Winner: 2011 Best Comedy Album Grammy
It almost seems unfair that comedian Louis C.K. is releasing his latest album, Hilarious, within the first two weeks of 2011. It's unfair because the album is so outstanding that it sets an impossible standard for every other record that follows it over the next 11 months and two weeks. Over and over again, I can already hear myself saying "Sure, it's funny...but is it Hilarious?
Though on the surface it's just another Louis C.K. record (reason enough to celebrate, as I've argued again and again that he's the single best stand-up comedian currently working), Hilarious is actually more ambitious than that. Originally recorded as a stand-up concert film and intended for theatrical distribution (making it the first since Martin Lawrence's Runteldat in the early 2000s), the film made its debut at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in early 2010 before receiving a very, very brief theatrical run (in most cases, a single night) later that year. It made its television debut on the Epix cable channel before debuting on Comedy Central in January 2011, just days before being released as both an album and on DVD in its original concert-film format. The album's history is fitting, too, as it's at once a throwback to the classic stand-up of George Carlin and Richard Pryor while at the same time pushing the art form forward thanks to C.K.'s tireless work effort and embrace of transgressive material. He's the best of both of worlds, and so is Hilarious.
Unlike his past albums -- exercises in self-loathing in which the majority of his invective has been directed inward at himself -- C.K. finally turns his scathing disdain outward at the world around him. Hilarious finds the comic as grouchy and profane a social critic as George Carlin. The basic thesis of the album is that "we are the worst," and routine after routine, C.K. angrily articulates just how spoiled and lazy we've become as a society. Where he stands apart from the socially critical comics who have gone before is that C.K. doesn't always stand outside of it; he's more than willing to admit that he's just as bad as the people he's complaining about. There's nothing superior about his commentary, because Louis C.K. is always harder on himself than on anything else.
The personal material found on Hilarious is just as good as his social commentary (and as funny as the stuff found on his previous two albums, Shameless and Chewed Up), and the back-and-forth mixture is effortless and never jarring. When he gets to an extended routine on his daughters near the end of the album, his entire worldview has come into focus thanks to everything that's preceded it. It's so rare to find a comic with a point of view these days that coming across one as sharply defined as Louis C.K.'s is a kind of miracle. Hilarious finds the best comic of today at the top of his game, and truly earns its title. It's at least as funny as running into Lisa.
- Album Release Date: 1/11/11
- Label: Comedy Central Records