Over the course of the past year or so, Louis C.K. has made a remarkable evolution from being merely one of our most beloved and respected artists—a man his colleagues and peers talk about with hushed awe and total reverence—to being something of a contemporary folk hero—a balding, ginger, slightly overweight stand-up-comedy Robin Hood speaking truth to power and reclaiming the means of distribution from the nefarious likes of Ticketmaster.
C.K. impressed a whole lot of people by becoming the first major comedian to sell a stand-up-comedy special directly to fans through his website, a bold experiment that quickly netted him more than $1 million. He impressed even more people by giving most of that money away in the form of bonuses for his dedicated staff and donations to charity, though he did keep more than 20 percent of it for himself like the cold, heartless bastard he is.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, C.K. then announced that his website was the only place to buy tickets for his latest tour, thereby sparing his fans of both the exorbitant service charges and the ickiness of supporting those evil motherfuckers at Ticketmaster. In leaving Ticketmaster and other ticketing services out of the equation, C.K. has succeeded where Pearl Jam failed. The gambit seems to have worked, in the sense that C.K. has reportedly sold $4.5 million in tickets over the course of just two days.
“Weird Al” Yankovic was asked about his Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album on a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang, he told host Scott Aukerman that he and his pal (and fellow nominee) Patton Oswalt both conceded that they didn’t have a shot at beating Louis C.K. in the category, because this was C.K.’s year, Grammy-wise and otherwise. That creative hot streak reached back to the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, where C.K. was nominated for a whopping three awards, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t even particularly like to act.
The stars are aligning for C.K. He was recently cast in a new film by his hero, Woody Allen, and hired Allen’s old editor Susan E. Morse to work on the third season of Louie. Oh, and the new season of Louie is going to feature the likes of Marc Maron and some guy named Jerry Seinfeld.
C.K. has conducted himself and his career with unimpeachable integrity and idealism, but lest we assume that our old pal Louie has gotten all high and mighty, he begins the feverishly anticipated new season of his FX seriesin his second home at the Comedy Cellar, doing a joke about his dick looking blurry when he jerks off. C.K. goes to the optometrist and gets reading glasses to correct the problem, but his dick still stubbornly refuses to stay in focus, leading him to conclude that the problem lies not with his faulty eyesight but with his blurry cock. This segues into an inspired riff on how, now that he has money, he’d like to purchase a crazy Frankenstein cock to replace his blurry old one.
It’s a funny bit—in no small part because it conjures up the hilarious mental image of C.K. masturbating vigorously while wearing dainty little-old-lady reading glasses—but it also corresponds to the show’s enduring fascination with masturbation, aging, physical decay, and sexual humiliation. In an abstract way, it establishes the rough theme of the episode. We do not yet inhabit a universe where it’s possible to purchase a nifty new penis, but here C.K. does the next best thing, purchasing a throbbing, bad-ass metallic cock in the form of a nifty new motorcycle.
Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. After the opening stand-up about blurry cocks, “Something Is Wrong” kicks off with the kind of casually audacious stylistic choice that makes Louie so bold and original: It begins with C.K. meeting a girlfriend, played by Gaby Hoffmannn, at a nondescript diner. Instead of beginning at the start of C.K. and Hoffmann’s relationship, we begin with the end.
We eventually learn that C.K. and Hoffmann have been dating for six months, but when Hoffmann sits down, something is clearly wrong. The couple has the tense body language and awkward pauses of a pair that have known each other long enough to know exactly how to push each other’s buttons and get on each other’s nerves. The scene is full of telling details that collectively paint a rich, fully fleshed-out portrayal of a couple that cannot, and probably should not, make it. Hoffmann bugs C.K. about his eating habits and snaps when C.K. glibly tells her she should quit her job if she doesn’t like it, a comment that rankles Hoffmann’s pride.
Hoffmann senses that C.K. wants to tell her something and complains that C.K. is too passive-aggressive to actually come out and tell her what’s bothering him because it’s obviously her. C.K. is a great reactor—he has a wonderfully expressive face that conveys volumes without saying a word. That comes into play here when Hoffmann tells C.K. that because he won’t be a fucking man and come out and say what he’s thinking, she’s going to be forced to play a maddening game of relationship charades.
C.K. is too passive-aggressive to actually break up with Hoffmann. He’s not willing to commit to her enough to let her see his kids, but he’s also not willing to commit to something as dramatic as breaking up. So Hoffmann takes the initiative; when she says they shouldn’t be together, C.K. doesn’t contradict her, which is perhaps the single most passive way anyone can break up with another person.
C.K. returns to his car to discover it being destroyed by the city for violating a cryptic, hard-to-discern parking violation. He’s thoroughly emasculated by a giant machine crushing his automotive baby, so in a desperate bid to reaffirm his masculinity, he goes to a motorcycle shop to check out its wares. C.K. should be discouraged by the salesman who gives him a graphic and extensive inventory of all the horrible bruises, scars, and damage he’s incurred over his many years foolishly driving a motorcycle in the city. But when the salesman suggests that owning a motorcycle is a cheap and fuel-efficient endeavor (as well as being, you know, dangerous as fuck), C.K. takes the bait and buys a motorcycle, along with a helmet and one of those nifty leather jackets.
For a brief idyll, C.K. is king of the road: He looks at once bad-ass and more than a little ridiculous riding his motorcycle downtown. That thin veneer of confidence dissipates, however, when he’s confronted by a gang of more accomplished cyclists doing awesome tricks. Distracted, C.K. takes a spill and lands in the emergency room.
C.K. ends up in the hospital where he’s treated by a doctor who doesn’t even pretend to hide his disdain for people foolish enough to do something like ride a motorcycle. Physically and emotionally, the accident—which isn’t even severe enough to leave cool-looking scars—renders C.K. incredibly vulnerable and dependent.
Hoffmann puts aside her ambivalent-to-hostile feelings toward C.K. to make him food when she comes over to retrieve a laptop she left at his house, but when a sad and diminished C.K. urges her to “stay”—a word he infuses with all manner of confusion, yearning, and neediness—she draws a hard line. An exasperated Hoffmann tells him that if she agrees to stay and he agrees to go with her to her parents home for Thanksgiving, he’ll be setting in motion a chain of events that will probably lead to misery for all parties involved. “Do you realize that you might be wasting four years of both of our lives because you can’t say, ‘bye, see you?’ right now because in this second that feels weird?” she tells him purposefully, before imploring him to do the right thing, man up, and let her go for the sake of both of their future selves.
It’s the kind of thing Louie does better than any other show on television, pulling back on a seemingly small moment of attempted connection to reveal a much bigger cosmic picture. In his weakness, C.K. can’t see beyond his neediness and loneliness, but Hoffmann sees the long view and acts accordingly. She understands that a few moments of comfort in the present aren’t worth years of unhappiness and frustration in the long run. It’s a quietly philosophical moment that captures what’s great about Louie. Louie is funny, often explosively so, but, to borrow the title of a box set by Richard Pryor, it’s deep too.
- So it appears Louis’ ex-wife and the mother of his children is black. That doesn’t make any sense logically but somehow fits the show’s universe perfectly.
- I love the look the salesman gives C.K. when he convinces himself that, despite appearances to the contrary, it’s actually smart to buy a motorcycle.
- Welcome back, Louie. Something tells me this season will be awesome (and I say that as someone who has already watched the first five episodes FX sent to critics)
- If you like Louie (and why the hell wouldn’t you?) y’all should be excited about an interview I just did with him that will run next week.