Louie may be the most malleable show on television. Every week Louie C.K tweaks and contorts it to fit his needs. Yet for a show named after its writer, director, creator, star and editor that begins with its namesake walking down the street while a song warns him personally that he is going to die, Louie has shown a refreshing and unusual tendency to shed the spotlight on people other than Louie himself.
The first third of tonight’s episode, for example, resembled less the first act of a sitcom than a newfangled throwback to the days of vaudeville. The episode’s first seven minutes or so found C.K playing the put-upon straight man to guest star Ricky Gervais, who was given free reign—very, very, very free reign—to do a wild and wooly wacky doctor routine heavy on AIDS and dick jokes and blissfully unencumbered by self-restraint or self-consciousness or dignity.
Playing a zany doctor who suggests David Brent’s super-dickish physician uncle, Gervais delivered an extended star turn as he heckled C.K’s body and made one tasteless, terrible joke after another. It was silly, juvenile and unmistakably self-indulgent. I could see people finding Gervais’ shtick off-putting. I, on the other hand, found it hilarious, especially when Gervais’ doctor marveled that C.K’s penis was the single worst thing he’d ever seen, and that included watching his father hang himself while masturbating.
It appealed to the ten-year-old inside me even though I am generally irritated by shows and especially films where characters spend a lot of time laughing at themselves or each other. It almost always feels like a cheat. The A-Team and Grown Ups can’t very well have a laugh track to signal to dullards what’s supposed to be funny so they have Rob Schneider or that guy who’s supposed to be Mr. T giggle like little girls after every weak punch line.
But I felt much differently watching Gervais giggle like an idiot after every terrible joke he made, in part because it seemed to piss C.K off so much and in part because he seemed to derive such infernal joy from his own silliness. And I loved the stone face of the harried nurse who dourly asserts to her boss that yes, C.K's penis is an abomination without ever actually looking in its direction (she clearly knows the drill.) It may have been largely a matter of calling in a favor from a famous friend but it highlighted what makes Louie so damn singular. For five minutes it became Gervais' show. There's nothing wrong with that.
Speaking of straight men, the perpetually deadpan Todd Barry just about stole the second short film of the episode with his straight-faced under-reaction to a mounting argument between liberal C.K and Nick DiPaolo, who some of you may know as one of stand-up comedy’s few proud Conservatives and a regular on the late, semi-lamented Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn.
The tension began when DiPaolo took to the stage at the Comedy Cellar and opened with Obama-bashing that immediately sent the temperature of the room spiraling downward. This led inevitably to a heated confrontation between C.K and DiPaolo, who in one of my favorite moments in the episode, said C.K was so besotted he would probably eat Obama’s shit and C.K replied that he probably would, not because he’s gay or anything but because he’d be part of history.
The short’s satirical subject was less Conservatives like DiPaolo than a certain narrow-minded knee-jerk Liberal mindset that sees Fascism behind every political belief they don’t agree with and are quick to subscribe to the same black-and-white worldview they accuse others of having.
Behind the hostility lies a baseline of mutual respect, so after C.K injures DiPaolo in a scuffle they bond over the ravages of age and DiPaolo’s ever-declining sexual appetite. Scenes like these give a good sense of the camaraderie that exists between men and women who stake their living on making people laugh and the brotherhood that unites even those with antithetical ways of seeing the world.
Tonight’s episode wasn’t quite as strong as the last two but I enjoyed the hell out of it all the same. Originally, I pegged Louie as C.K’s take on Seinfeld. But where Seinfeld was famously, if not entirely accurately, pegged as the show about nothing at its best, Louie seems to be about just everything—sex, friendship, growing older, memory, loss, sexuality, gender, comedy and the whole big cosmic shebang.
—“You got the AIDS from raping little blind boys”