The queue to get into Louis C.K.’s Paris show was long, primarily made up of French people excited from the standard Saturday evening headiness and the gentle hum of summer warmth. Inside the Casino de Paris — the 2,000-seat venue where he performed to two sold-out audiences this weekend, press not invited — the crowd was still buzzing. In front of me at the lip of the mezzanine level, two young couples were busy taking selfies. A French man to my left kept taking photos of C.K. during his set. Behind me sat another couple — a Ukrainian-Canadian woman and her French husband — who told me they liked C.K.’s comedy from his Netflix specials. The woman said she didn’t really know much about his admitted sexual misconduct, although she did offer, completely unprompted, that she knew everything about the recent Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial from watching YouTube videos. (I didn’t ask which side she came down on.)
Louis C.K. is famous in France. Or as famous as a stand-up comedian can be. Stand-up comedy is a relatively new phenomenon in this country, where comedy tends to be more of the sketch and theatrical variety; the form is still considered somewhat déclassé, especially among the more well-to-do, and dedicated stand-up clubs are scarce (and all in Paris). If people in France have an understanding of stand-up, it’s mainly through streaming services like Netflix, which made comedy specials a lot more accessible. But recognition trends toward the big names: the Dave Chappelles and Louis C.K.s of the comedy world. Often, French fans might not even be aware of the controversies surrounding their favorite anglophone comedians — they gravitate to the same few stars, but don’t understand the surrounding context, as Paris-based comedian Paul Taylor once told me. If they do, they view it from a different angle: Mentions of transphobia, sexual harrassment, toxic masculinity are all attributed to the invasion of American “wokisme” — a talking point for politicians from all stripes in the recent presidential election.
So it was an ideal place for C.K. to stop on his ongoing European tour, his latest and most international attempt yet to mount a comeback after apologizing in 2017 for masturbating in front of multiple women without their consent, mocking teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting in leaked audio from a set in 2018, joking about sexually harrassing women in another set in 2019, self-releasing new specials in 2020 and 2021, embarking on a 24-city U.S. tour last year, and winning a comedy album Grammy in April. An enthusiastic audience greeted C.K. when he took the stage following lackluster opening acts by comedian friends Greg Hahn and Robert Kelly. One bro among the spectators, refusing to contain himself, yelled, “We love you, Louis!”
C.K. expressed discomfort with accepting love, in his customary mopey manner. He then opened, surprisingly, with his take on Jesus’s miracles: The bride’s father must’ve been annoyed that all the water had been turned to wine; Lazarus’s wife must’ve been pissed when Jesus brought him back to life. He recounted the tale of the fig tree from Mark 11:12-25, wherein Jesus kills a fig tree by some sort of divine commandment because it wasn’t bearing fruit yet — the punchline, from the fig tree’s perspective, was, “Come back in two weeks; if you want food out of season, go to Whole Foods, you fucking Jew!”
Evidently having missed the memo that calling someone a Jew is no longer considered a funny punchline, C.K. continued down this path of pretending that rattling off stereotypes makes for adequate jokes. Talking about statues of Jesus in churches, he said, “I tell you what Jesus was not, and that was Korean,” then performed a pantomime of Asian slanted eyes and told the audience not to tell anyone. (Oops.) But apparently there was still more to mine from this Jesus statue bit: He moved into an impression of a Black Jesus statue saying, “Hey man, get me the fuck down from here,” using a minstrel-lite voice resembling the musical Avenue Q’s interpretation of Gary Coleman.
Fart jokes were also aplenty. “Farts are funny,” C.K. asserted toward the end of his set. “Some people are like, that’s lowbrow humor. I’m like, fuck you: What could possibly be funnier than a trumpet noise coming out of your asshole? This was God’s first gift to Adam.” This was, of course, followed by a riff about how Eve ruined it when she came along.
“What could possibly be funnier than a trumpet noise coming out of your asshole?”
But this was just the warm-up for his next bit about how much he enjoys fart porn. He described one such video called “nice girl farts in your face,” featuring a “nice girl” farting loudly and then reacting with embarrassment about it. “She’s mortified,” C.K. described, “and I was so turned on, I was hard as a rock, because I realized fart porn isn’t about farts at all, it’s about shame. It’s about the sexy shame of a really nice girl who just thunder-farted right in your face and she didn’t mean to.” The crowd, which had been guffawing and shrieking with laughter the whole night, cracked up.
To finish his set, C.K. told an anecdote of how he doesn’t like being called “daddy.” He had already joked about how the young women he slept with found him a perverted sexual conquest — a familiar gag, for anyone who’s listened to any of his material over the years. On that note, he said, he didn’t like being called “daddy” because he has a father, and that he used to call him daddy when he was being fucked. The audience laughed, to which he responded, “Thanks for laughing at me getting fucked by my dad. I was not laughing, because I was cumming. It was my idea. I made him do it. I was like 12, I was like a brat: ‘Fuck me daddy, fuck me’! My poor dad was like, ‘I know I’m spoiling him, but I can’t say no to this child.’”
And then his performance was done, as he informed the audience. The applause was thunderous and lasted a minute; some people got up on their feet to give him a standing ovation. He came back out to read some malformed new material from his notebook, and his fans applauded with vigor once more, capping off a strange night of comedy that was hack to the max. My first encounter with Louis C.K. was a rape joke, more than 10 years ago at a high-school debate tournament when they played a video of him. Back then, the arguments hinged on whether one could joke about rape. Now, a decade later, C.K. retreads the same material and commenting on a society that has long moved on. But to this audience — still new to stand-up and not yet familiar with (or apathetic to) the indignity of hackery — farts, saying the word “motherfucker,” and fat jokes were enough to elicit laughs. Here, you can emerge from the shadow of disgrace, still relevant. Louis C.K., uncancellable.
Brian Ng is a writer, originally from New Zealand, living in Paris.