‘Louis C.K.: Oh My God’: Ethics and Dyspepsia

C.K.’s dyspeptic view of himself and his fellow humans becomes an avenue to explicating the wonders of daily life.

Louis C.K.: Oh My God

Director: Louis C.K.
Cast: Louis C.K.
Network: HBO
Air date: 2013-04-13

Whenever Chuck Klosterman gets tired of writing the New York Times’ "Ethicist" column, the editors there should consider throwing out a feeler to Louis C.K. They might have to put up with a few gags about the Holocaust and child murder, but he's actually a good fit for the position. His media profile is that of the controversial shock-comic who leaps into territory that might daunt Sarah Silverman. But what’s always been most interesting about C.K. is his quaintly earnest examination of morality and life’s purpose, with the occasional joke about cannibalism.

His newest special, Louis C.K.: Oh My God, will likely be the funniest single hour of comedy to hit the small screen in 2013. That is no surprise, however, since C.K. is probably the single most consistently innovative and thoughtful comic working the scene today. But that lack of surprise is almost a surprise in itself. We all know that C.K. is one of those long-struggling comics who scraped up the ladder of a bruising industry writing for The Dana Carvey Show and other short-lived projects. Along the way, he gained a reputation for bringing the unexpected. Here, he does less of that.

This is not to say that comics need to be breaking trails with every new bit of material. Where would Cosby be without show after show about his family, or Carlin have done if he had given up tinkering with semantics? Just so, a Louis C.K. show is bound to touch on several of the following topics: the idiocy of children, the joys and terrors of being a divorced dad, and the hell that is other humans. Oh My God hits on just about all of those, effectively. In a matter of minutes, he has the audience eating out of his hand.

Still, Oh My God doesn’t compare well to the likes of C.K.’s 2010 special Hilarious, which worked many of the same themes, only in greater depth. C.K.'s persona, well known by now, comments too regularly now on his soft and slightly rounded physique, while pointing out the hazards of being a schlub of schlubs barely able to rouse himself from bed in the morning, much less function in the world with sentient adults. He gives the impression that he’s one or two checks away from being a homeless guy, and one of his jokes here involves trying to make a fellow resident of his new, higher tax bracket apartment building think just that.

But he's not close to losing everything. As Oh My God makes clear, C.K., a great fan of boxing, is a craftsman who practices and edits and workshops until his material is fighting lean. The show might feel disappointingly slight, but it’s well honed, with next to no fat. Thus he reminds us that people are awful and annoying, material that is de rigueur for the modern standup comic. C.K. counts himself among these people when the moment warrants it.

A bit about road rage turns into a tight examination of his own morality, as he wonders why he would feel it was acceptable to bellow death threats at another driver who came into his lane, but would never consider screaming at the same person if they just happened to be standing too close to him in an elevator. He doesn’t pander, either. After setting up a joke about slavery, he responds to the audience’s ready-to-hiss intake of breath with the reminder, “Look, you were just clapping for kids dying from nut allergies.”

As in Hilarious, C.K.’s dyspeptic view of himself and his fellow humans becomes an avenue to explicating the wonders of daily life. In between the gags about what animals in the zoo are actually saying (“I’m a slave”) and the miseries of aging (he compares with dead-on specificity the act of getting out of the chair to rocking an old Honda out of a snow bank), he offers precise observations that border on the philosophical.

While C.K. might dwell on frustrations and embarrassments as much as the average comic, only with fewer insults and zero celebrity references, he almost always remembers this: he and most of his gainfully employed and well-fed audience have little if anything to complain about. His three-point proof for why life is amazing is as follows: you get to eat, have sex, and read To Kill a Mockingbird. It might not solve every problem for the naval-gazing existentialist, but it's a proof that's full of hope.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.