Louis C.K. struggled as a stand-up comic for 15 years, telling the same inane jokes. Then he became a father. One night onstage, he called his toddler daughter an "asshole" and said he suddenly understood why people throw babies in the trash. The uneasy laughs he received encouraged C.K. to say whatever he was afraid to say, and he hasn't looked back. His unique FX show Louie and his live specials have established the 45-year-old as the premier comic in America. Here are some of his finest performances.
C.K. had been doing standup since the Eighties, had been a writer for Letterman and Conan and on The Chris Rock Show, and was working on his short-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie when he appeared at Comic Relief for Katrina aid in 2006. Despite his long CV, he had yet to become a real household name, but that didn't stop him from devoting almost all of his set to this bit about the road-rage guy who tells him to "suck a bag of dicks." Louis was disappointed when the guy sped off: "I had a lot of questions about that concept."
In its three seasons, Louie has featured no shortage of great plot premises, but the standalone set-pieces might be the best thing about the show. Here, our put-upon single dad flashes back to the power-tool surgery he performs on a doll for his daughter.
Live at the Beacon Theater, Louis' fourth feature-length special, is the one that changed the model for comedians: Louis offered the download direct from his website for five bucks, and made a million bucks in 10 days.
Watching Louis step into this taped skit that aired during his Saturday Night Live hosting gig in 2012, dressed as the Great Emancipator in a black wig and a top hat: priceless.
Louis' observation that "everything is amazing right now, and nobody's happy" on this 2008 appearance on Conan went viral for good reason. When you're annoyed that your cell phone takes a moment to load an app: "Can you give it a second to get back from space?"
Louis considers the opposing viewpoint on gay marriage.
This high-concept bit done for MTV in the Nineties opens with a young C.K. introducing himself as "David Cross" and explaining his art photos of toilets.
Here's a baby-faced Louis all the way back in 1987, when he was still a Boston local.
Like most of the truly great comedians, C.K. is an etymologist at heart. Here he is on why he's offended by "the N-word": not the actual word, but when white people say "the N-word." "It's bullshit, because you're making me say it in my head. Why don't you say it, and take responsibility?"
C.K.'s heartfelt tribute to his role model, the late George Carlin, from a 2010 tribute hosted by the New York Public Library. Like Carlin, Louis learned to write a whole new hour of comedy every year or two, rather than lean on his old material. After you chuck the jokes about airplanes and dogs, you talk about your feelings. Then you dig deeper, tackling your fears and nightmares, he says. "Eventually, you get to your balls."