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Cult comic Louis CK pioneers new ground, paying for self-released web special Live at the Beacon Theater with his "own stupid money"

Cult comic Louis CK pioneers new ground, paying for self-released web special Live at the Beacon Theater with his "own stupid money"

Austin Photo Set: News_Sam_Louis CK_show_Dec 2011_stand up

Today, comedian Louis CK released the eagerly anticipated stand up special Live at the Beacon Theater. The Boston-raised performer, whose FX show Louie blurs the line between comedy and tragedy in modern life, is known for his staunchly independent production habits as well as his brilliant bits, so it comes as no surprise that CK opted to release Live at the Beacon Theater exclusively through his personal website.

For only $5 — which goes directly to the artist — you can download the hour-long show twice, and stream it twice. On the site, CK notes there is: “No DRM, no regional restriction, no crap. You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever.”

There's one caveat. On Twitter, he asks: “Please don’t torrent this video. I paid for the whole thing with my own stupid money.” He hired the camera crew, edited the footage himself and is hosting the downloads on his site.

His attitude towards copyright is much less strict than a major network’s, just one of the many benefits of maintaining complete control of the show’s sales and distribution.

"Why should I go through a cable network when I can just give it directly to the people who want to see it?" CK said last week on Conan. "It’s so much easier, and it’s an interesting experiment."

Earlier this year, Hilarious — which he also directed and edited — was the first stand up film to make it to Sundance, and was nominated for two Emmys, one for Outstanding Writing (for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special) and one for Outstanding Picture Editing (for a Special). The acclaimed film followed 2008’s Chewed Up and 2007’s Shameless.

Live at the Beacon Theater opens with CK strolling into the venue alongside fans, occasionally fielding respectful head nods and back-slaps as he makes his way backstage. Shots showing rows of seated audience members peering at bright-lit iPhone screens, patiently waiting, are cut with wider glimpses of the sizable crowd that's gathered for the mid-November show. Before the house lights have a chance to go down, CK's grabbed a mic and is diving in: "Sit down, we're starting," he ushers milling fans to their seats. They comply. They love it. 

The success of Louie and Hilarious come after plenty of well-publicized failures: the 2007 cancellation of HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, the dissolution of his marriage and (as much as we’d all like to forget) his 2001 screenplay, Pootie Tang. But over the past few years, with the wild popularity of Louie bringing attention to CK’s consistently amazing live act, he’s gone from being known as a comic’s comic to being one of the most talked-about performers around, period.

And a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s able to exercise such complete ownership of his work; we’re finally seeing the shows he wants to create, not the edited and watered-down versions that studios have made their mark on in the past.

“[M]y deal is that I get the money, and I make the show, and nobody tells me how to do it,” CK explained to the AV Club, around the time Louie was just getting picked up. “I only showed them two episodes, because I finished them last week, but I shot four episodes without showing them a script or even pitching stories. So that’s how this is working.”

That kind of deal is practically unprecedented, but it seems that CK is paving the way for comics to be allowed more control over their material. And Live at the Beacon Theater will hopefully result in more shows being made available in a similar format. It's certainly a better career model for performers; if CK's experiment is a success, it could mean more shows for eager fans to stream, and more money for comics bypassing complex contracts and distro deals.

The AV Club has already reviewed the special (spoiler alert: they love it — we do, too).

Here’s an outtake that CK uploaded earlier this week, to give you a taste of what to expect:

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 Live at the Beacon Theater is available for $5 exclusively online.