Louis CK Performed At The Bell House Last Night

By Matt Arena

It’s rare to find someone who really cares about their fans. Not in a “thanks for coming out (insert any city here), you guys are the best” as they walk off the stage kind of way or the “I love you (insert country here)!” tweet. An actual sense of giving a shit about the people who pay money to buy what your material or to see you perform, whether it’s music, movies, comedy, or any other art form; it’s not something you see every day. It’s why Foo Fighters’ 3+ hour shows and constant “we’re gonna play till we puke” mentality make them arguably the best band on the planet. It’s why guys like Kevin Smith, who interacts with fans quite literally 24/7 and provides tons of free material, are so beloved. But Louis CK has taken that to a whole new level.

It started last year with the release of his new special ‘Live at the Beacon Theater.’ Prior to that, Louis had tried out the alternative method of releasing via Epix, the video-on-demand service that doesn’t charge the standard $20+ for DVDs, and it did well. So when he announced that he’d be releasing his latest hour independently, it took everyone by surprise. As it should have. Someone at Louis CK’s level, one of the top comedians out there, can have a real impact when they decide to do something this radical. ‘Live at the Beacon Theater’ was released only on louisck.net, and for $5 (which through PayPal went directly to him), you get a hi-def download, a streaming link, and a separate audio version of the special. You’ll never find that much new material for $5, no matter what the platform. Of course this method has its downfalls, mostly how easy it made piracy. Speaking to those who may instead choose the free (aka torrent) way of obtaining his latest release, Louis says:

“Look, I don’t really get the whole ‘torrent’ thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well–informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.

Please bear in mind that I am not a company or corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the show, and let other people find it in the same way.”

You’d have to be a real asshole to upload to a torrent site after reading that. This wasn’t some generic corporate warning not to infringe on copyright, it came from the guy who made it himself, just asking not to screw him over. And it worked. Not only financially (it’s grossed over one million dollars in under two weeks), but in deterring piracy too. There were a couple torrents up (as this is the internet and there are always at least a couple assholes), but the comments section were littered with registered members of the torrent site coming down hard on the uploader. Some uploaders disabled comment sections and those that did allow it were rampant with apologies and promises to pay to see him live. For the first time ever, people on the Internet felt bad about being jerks. By uploading the people who warned him against such a trustworthy, fan-friendly way of releasing (most likely distribution companies) were proven right. If people can’t be trusted not to upload when the artist goes out of their way to make it easy for the fans to purchase, then why even bother? But these instances were few and far between, and by a long shot, it paid off. Louis even gave $280,000 of the proceeds to charity; this in addition to the 250k he gave his staff. The repercussions were pretty evident; soon other high profile comics like Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari saw the upside and released their new material in a similar way. Though it requires an established fan base to be able to pull off this unique method of release, it’s still a groundbreaking way to sidestep the restrictive distribution companies that make it harder on both the artist and the fans.

So how do you follow up such an innovative effort? Take it to the live show. On his upcoming tour, Louis CK took another step forward in putting the power back in the artist’s hands by handling ticket sales himself. Much like his special, tickets were available only on louisck.net and were only $45 dollars. No ridiculous $15+ service charges, no overpriced seats; just a fair, across the board, and easy way to buy tickets. That’s cheaper than it’s been for any of Louis’s shows in the last two years. This method also targeted scalpers, by identifying any tickets that were being sold over the $45 price and canceling the entire order. Two of the biggest problems with live performances, both negated by a conceptually simple idea. Louis himself said it was difficult to make this work, as many venues simply wouldn’t book him without partnering up with Ticketmaster and surely keeping track of overpriced scalpers surely isn’t easy. But the effort behind it speaks volumes. Some artists will say how ridiculous fees are and how they’re sorry and there’s nothing they can do about it. Turns out there is. It certainly couldn’t have been easy to book and roll out a tour like this, but it was done to make things easy and simple for fans. That’s the crux of virtually everything he does professionally. There simply isn’t a performer out there who consistently works as hard to make things painless and easier on his supporters. And they respond by selling out his shows in mere hours.

So giving the finger to greedy distribution and ticketing companies surely would be enough, right? Nope. Louis CK had one more surprise up his sleeve when he announced three last second shows at The Bell House in Brooklyn this past Monday night. The announcement came suddenly at 12:00 pm, with the tickets only available via venue’s physical box office and only $10. Yes, Louis CK was playing three shows in one night at a venue about the quarter of the size he normally plays (Louis has 8 straight shows at the New York City Center this October), for about the quarter of the price. Of course tickets sold out within two hours for all three shows. They would be a test run of sorts for him to work out some of the new material for the upcoming fall tour, ‘working on his new hour of material’ was even printed as the event name on the ticket. Around half an hour before doors, there already was a crowd gathering inside The Bell House and by the time doors opened, the line was snaking all the way down 7th street.

Soon Louis CK hit the stage, water and notebook in hand, to a packed house of at least 400 people. From the moment he walked on, Louis made it clear why the show was so cheap, “you’re gonna get a shitty show, that’s why the tickets are only $10, so don’t expect to be happy in any way,” he joked as he held up his notes. Even though it was new test material it still was some of his best yet. To go into detail would not only be a disservice to the jokes themselves (lord knows there’s nothing less funny than a repeated joke in a blog article), but it would destroy the whole purpose of a last second, intimate show to test material. So you won’t find a bit-by-bit dissection here and quite honestly there isn’t a worse way to portray a comedian’s set.

But what I will say is that this new material sees him arguably at his funniest. Having seen every one of his stand-up specials, and probably even every appearance on Opie & Anthony, there isn’t an old joke to be found. Louis CK is known for his ability to constantly churn out a new hour of great material on a yearly basis, lately even more so as he’s released both ‘Live at the Beacon Theater’ and ‘Word – Live at Carnegie Hall’ in under a year’s time. He’s more introspective, brutal, and honest than ever. What makes Louis such a great comic is that he’s able to take usually hack tropes, like marriage, divorce, and technology, and make them hilarious. That’s increased ten-fold with this new hour. His closing bit was arguably my favorite and most brutal piece of material he’s ever done. It takes a lot to make a Louis CK crowd uncomfortable, but he somehow managed to do it in a way that subconsciously calls out the hypocrisy of that feeling. Not to say there were groans or moans from the audience (there weren’t, he absolutely destroyed for the full hour), but parts in the final bit brought up that wonderfully awkward dread as a couple of the more uptight audience members started to get a bit uncomfortable. Which again at a Louis CK show is an accomplishment by itself. Of course that just makes it all the more funnier. He also snuck in the absolute greatest Rocky reference ever committed to human speech. To go any farther would be a cannonball right into spoiler territory, but all you need to know is this; those going to see Louis CK on his upcoming tour are in for an amazing hour of comedy. Go buy tickets to his closest show to you (if it isn’t sold out already) on louisck.net.

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