12:35 pm Nov. 19, 20121
Just down the street from a Staten Island FEMA Disaster Center on Saturday night, Louis C.K. was describing the moment he knew he had to do a benefit in the borough.
"When your guy [Borough President James P. Molinaro] said 'Fuck the Red Cross!’" he said.
The sold-out audience marked its assent with raucous applause.
"You hear him saying the Red Cross is dogshit, and then you see Chuck Schumer standing behind him, wanting to put his hand on his face, thinking 'I'm a Senator, I can't deal with this.' I love the people out here."
Mathew Milcznski, 21, who heard about the show through his job delivering the Staten Island Advance, said he's watched and been a fan of C.K. since high school, and thought that the bald Emmy winner was bringing the type of uplift the battered Borough needed, as opposed to, say, the New York Marathon.
"He's not doing the show in Breezy Point! He's having it in a movie theater and giving tickets to storm victims," Milcznski said. Although not everyone in attendance was an established fan: Annette Scott and her husband said they had no idea who C.K. was, and had been "given" free tickets by a relief agency they preferred not to mention; they seemed excited nonetheless.
If nothing else, the Scotts learned that C.K. is the type of comedian who can text Chris Rock in the afternoon and have him show up as an opening act by nightfall.
Rock, for his part, seemed as surprised as anyone to find himself on the St. George Theatre's gorgeous stage, under its soaring ceilings and amid its ornate statues. He was also excited to meet the culture clash of Staten Island.
"Nothing but Wu-Tang and Republicans out here!" he told the crowd.
His short set, fitting for a charity show whose entire proceeds would go to Hurricane Sandy relief funds, focused on disasters.
"You know we're 10 years away from 9/11 sales: ‘Come down to Red Lobster, where everything's $9.11 all day!’" It was a subtle, if somewhat morbid reminder to a crowd full of victims of destruction that this too shall pass.
C.K.'s set, the first of two shows he would do Saturday night, lasted a solid hour, and only referenced the hurricane that had brought everyone into the same room as bumpers for the beginning and the end. With a sincere plea to "enjoy the warmth for an hour before you have to go back to that awful shit" and an announcement that the two shows had raised around $150,000, C.K. proceeded to do what he does best: talk about what a drag it is getting old.
Of course there was also divorce, technology, raising kids, the bizarre reality of conventional wisdom. But its one of the strange things about C.K. that that description, applicable to pretty much any observational comic this past century, is so far from complete. His jokes feel so radically different than those of most working comedians that when he briefly jumped into a "women-are-golddiggers" bit it felt like the Ghosts of Misogyny Past trying to drag him into the crypt. His age (45) gives him a different perspective than say, Aziz Ansari or Sarah Silverman, and he knows it.
“[Hello] was just a word we used because we didn’t know who was calling, and we needed to say something!” he said, lamenting the disappearance of the greeting from our cell-phone caller-ID vernacular.
C.K. was more optimistic than his usual routines have him, even touching on dreaded subjects like dating with a light touch (past discussions of the subject have included, “Why should anything good happen, ever?”). Here, C.K. was content to discuss the eternal gamble of first dates on both sides.
“Why would a woman ever want to meet a man, alone, at night, ever? Men are the number one threat to women!”
In his now famous $5 special (C.K. just announced a sequel), smoking weed with teenagers was a cause of great distress and turmoil. At St. George’s, he told a story where it gave him a chance to have his mind blown by IMAX in 3-D. Positivity, rather than despair, seemed the tone for the evening.
And from their applause you could tell that after over two weeks of suffering, C.K.’s blunt, humane humor was exactly what they were in the mood for.