“Next Stop…Bottom” (season three, episode 15, originally aired 9/28/94)
As we discussed last week, no matter whom Hank Kingsley is with, his first love will always be the show. While a steady female presence in his life helps his stability, Hank’s self-worth relies on his job as a sidekick on a moderately rated late-night show. That’s a shaky foundation on which to build his castle, and it gets even shakier because Hank’s not an essential part of it to begin with. (As Phil says when Hank calls in sick, “Hank’s not doing the show? How will we survive? Will there be a tomorrow? God in heaven save us!”)
The thick cloak of denial and delusions of grandeur that Hank wears has provided many a punchline over the course of The Larry Sander Show, but “Next Stop…Bottom” marks the first time that cold, brutal reality has breached it. When Hank has a bad day at work now, he has no one to comfort him—well, besides Darlene, but Hank needs someone he can ostensibly sleep with. When he realizes the job doesn’t fulfill him quite the way he thinks, and he chose it over the woman in his life, well, despair follows. Hilarious, hilarious despair.
At the beginning of “Next Stop…Bottom,” we find Hank still enjoying the vigor he displayed at the end of “Hank’s Divorce.” He assures Artie that the energy he had put in his marriage will now be expended on his job, where it should be. It doesn’t take long for that vigor to dissipate, though: First, the only thing he has on his schedule for that day is a voiceover gig. Second, when he finally gets around to calling some fans who were hoping to talk to him (only because his schedule is so empty), the guy in the hospital who could’ve used a kind word from Hank is gone. “We have to really keep on top of these calls,” he says afterward.
Unable to find fulfillment at work, Hank seeks it in the bedroom via a succession of humiliating come-ons to the show’s guests and staff: He invites Sarah Jessica Parker to play pool, and he has his own “cue and balls” (“Well I have my own cue also. He’s in New York and he’s flying in tonight,” she says); he doesn’t even get that far with Mary Gross, who shoots down his assertion they have something in common by saying “Oh, you hate being hit on my desperate men too?”; he clumsily propositions a female stage-crew member whose name he doesn’t know, but who’s “small and compact,” just the way he likes it (“Then why don’t you go fuck a Toyota?” she retorts); and, in a deleted scene, even Paula, who has the second worst encounter with his touchy creepiness. The worst is poor Darlene, whose “tight little body” and boobs get a face full of Hank in a deliciously uncomfortable office encounter. (Darlene could’ve sued the shit out of the show for sexual harassment, just like Linda Doucett did in real life!)
That last one pushes Hank over the edge. Artie comforts Darlene, who sweetly blames herself for Hank’s inappropriate behavior, by assuring her it’s all part of the divorce process. “They serve you papers, you hit on your secretary. It’s a tale as old as time.” And he can speak from experience: “After my first wife gave me the gate, I went on a binge of sex, drugs, and 180-proof Everclear that lasted for three years. After my fourth divorce, I was able to fit the same amount of debauchery into a long weekend, but I have a scar from that one.”
One of the best moments in an episode full of great ones arrives just after that, as Artie assures Darlene that, even though he’s in a “spiritual tailspin,” Hank will find someone to talk to about it. “Maybe a good friend or perhaps even a trusted member of the clergy.” Jump cut to Hank in a hotel room with a prostitute saying, “Well how much just to jack me off?” Brilliant.
Friends, we can talk about The Simpsons, Seinfeld, even Friends, but Hank Kingsley bottoming out in a hotel room with a succession of prostitutes belongs in the pantheon of great sitcom moments of the ’90s. There’s the pricey one ($550 for an HJ? I’ve never availed myself of these services, but that seems expensive, especially in 1994 dollars!), the one who slept with Andy Richter (and gets shown the door immediately after talking about it), and finally, Helen, a 40-year veteran recommended by Hank’s agent (and an old pal of Artie’s, it turns out). She’s exactly what Hank needs: a mother figure he can bang.
He hasn’t come to work all week, though, which worries Darlene and, to a lesser extent, Artie. Cue one of the great Rip Torn lines of The Larry Sanders Show: “Darlene, he’s hit bottom and broke through to another bottom I know nothing about.”
Back in the hotel room with Grandma Pro, Hank proves Artie’s point when he unloads on a dim room-service guy who compliments him for being so funny on the show the preceding night. Hank walks him over to the television and gives it to him with both barrels: “I’m not there. Why is that, I suppose? Well I’m here. I’ve been here all week. but no, you watch the show, and you don’t even notice that I’m not there! And is the effect apparently that I’m having on the American FUCKING VIEWING PUBLIC!”
Even if Hank has been more overzealous than expected, The Master knows just how to handle it. They’re two words familiar to any fan of The Larry Sanders Show: divorce gun.
When Artie visits Hank in his hotel room, Hank breaks down.“ Artie, what am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? Who am I?” “You’re Hank Kingsley. You’re the best goddamn sidekick in the business, and that includes the great Al Gore. Don’t you fucking forget that.” Hank keeps moaning, claiming he wants to end it all, so Artie whips out the titular gun and tells him to do it. He’s even brought a $20 tip for the housekeeping staff as an apology for the mess.
The Old Pro specializes in setting people straight, and in moments, he has Hank on the mend, but without the puffery mortals like the rest of us would probably employ. There are no promises about The One out there waiting for him, no frilly words about the happy ending lurking just down the road. No, this is a cycle. It’s the circle of life, to quote a Disney movie that was popular at the time:
“Listen, in a couple of years you’ll be married again, maybe to a strawberry blonde this time. [Laughs.] Within a year you’ll get divorced again, and you’ll wind up in this very hotel, maybe with Helen. C’est la vie.”
It’s not perfect, but as Sideshow Bob taught us all when elucidating the noble truths of the Buddha, suffering is desire. Hank’s desire for that perfect life will only make him miserable. For a pragmatist like Artie, the path to true happiness is understanding how life really is, and accepting it. Hank will return to that hotel room, either literally or metaphorically, so he shouldn’t fight it. Helen seems like a very caring lover!
The “divorce gun” gets its name in the scene that closes the episode, when Larry starts whining about the same things Hank did, so Artie brings out the gun. A big smile spreads across Larry’s face, “Gosh, this brings back memories!” Hank wasn’t the first one to get Artie’s tough love.
- A deleted scene extends that whole last scene in Larry’s office, first with Hank recounting how sick he was (“Every time I hit the john, I just had fire shooting right out of my ass. I hit every color in the jungle”), as if Larry doesn’t know exactly what Hank was up to. Then it carries on a bit longer after Larry lights Artie’s cigar, with Larry asking how Hank reacted when found out the gun is a lighter. “Eh, I’ll tell him after his next divorce.” “Put some bullets in after his next divorce.” “Oh yeah, armor-piercing so it can go through that double-thick, bony brain of his.”
- Jeff Cesario is perennially on the list of guests whenever Larry mentions who will be on the next night’s show. I hope it helped!
- Mary Gross was an SNL cast member during the show’s infamous run in the early ’80s. She’s one of those people viewers may not know or even recognize, but has worked steadily in show business for more than 30 years.
- “You know what I’m going through? You’ve been married to the same lady for 56 years.”
“I’m thinking of getting out”
- “We have a lot in common. I’m in show business, so I’m a little bit of a whore too.”
- “You gonna share that doobie, sweetheart?”
- Next week we wrap up season three with “Arthur’s Crises” and “End Of The Season.” Plan your finale parties accordingly.