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Louis CK Gave Arsht Audiences an Escape From Politics

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No, Louis CK didn't take down Donald Trump last night.

CK's bit endorsing Hillary Clinton on Conan went viral in the weeks leading up to last Tuesday's election. The clip's popularity had some fans wondering whether CK would add a political update to his set, which he's been perfecting on the road for months. Instead, he delivered an exploration of a minefield of topics, from racial stereotyping to public education to white privilege, that stayed mostly apolitical.

That's a difficult feat, especially when the first two words of your set are "So, abortion." It's hard to imagine another comic successfully launching a set with that most divisive of topics, and even harder when you consider CK's audience, which, judging from last night's crowd, has added an aging, mainstream contingent to the stoners and the comedy nerds who supported CK in earlier years. But he had the entirety of the packed Knight Concert Hall roaring at his thought experiment in reproductive rights.

It didn't stop there. He spoke of entertaining his kids with goofy voices based on racist imitations; of recognizing and taking advantage of his white privilege when he stays at fancy hotels; and his own diverse family tree, which he said includes Mexican and Jewish heritage. But through it all, CK made jokes, not political statements. He remained comfortably in the center, without preaching against injustice or railing against political correctness.

That's all part of the more traditional, politically neutral vibe CK has cultivated with his current act, all the way down to his clothes. He walked onto the stage last night in a suit, to audible gasps from the crowd. The look has become a uniform for CK during recent performances — last night's suit and tie could very well have been the same combo he wore on Conan — but it clearly still surprises fans used to seeing him in jeans and a T-shirt.

Last night's set also veered away from the confessional humor that made CK famous, indulging his deep, contemplative tendencies without drawing as heavily on stories from his personal life. Sure, there are some anecdotes about his kids, but they're mostly used as a jumping-off point for CK to wonder about broader concepts such as why public-school teachers sign up for the job (his answer: who fucking knows) or how much credit parents get for the hard work of raising kids (his answer: too fucking little).

Arsht audiences went along for the ride without resistance, even with the set's uncomfortable bits. In one drawn-out section, CK confessed to getting turned on by the movie Magic Mike. That's pretty much the whole joke: Louis CK, a straight man, discovers he's a little queer. In the bit, CK accepted this discovery with humility; it wasn't blatantly homophobic. But it's still a bit that relies on the idea that gay sex is gross to conjure laughs.

CK's views of women could use some evolving too. On Conan, he said he supported Clinton not because she's a woman, but because she's a mother: "She feeds you and teaches you and protects you." Fathers like himself, on the other hand, "can give a kid 40 percent of his needs, tops." The same notion of women's moral superiority to men popped up in last night's abortion bit, with CK joking that women should get to determine whether they continue a pregnancy because they are the level-headed, analytical protectors of the human race, while men are essentially sex-crazed beasts trying furiously to mate with any female in sight. That might be an easy premise for a joke, but it's also a frustrating reminder of the different standards to which women and men are often held — especially when talking about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Still, perhaps it's best that CK didn't get political. Any audience members looking forward to election humor got their fill thanks to Michelle Wolf, who earned the biggest laughs of CK's three opening comics with a set that began with Trump, ended with Clinton, and spent the time between hilariously praising Monica Lewinsky's Oval Office blowjob. CK's set, on the other hand, wasn't exactly progressive.

But after a week of political turmoil, perhaps audiences just needed a break. That's what Louis CK delivered: a precise, expertly paced run of meaty jokes that were smart but not too cerebral. Shoehorning a quip about Trump into this months-in-the-making performance might have thrown off its carefully calibrated vibe. Instead, CK gave his Miami fans the best gift he could: more than an hour of escapism with a comedy giant at the top of his game.

Louis CK
8 p.m. nightly through Friday, November 18, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $50. Visit arshtcenter.org.

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