down material on stage, Louis has gone the other direction, so much so that he's actually wildly improved in the past few years (topping it all off with his recent, cancelled-too-early HBO sitcom "Lucky Louie") as his determination not to go sappy with material about his family has given him a sharper edge. What other comic would dare deliver a bit on his daughter's childish behavior makes her not a cute kid, but a total dick?
Profanity has always been at the center of Louis' material, and here he turns it into a verbal ballet. Many comics use foul language and adult subjects as crutches, but Louis C.K., like the very best stand-ups, knows the proper value of a dirty word. At times, he risks going too far (in one scene, he puts the test to George Carlin's assertion that in the right context, "rape can be funny" - and yup, Louis gets away with it), but ultimately, he's so in control of his material, giving his raw words the right delivery and context, that when he goes over the line, he takes us with him.
Am I sounding too analytical in my rundown of Louis' work? Yeah, probably. So let me back up and simply say that in "Shameless," you will get Louis C.K. at his most profane, his most bold, and, yes, perhaps his funniest.
Video & Audio
"Shameless" gets a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) presentation here, effortlessly duplicating the slick look of the HBO-HD broadcast. The soundtrack comes in a simple-but-flawless Dolby stereo - although having the show start off with a "Dolby Surround" logo (a leftover from the hi-def broadcast) is kind of a tease. (Sure, we don't need 5.1 for a stand-up special, but the logo reminds us what's not there. I suppose it'll pop up on the eventual HD-DVD release.) No subtitles are offered.
To show just how much Louis C.K.'s comedy has evolved (and how much it hasn't), we're given his very first solo cable special, an episode of HBO's "Comedy Half-Hour" from 1996. The show contains some terrific bits, although at this stage in his career, he hasn't found his particular brand of bite just yet. No matter: the guy was always funny, and this special is a welcome inclusion. Plus, here he has hair! Presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The only other extra is a horribly edited trailer for "Lucky Louie," in which the rhythm of all the good jokes are ruined by poorly timed cuts and awkwardly inserted laughs. The show deserves a better sales pitch.
Highly Recommended to fans of stand-up comedy who prefer a grittier honesty in their laughs.