The last thing the viewer sees before the credits of Louis C.K.’s Chewed Up is the phrase “Dedicated to George Carlin.” This is sort of inevitable. One imagines that just about every comedian who has the opportunity to do so will be dedicating his or her special to George Carlin for the next year or so, and with good reason. Aside from being maybe the most influential comedian of the last fifty years, Carlin’s final comedy special, It’s Bad For Ya, proved that he was as biting and observant as ever. George Carlin may have been seventy-one, and therefore at an age where no one would call his death sudden, but the man had plenty more to say, which made his death all the more heartbreaking.
While Louis C.K. is a different breed of comedian than Carlin, there are certainly moments on Chewed Up where Carlin’s influence is apparent. Both comedians share an affinity for discussing bodily decay and management in, to put it charitably, overly familiar terms. Of course, many comedians discuss these topics, but C.K. and Carlin have the rare ability to discuss unpleasant topics in ways that are universal, candid, and hilarious without making juvenile attempts at being outrageous. C.K. seems particularly eager to pick up where Carlin left off on the discussion of modern verbal taboos, as the first ten minutes of Chewed Up are dedicated to the words “faggot,” “cunt,” and “nigger.”
However, where Carlin seemed gleefully unafraid to discuss forbidden topics to enforce a larger point, C.K. appears to be ticking off a list of prohibited topics so to ensure that he is on the record about them. That’s to say, should C.K. decide the word “faggot,” “cunt,” or “nigger” at a later point in his act, he has already made his feelings on the issue clear. While this may sound questionable, it has served to make C.K. one of the more brutally honest, fearless, and frankly best comedians working right now. In fact, given his penchant for discussing his current family life (more on that later), and his sexual misadventures as a pubescent, confused youth, C.K.’s comedy seems to be a more profitable version of therapy.
This isn’t to say C.K.’s comedy is “confessional,” which would rightly send lots of people running in the other direction. C.K. is not interested so much in baring his own soul as he is in illuminating how common these feelings and incidents are. You might not have a story anywhere near comparable to C.K’s about tricking his dog into licking cottage cheese off his balls, but everyone can relate to the general confusion of adolescence he’s highlighting.
It should be noted that Chewed Up benefits greatly from the viewer’s familiarity with C.K.’s previous material. It’s not necessary to have seen his 2007 special, Shameless, to enjoy Chewed Up, but it does provide some helpful context when C.K. starts speaking about his wife and children in hilariously horrendous fashion. If you don’t intend on watching Shameless prior to watching Chewed Up, then you should probably know that C.K. has gotten a lot of the mileage out of holding his children to adult standards in his material. He’s also said any number of things that would get the average person divorced, and there’s no shortage of lines like it in Chewed Up, including this gem: “My wife and I, we’ve been married for ten years, so we’re almost done.”
The most important fundamental difference between Carlin and C.K lies in their respective worldviews. Carlin seemed to spend his lifetime devoted to the idea of breaking every single aspect of every single thing down to it’s absurd core. C.K. scope is not quite as expansive, but what he does cover, he covers exhaustively. It would be interesting to see C.K. move outside of his comfort zone, but when the results are as pungent and bitterly funny as Chewed Up, it’s difficult to complain.
One final note: the special features are scant (one cheap interview seemingly shot by C.K. in his hallway where he effectively interviews himself, and that’s it). However, it’s a DVD of a one-hour comedy special that initially aired on Showtime. How much more can one reasonably expect?