Louis C.K. can walk triumphantly onto the stage of Studio 8H tonight when he hosts Saturday Night Live for the second time. He was already the most talked-about, socially relevant comedian in North America the first time he hosted the show, in late 2012.
Despite the almost unanimously positive reviews he received for his SNL hosting gig, it seemed as if, offstage, C.K. was floundering. Just a few weeks before hosting, he announced he was putting his Emmy award-winning show, Louie, on hiatus, saying he needed time to recharge his batteries. But in the interim he's managed to become bigger, funnier and even more interesting. Here's a look at Louis C.K.'s evolution between SNL gigs.
The Redheaded Thespian
The 46-year-old has had plenty of onscreen parts over the years, including a recurring role on Parks and Recreation, but none showed any signs of really special talent. Ever self-deprecating, he's been known to say he's a bad actor. But C.K. upped his game last year, with roles in David O. Russell's American Hustle and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. He has more talent than he's given himself credit for.
The Comedy Impresario
In 2011, C.K. decided to bypass the usual route of HBO or Comedy Central and instead released his stand-up special on his
It was hailed as game-changing, partly because it made him richer, grossing more than $1-million in the first 10 days on sale. Since then, however, he's started using his site as a platform to sell other comedians' work.
He released audio of Tig Notaro's stand-up set in 2012 and, last week, his site began selling the concert film Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour, featuring the laconic comedian riffing with audiences.
Directing the critically mocked Chris Rock comedy Pootie Tang, released in 2001, didn't win C.K. any love as an auteur. But he's gotten some retroactive respect lately on that front. In January, he released (again, on his website) Tomorrow Night, a black-and-white film about a lonely shut-in that he directed in 1998. Featuring comedy pals such as Steve Carell and Amy Poehler at a time when they were unknowns, the film has been praised for foreshadowing C.K.'s actual skills behind the camera.
The Funniest Nihilist
The HBO comedy special he released last spring may have reverted to traditional distribution, but Louis C.K.: Oh My God proved that he's still the most hilarious moral voice of his generation – and the funniest dissector of middle-aged nihilism to ever pick up a mike. It won him an Emmy for outstanding writing and scored three other Emmy nominations.
The Sitcom Genius
When C.K. announced in late 2012 that his hit FX show Louie was going on extended hiatus until 2014, some worried that the funnyman was suffering from the kind of burnout that might prevent the show from returning. Fear not. Louie is back with 14 episodes beginning in May. Given C.K.'s creative growth over the 19-month hiatus, it's safe to assume the show will be better than ever. The same goes for his gig on SNL tonight, although it's going to be hard to top that Lincoln digital short.