Recapping From the Green Room

Dearest Lili, Phil, and Evan,

I left off last time on the topic of vehicles, and particularly that bus in “Looking for Liz/Lily Changes.” Since then, I’ve been waxing symbolic on all the possibilities in choosing bus over car, but I’ll spare you. Here’s just one thing I liked about that directorial decision:

  • When I wonder why Louie brings his daughters home on the bus (instead of the car we know he owns), I remember that broken car window from last week’s episode
  • Then I remember that the wrecked car was a rented one.

This kind of slant continuity—punctured narrative logic—seems, whether C.K. means it to be, representative of his show.

There has been greater continuity in Louie this season. Does this account for why some of us have reservations about it (to glance at the off-screen dialogue surrounding Dear Television)? Prior seasons were more episodic and disjointed, while this one carries single narratives not just across an entire episode, but two, and now apparently three. Could hesitations about this season be a product of its increased continuity and lengthier storylines? If so, these hesitations are also contingent on the continuous storyline’s resistance to commit all the way. As Lili mentioned, sometimes an episode’s ending just takes it a few vehicles too far.

Premises and characters reappear across this season, but they might as well be different people. Posey’s character has popped up in three separate episodes thus far, but in each she possesses an entirely different character. Yes, it’s important that Liz continues to haunt Louie, but it does seem that her role mostly serves to give him greater—not less—room to develop his own narcissistic and increasingly claustrophobic perspective. Is he really growing then? We can logic away Liz’s incongruous characteristics by diagnosing her as bi-polar, but as Lili queried: what about Louie? Sometimes a storyteller can only push so far until his audience grows suspicious, and then even weary, of him.

Jeanie, Chloë Sevigny’s character, tells Louie: “Make it meant to be.” What a thought! Since that is summarily what C.K. does with his show all the time. Riding a stolen motorbike followed by a stolen boat? Don’t mind if I do! I loved all of Sevigny’s lines, which could alternately read as Creative Writing How-Tos: 

  • “’It wasn’t meant to be’ is bullshit.”
  • “You have to go through something to get what you want.” 

Finally it does seem like she’s encouraging herself more than her interlocutor, especially since Louie (or is it Louis?) already knows all that.

I’m nit-picking. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy the show? At night, I lose sleep, worrying it’s my “Asian suffering.” It’s funny when entire ethnicities function as throwaways in a punch-line about white privilege. Funny-funny, actually. But beside the point.

On stage—dolling out joke after joke—Louie appears as his most reliably “continuous” character. There, his job literally is to remain funny, confident, and in control—all of which he very much is. To make the jokes “meant to be.” Walking backstage after his opening routine in “Late Show: Part 1,” Louie meets Ross Mark (a producer from The Tonight Show), who praises him for his controlled storytelling:

The order’s terrific, […] But the great thing is also that it timed in at four minutes and thirty seconds, which is the perfect—the perfect—amount of time. I mean with the audience reaction and everything else, for our studio, it’s the time we’re looking for.

As we find out throughout the episode, such seemingly undetected timing can go a long way. Back stage, Louie is confronted and controlled by make-up and wardrobe, schedulers and show-runners, like clockwork. On stage, he is a viral success. Thanks to Tom Cruise for ducking out at the eleventh hour. Let’s not forget, as well, C.K.’s own control of his environment, filled with personal touches, such as the imagined TV posters (The Big House) in the CBS office.

“Late Show: Part 1” gestures at how media manufactures what looks like luck and timing to bring us celebrities, successful shows, or even simply a successful stand-up routine. In his “behind the scenes” meeting with Louie, Gerry Marshall lays out the potential plots that could follow Louie’s acceptance of his offer to host late night. They don’t sound like predictions so much as promises, or threats. The music in this scene is particularly dramatic (one can’t help but notice!), as though emphasizing the codes of media manipulation it accompanies. These exaggerated dramatic effects work to bolster the scene’s artificiality. Simultaneously, they drive home Louie’s own unmanufacturedness. He didn’t bring a jacket to Leno! He’s a late riser! Totally blind-sided by his overnight success! Even in an episode with such a narrative through-line, one can feel jerked about.

Is it working for you guys? Can Louie have it both ways? Can it spotlight Louie as a naturally lucky natural, even while reminding us that Louis is working overtime, meticulous and editorial, behind it all?

That out-take of Ed Gelbin at the end isn’t just there for kicks; it’s not just some quirky leftover. These closing “marginal” shots are very much centred and placed—as much so as the close of “Hecker/Cop Movie,” which assures viewers C.K. is the good guy, and Louie the bad.

Testing, testing,

Jane

Daddies

Dear, dear TV,

I would apologize for being so very late on my response to Lili’s wonderful recaps (three episodes!), but it would mean repeating a narrative we’re all familiar with. Belated apologies, nonetheless: Louie’s and mine (but mostly mine).

Apologies are difficult. As Louie shows in “IKEA/Piano Lessons,” they’re often best repressed to the point of being forgotten. When Maron explains to Louie that they’ve already had this conversation five years ago, Louie comes off even more the jackass. Does he have to apologize for having forgotten to apologize now too? Does it matter since the sincerity behind all Louie’s apologizes has now plummeted to hover right above zero? If Louie’s initial apology to Maron comes from not realizing that they fell out over an issue entirely Louie’s fault, then how much are we urged to believe that all of Louie’s estrangements are founded on an ability to blame the other (so as to obliterate his own guilt)? It does begin to seem that all relationships—all scenarios—in Louie could go either way: “fuck you, or sorry.”

As Lili writes, “Everything that’s wrong is everyone’s fault, probably, but the point is something else.” The pointed finger also often falls somewhere else, until (as shown in the final scene of “IKEA/Piano Lessons”) it returns directed at one’s own chest. And again, and on, and on.

While many note the elements of surprise and off-model counterintuitiveness that energize Louie, the show often feels to me like a continuous circle—or at least a spiral. There is a kind of balance to the episodes—and I don’t just mean in how the frequently dash-split titles weigh one premise exactly against another. No matter what, we always return to Louie—and there is stability, predictability, and safety in that. As the show grows increasingly claustrophobic in its Louie-inflected dream sequences (“Dad”!), Lili suggested that Louie might be a tad insane. It’s true that the surrealness of some episodes might stretch our systems of realism and belief, but if we’re willing to buy into the fact that Louie’s world is, well, Louie’s, then any train of stolen vehicles also feels routine.

Much later, yes, let’s talk about Dad.

That title is great! It implies a dash without drawing a typographical one. There’s Louie as dad, opening the episode by castigating the virtuosic Jane for playing the violin. Then there’s Uncle Ex (a sort of surrogate dad to Louie), treating him to Cornish hens at an expensive restaurant Louie would otherwise probably not frequent. There’s, of course, the illusive literal dad (and figural Dad) of Louie’s, who we never see because son flaps like a young hen and chickens out just as dad’s shadow approaches the door.

Having two actual dads (Louie’s and then Louie himself) seems too much for one title, not to mention one scene. As Uncle Ex colourfully describes with a condom metaphor, the encounter at some point might just become too close: “Between the father and the son there can be no separation. No boundary. A father calls; A son answers. A father beckons; A son comes.” What happens, though, when the son becomes his own kind of father, as Louie so clearly is at the start of “Dad?

Moreover, what happens when you’re both dad and single dad, yet still someone’s son? The existential crisis was worked out beautifully right up until the hallucinated end (unlike Lili, I adored it—found it perfectly nonsensical in its flight from frantic sprint, to stolen motorcycle, and finally stolen boat; a fish out of Boston waters).  As single dad, Louie tells Jane to finish her homework (“Go to your room!”), and then picks up a pile of dirty laundry. This scene is followed by Louie arriving at an electronics store in a huff, interrupting a bro circle between four coworkers there, which leads me to my next point:

What are the resonances between infantilization and threatened masculinity? Problems of fatherhood (for father—and now for child) often mix with problems of masculinity in Louie. The show is fascinating in how it often swirls and blurs these two topics and positions. There can be no separation.

At the Russian Tea Room, Uncle Ex orders for Louie, who responds with an “Uh…O–K?” look on his face, a rather child-like response. Who was this grown man to be ordering for this other grown man? Except they are family, and such things are often difficult to change. “This is for Life Louie,” his uncle emphasizes, “for life.” In order to convince Louie to visit his father, he works on his nephew’s sentimental side, telling him how his father cries “like a woman.” Of course this line is said with mocking disparagement, for Uncle Ex likes to make clear the divide between genders. In illustrating Louie’s eternal bond to his father, he compares it against the condom-wall erected between men and women. Between the father and the son there can be no separation. In “Miami,” Ramon tells Louie: “When my uncle says all men are brothers, it’s true right?” An uncle can say that—but can a father?

But Uncle Ex isn’t Louie’s father, ultimately, and he won’t be there to clean up the vomit his words inspire. Louie throws up while playing poker with his all-but-one-male comedian cohort, though the one who responds with “Sweetie, are you okay?” is of course Sarah Silverman. (She cracks jokes during this boy’s club, making fun of another man’s childhood masturbatory habits, but she’s also the girl who’s just terrible at poker!) Like single dads and children, women and children can be conflated and then sorta equated.

Such are the jokes of sausage fests, but here–in the middle of one on porn–Louie vomits. And he just can’t seem to stop. A taste of his own medicine sends Louie to the doctor where he lists his recent diet: “Cornflakes, pizza, Cornish hen.” Sounds like he needs some taking care of. There’s also the question of moms, women, single fatherhood, masculinity, and children I’d like to explore especially in regard to “Lilly Changes.” Lili asks, “Why do all the moms at the school…only trust and confide in him?” Another question: “Why only moms at the school?”

Like an infant, Louie starts losing control of his body, and then gradually his mind. His car window suddenly bursts, but if we’re to follow Uncle Ex’s Freudian logic, there might be a broken mirror in there somewhere too.

“Be a man. You’re 44 years old. It’s your fault!” the car rental saleswoman shouts at him. Another woman’s voice comes across the car mapping device: “Why are you being such a little pussy about this? He’s your father. It’s not like he touched your dick or something.” Don’t be a pussy, Louie, and please don’t be a girl—but oh whatever you do, please leave another dude’s dick out of this. “Think about that you queer,” a muscular Boston man tells Louie after their cars bump one another. He’s had to do with a dead father, so why is Louie so nervous about visiting his own live one?

There are many vehicles in the world of Louie, and while some of them add to his masculinity (motorcyclesmotorcyclesmotorcycles), others take away (Laurie’s truck, or not wanting to strap his daughters’ seatbelts because that would mean getting his hands dirty). There’s a bus scene in the next episode that I want to linger on, since it feels off (Doesn’t Louie own a car? Did he really have it totaled then?), but I’ll leave that for the next post.

Again, SORRY,
Jane

“Dad”

Dear Phil, Jane, Evan,

I was out of the country for the last three episodes, and I’ve only just caught up with Louie. Three episodes at a gulp. It felt like a dram of intensely, specifically non-eerie surrealism. If there was ever a question as to whether Louie was moving toward the short story as a form, there isn’t one any longer. Parker Posey. Robin Williams. Sarah Silverman. Marc Maron. And now, F. Murray Abraham. The show is starting to feel like a comedian’s dreamscape—a way of living inside Louis CK’s subconscious. Comedy is becoming the claustrophobic ether in which the show swims—more so than New York, than fatherhood, than solitude, than sex.

In “IKEA / Piano Lesson,” comedians see each other’s younger avatars on TV and call each other in real time to watch the people they were and the result isn’t exactly (or only) friendship. It’s a weird meta-meditation on celebrity and career arcs and the strange fact that despite the intense ambient loneliness, they all belong to a “cohort”. It’s a small clutch of people, a tiny tight incestuous knot of folks who’ve made it, sort of, and who grok the journey they’ve all been on without being able to discuss it or just a grab a coffee. They give each other crabs and crap and call to say “fuck you, or sorry.”  Everything that’s wrong is everyone’s fault, probably, but the point is something else. It’s appearing together on the Retro Comedy Hour. Deeper than friendship, that is.

I loved that scene for its raw autobiographical frankness. Louis CK is never not generous when it comes to narrating his own experience: he’s talked openly about what it was like to watch the money come in from his Live at the Beacon Theater experiment. He’s described the high, and talked about what amount of money struck him as enough, and about how he knows this victory streak he’s on is going to end. This scene speaks to what it must be like to feel simultaneously like you’ve made it, but you’re also always already all washed up. You’ve left some important things behind. And even as you experience this epiphany, this life-changing revelation of loss and malfeasance, it turns out that you’ve already done it all. You’ve remembered that very loss, and your role in it, and apologized, but the pace of your own success has erased the entire human arc of anger and reconciliation from your memory, that’s how fucked up success has made you. And now you owe another apology that’s impossible to offer, just as Dolores “owes” you a blow job that it’s impossible to collect.

We’ve talked here about the ways in which Louie isn’t Louis CK, but I feel like one of the main pleasures Louie offers is indistinguishable from the pleasure of reading creative nonfiction. Yes, I find myself thinking, that’s exactly what it would be like.

So, let’s talk about Dad.

We start with two incidents, both equally uncanny. The first is the spectacle of tiny, headstrong, demanding, firecracker Jane playing a violin with real skill and unsuspected depths of feeling. The second is Louie’s first moment as a less-than-ideal dad, in which he shuts down this moving performance (from a character we’ve rarely seen so open, so engaged) with an anger that’s barely controlled. “This is bullshit,” he mutters after sending her to her room.

It’s bizarre. It’s as weird for us as viewers as it is for Louie when his car window spontaneously shatters in front of his father’s house. Louie as an angry, hurtful dad? We’re unmoored, we’re in the uncanny valley. There’s no standup afterwards to lighten the mood or explain (via a joke about how parents sometimes just lose it and treat their kids like crap and how that’s when you realize what a shithead you are and always have been and take steps: apologize, or buy your kid a pony, or sit in your room and picture dying alone, wondering what in the world to do to make any of it better) what that scene was all about. Like Louie’s dad-rash, this is an episode in which nothing gets narrated or processed. It’s Never in the tub: a huge flood of diarrhea while the person inside says, “Talk about what?”

So it’s an episode about bad fatherhood. It’s also an episode in which Louie is actually—but actually—going slightly insane. It’s as if, in addition to the crabs he caught from Maria Bamford, he also caught a case of the crazies from Parker Posey.

What did you guys make of the uncanny elements? Are they all registers of Louie’s loosening grip on reality when faced with the prospect of seeing his father? There’s the guy on the security tape who wasn’t Louie but who the manager and security guard insisted was, and they were right. That’s the first case of something odd happening in Louie’s own perception (which we share), and it’s no coincidence that it happens after he gets off the phone with Uncle Excalibur (!!!). I enjoyed the escalating sequence of surrealism. The airplane pilot’s voice was standard Louie fare. The fight with the GPS system was another half-step up, but it was acceptable. Louie often generates Jiminy Crickets on the show; externalized figures that voice his conscience. But the car window shattering spontaneously was a full octave higher. I loved that moment, but it felt like it committed us to a reading of Louie where he’s no longer in control of his daydreams. He’s actually starting hallucinate.

I hated the runaway scene. I don’t know what do with the amount of weirdness in the last three episodes. What I’m wondering is whether Louie’s insanity within this episode is specific to “Dad,” or whether it’s the climax of a larger arc that we might be missing. Why do all the moms at the school—who all seem to be deeply damaged—only trust and confide in him? Why do all women ask him to do completely bizarre things? Is this just his experience of the moms in Pamela’s absence? Is he perceiving them as weirder than they are because they’re so profoundly not-Pamela?

The real question, I guess, is how is it possible that everything that happens to Louie is deeply, deeply odd? At some point we have to wonder whether it’s the world or him, whether he might be a lunatic protagonist whose lunacy we’ve been missing.

That’s an unlikely reading, and I know it, but it’s one of the few I can think of that totally absolves Louie from the “and then he woke up” cliche of bad workshop fiction. There’s a fine line to walk when charting a dreamlike subjectivity that isn’t actually a dream, and up until that last sequence in “Dad”, I think Louis CK was pulling it off. But that end—the run, the motorcycle theft, stealing a boat, leaving the rental car—it all struck me as a bridge too far. It seemed too dreamlike, too broad.

Another corollary of the “Louie’s losing it” reading is that the show actually has some narrative continuity in spite of us all. It’s showing us a man’s gradual breakdown, and that’s interesting. Again: I’m not persuaded that this reading is 100% right, but I’m curious to hear what you all made of the last few episodes.

On the subject of continuity, we’ve talked a fair amount here at Dear Television about how Louie’s fatherhood is never in question, and it’s worth noting in that connection that the daughters are split in the last few episodes. (This is Jane’s episode alone with Dad, just as Lily’s was “Barney/Never.”) Recall that in the previous episode, both girls rejected piano lessons. I mention this not to point out a failure in continuity but rather to highlight a targeted discontinuity: highlighting her musicianship seems to me to specifically contradict (but in a dream-like way, swapping violin for piano) the world his daughters inhabited in the previous episode. The ungrateful child who didn’t take advantage of the opportunity afforded her becomes, in this episode, the child who does nothing but.

I don’t know what to make of that, but it’s definitely the case that we’re losing the show’s anchors: the opening sequence vanishes in “Barney/Never,” Jane and Lily are showing up apart instead of together, the explanatory standup has fallen by the wayside, and Louie’s sitting alone on a stolen boat. What’s going on?

Cover up so as not to catch my wretchedness,

Lili

Electric Ladyland: On Parker Posey

Dear Jane, Lili, and Evan,

First of all, I’d like to say that—with the exception of Jane’s outrageous suggestion that Parker Posey is somehow not hot—I’ve been thrilled, diverted, and delighted by everything that’s gone on on our blog here since I’ve been on temporary hiatus.  That said, I’ve had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to jump back into the fray.  My initial idea was that I might write a kind of early-middle review of Louie’s new season, taking note of the things I’ve noticed hurriedly watching, without writing about, the season so far.  Issues that would have come up in this post might have included: C.K.’s desire, to which he testified on The Daily Show, to “draw attention to” issues like sexual violence paired with what I see as C.K.’s own wonky thinking on such issues; the increasing incidence (particularly in the Miami episode) of C.K.’s stand-up being not-quite-as-good-as the show of which it is a part; the undercutting, in the final stand-up clip of the Miami episode, of the complex, inarticulate portrayal of male friendship by suggesting that the episode could be boiled down to gay panic; how awesome Louie’s kids are on the show, and how much weight they carry even when they are absent from an episode.  I fully intended to write all of this stuff. And then Parker Posey came on the show.

It’s a cliché to call a performance electrifying.  It’s also a cliché to call a performance devastating or earth-shattering.  What all of those clichés have in common, though, and what they have been invented to describe is a kind of performance that fundamentally alters the character of the work in which it appears.  The screen is different when this actor is in view, its basic assumptions and conventions are put into question.  The scope and composition of the work must expand, alter, accommodate in order to feature this performance. Plenty of folks have filled plenty of internet space extolling the many many many virtues of Parker Posey’s electrifying/devastating/earth-shattering performance from these past two episodes. On Vulture this week, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote one of the best short critical appreciations I’ve ever seen about anything, Sady Doyle has a great topical analysis of the second part in relation to the “manic pixie dream girl” phenomenon and the film Ruby Sparks, and Annie Clark (St. Vincent), voicing, as usual, the voice of the people, tweeted that Parker Posey should be awarded an Olympic medal for her two episode-arc. What all of these responses point to is the idea that, not only is Posey’s character Liz something new to the Louieverse, but that Liz is something almost unable to be contained by the brilliantly-drawn but familiar circles of compromised intimacy, humiliation, and self-loathing in which Louie exists.

Fittingly, then, Posey’s appearance is also the occasion for Louie’s first real experiment in serial form: the two-part episode.  Louie must adapt formally to the presence of this performance.  Louie, as we all know, is allergic to seriality.  One of the many virtues of this program is its staunch formal adherence to the self-contained episode along with its unconventional and often idiosyncratic management of traditional sitcom beats.  As is often noted, Louie is more a series of short films or vignettes featuring the same protagonist than it is a narrative program.  This constraint forces C.K., like a conceptual poet, to be constantly mindful of the conventions and constructions of the “sitcom” that might otherwise provide a creative crutch.  Viewers cannot be compelled simply by a desire to learn the outcome of a plotline a la Ross-and-Rachel.  This, paired with C.K.’s penchant for one-off guest stars and this season’s disregard for even the demands of continuity, frees Louie of the need to service characters or story-arcs. Even the elements of the series that seem to most approximate a serial narrative—Louie’s unrequited love for Pamela Adlon or even the gradual, almost imperceptible evolution of his stand-up career—feel more like looming presences than weekly dramas.  Louie’s yearning for Pamela only seemed like a plotline because that yearning had an object.  But, functionally, it would be equivalent to saying that Louie’s fear of death or sexual mortification is a story the series is telling.  Louie trafficks in meditations, not stories. This is not to say that Louie has transcended the need for serial narrative or that C.K. is some kind of visionary.  The form is unfamiliar to TV, and C.K. is extraordinarily good at his work, but he did not invent these forms.  Instead, it’s just to say that, by not really caring that much about story, C.K. is free to create a much more ambivalent, messy, and freely-associative show.

In this light, I think it’s more accurate to think of “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Parts I and II)” as a double album than an honest-to-goodness serialized narrative.  If every episode of Louie is about examining a concept rather than telling a part of a story, then this particular conceptual unit needed more than 30 minutes just as Blonde on Blonde or Bitches’ Brew required more than the length of an LP to do what they set out to do.  Usually, on Louie, the goldfish grows relative to the size of the bowl. In this situation, with this particular goldfish, Louis C.K. just needed to get a bigger bowl.

And I think there are two things that made this goldfish bigger than usual: the concept of reciprocal honesty and the actual collaboration between C.K. and Posey.  Louie, not unlike Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, often gets into scrapes because he insists on being honest about his feelings, even if he’s not terribly careful or self-aware about them.  This was certainly true of the Dane Cook episode.  More often, though, Louie gets into scrapes because he is rendered inarticulate, shocked silent, by the honesty of others.  This was most notable in this season’s early sequence in which Louie is dumped at the diner.  Spurring from a misunderstanding, Louie is literally unable to respond once the soon-to-be ex-girlfriend starts spontaneously truth-telling about their relationship.  This kind of bumbling passivity is one of the things C.K. is best at portraying, but, over three seasons, it’s become almost reflexive, a little too easy to explode a situation by having somebody with the ammunition to do so tell Louie off.  Louie is often humiliated, he’s often brought low, he’s often made to feel cheap.

So a lot of people—especially women­—are brought onto this show to call Louie on his shit.  But rarely has this been done so lovingly, so magnetically as it was done by Posey’s Liz.  To some extent, I think we can look to last season’s Joan Rivers episode as a kind of early version of this interaction. Rivers was rough with Louie, but she treated him with an almost loving concern, a seriousness, that was so foreign to Louie he responded physically.  I think the same is true here.  Liz takes Louie seriously.  She, like we do, understands him as a redeemable person, and she seeks to teach him, to request from him, an honesty that he is ordinarily unable to muster. She demands, in other words, that he participate in a relationship rather than silently watching it self-destruct.

And while Louie remains silent for much of the second part of “Daddy’s Girlfriend” and most of the lines he utters are lines of complaint, frustration, or even genuine anger, they are true, and they are expressed in a way that is uncommon.  Almost every critical appreciation of this series notes that one of its great aspects is that, through the ugliness and awkwardness of its vignettes, Louie showcases the beauty and goodness and possibility of human existence.  Louie is an anti-social mess, but when we as the viewers can detect what’s good in him, we can see what’s good about the world.  It’s the duckling in the pocket or the crippling unwillingness to presume anything about his relationship with Pamela.  Isn’t there something lovable even here?

What’s exceptional about “Daddy’s Girlfriend,” I think, and what makes Louie offer that smile at the end of the episode, is that Liz makes Louie see himself the way we see him.  She calls him on his shit, but she stays.  She recaps his adventures—You’ve tried on a dress! You’ve saved a man’s life!—the way a viewer would. She provokes and then shows him his own courage.  The moment passes at the end—in part because Liz has reached a limit point with her own honesty—but it happens. And, though it seems that she won’t be back this season, this date seems more like a beginning than a typical catastrophic denouement.  If the ordinary thesis of Louie is that Louie can’t have nice things, C.K. has taken the space here to show what it takes to earn, to reciprocate, and to acknowledge something truly, if complicatedly, good.

Which brings us to my second point. That is, the episode has taken the form it’s taken, in part, because it had to expand to fit the size of Posey’s performance. But it’s not just her.  I agree that she should win every Emmy for her turn here, but what I think is really on display in the episode is the collaboration between Posey and C.K. Seitz points out that this is Posey’s best work, but I think it also might be Louis C.K.’s.  Posey’s episode-length monologue is so engaging because of the way she turns her eyes on and off, the way she lunges through space like an Olympic fencer, even the way her voice modulates when she lies, but it’s also so engaging because it’s written so well.  Louis C.K. is one of the best writers working in television, but the occasion of Liz has forced him to do things we’ve never seen. We’ve heard hilarious takedowns and witnessed great comic set-pieces, but we haven’t heard wit this sharp and fast and easy. “All of a sudden, my body’s accepting nutrients and within a month, I’m a healthy 15-year-old girl with a cool punky haircut.”  I’m not saying we haven’t seen Louis C.K. write with wit and fluency, but we haven’t heard this voice before.

In other words, I think the insane quality and explosiveness of Posey’s performance and the almost unbelievably good writing C.K. has done are the occasion for the length of this episode.  The relationship is so strong because the creative process that is visible in this episode is so strong in its own right.  This is, in some sense, an episode about collaboration by an artist justly famous for his auteurism—though the editing that makes this episode’s sparkling rhythms so infectious is the product of C.K.’s newfound collaboration with Susan Morse.  It’s about the joys and terrors of following someone else’s lead, and it’s also about the limits of that kind of collaboration. Louie does not step to the edge, ultimately.  But he almost doesn’t need to.  Louie already has.
Love,

Phil.

After Sex, After Yes (Season 3, Episode 4)

Dear Lili, Evan, and Phil,

Let’s start at the very beginning with the title: “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” This is, speaking of formal surprises, Louie’s first two-part episode yet. CK has seemingly taken so many swerves with his show that now seriality—perhaps the defining convention of televisual narrative—now feels erratic, even devious. As other writers have suggested, good things cannot be waiting for Louie in Part 2. This is perhaps a prejudice, but, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself–

“Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” The title speaks with the subject as and from the perspective of the daughters, but the entire episode is still, as usual, seen from the eyes of Louie (this might be the most consistent aspect of the show). Though Louie’s status as a dad (and a single one at that) is firmly tied up with his self-identity throughout the series, this does not preclude his myopia and, oftentimes, selfishness as a single man.

Early on in the episode, stand-up Louie riffs on the term “prejudice,” which his daughters have asked him to define. Dad stumbles. Prejudice as a general phenomenon is, as Louie explains, exactly what the word says: “You judge before. Pre-ju-dice.” (After reading Litvak’s The Un-Americans this week, the homonymic pun between Louie’s emphatic pre-ju-dice and pre-jew-dice seems almost too convenient. But don’t judge me on that.) Prejudices, as markers of individual personalities, however, are more difficult to define—touchy in their simultaneous predictability and ability to shock. Louie, so articulate on stage, mocks his then-mumbled attempt to explain prejudice.

He goes on to assert with confidence that he “just knows” Scarlett Johansson would be terrific in bed, though his riff ends with this acknowledgment: “I still jerk off to that wedding album I found in the garbage.” Is it easier to be committed to your prejudices, or prejudiced toward commitments?

Rewind. Back to the title. “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1” implies a commitment to narrative continuity. Girlfriends, too, imply a status of romantic commitment. (You don’t have to marry them, though you might.) Over diner food, Lilly tells Louie about “mom’s friend, Patrick” who is “pretty funny.” What underlies this comment is that Louie used to be mom’s “friend”; Louie is pretty funny. The daughters go on to ask Louie when is he going to get a girlfriend. The look of dismay on dad’s face is palpable. This episode is as much about “Daddy’s Girlfriend” as it is about “Daddy’s Girls.” Throughout the episode, you wonder if Louie goes to seek a girlfriend because of his daughters, or for himself.

We’ve seen Louie—as single dad—navigate the corridors of hook-up culture aplenty. Many episodes centre around him having sex with women who then never appear again in the show itself, though they likely do in Louie’s life, however sporadically. (The final joke of episode 2 this season was Louie agreeing to see Laurie again—and I little wonder that he does, from time to time.) Even this episode shows Louie trying to stretch a booty-call situation into girlfriend material. His “hanging out” with Maria Bamford means meeting on the corner of a sidewalk, going to her apartment, and promptly having sex. After sex, Bamford and Louie lie on the bed watching reality television, which already points to the lack of connection between the two (the physical connection is apparently just as shoddy). Determined, though, Louie (likely inspired by the idea that Bamford could be, for his daughters, the female counterpart to ex-wife’s funny friend Patrick) asks Bamford to come over and have dinner with his daughters. She immediately senses where this is going, and with a scrunched-up face, stresses that booty calls should not come with “added features.” As her metaphor “now I’m all dicked up in the head” suggests, certain dick encounters start down there (“I’ll blow you so you’ll get hard again”) and certainly should stay there.

Against all prior hook-ups where Louie essentially drops his role as decent male (aka decent dad), this one with Bamford offers a difference: he’s trying to link his sex life up with his family one. A favourite episode of mine, “Bully” from Season 1, shows Louie on a date rather than a booty-call; with a potential girlfriend, we see Louie then take into consideration his daughters and prioritizing—even articulating—his responsibilities as a dad.

“Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1.” There is something almost gruesome in the title–a joke on modern relationships in liberal culture generally. Dads don’t live with moms. Moms have friends. Dads have girlfriends. Marriage albums end up in the trash. Dad masturbates to them. Dropping Lilly off at school, Louie entertains fantasies of taking a teacher (how convenient!) as girlfriend for him and his daughters.

As he cruises classrooms from the hallway, a soundtrack (somewhere between doo-wop and bossa nova) kicks in as the camera pans slowly over the long skirts, tights, and pony tails of smiling schoolteachers. The combination of slow motion and bubbling ballad emphasizes their conservative dress as to almost attenuate, and so summarily extinguish, the allure behind sexy schoolteacher tropes. Indeed, if Louie is seeking a girlfriend, then he’s looking for a relationship that goes beyond one hallucinatory bout of soft-focus sex on a school-desk. The soundtrack primes us for a sexual encounter, but it’s not the kind that expands into girlfriendship. While one teacher shuts a door in Louie’s face (which also abruptly shuts down the music), another quickly loses girlfriend potential when Louie spots the engagement ring on her finger. Marriage isn’t sexy. Someone else’s romantic beginning marks sexual foreclosure for Louie. Only the dregs of broken vows offer erotic promise.

Louie’s male gaze (helped by camera and soundtrack) is pronounced exactly so the audience can get some distance on these scenes of obvious objectification. This form of prejudice can be dangerous. The third and final teacher Louie cruises is gesticulating at the children. Her arms make wide movements. She seems nice. She seems funny. But as the camera emphasizes, funny women come with stereotyped costs: this teacher is heaver than the others. Following this, Louie images a scenario where she’ll want sex from behind. *Cue: stop music.* Her body speaks a kind of logic about how she wants her body to be handled. That, indeed, is some shitty prejudice. And the fact that we as viewers understand it (even if in a mocked form) is shitty in itself.

This is, as Evan as previously stated, how the structure of Louie works. CK sets us up for a kind of narrative logic that then gets turned. And what makes the show so funny and surprising is how viewers recognize that they were primed for narrative to turn another way. If Louie’s endings (or in this case, his Part Twos) intercept our first impressions, how do we make of our ability to move on—or to move with—where these conclusions take us?

At a bookstore, a version of sexy schoolteacher is presented through a bookstore clerk (played by Parker Posey). The same ballad starts when Louie spots her, except this time the camera doesn’t focus on Posey–it focuses on Louie. He inches toward her, his awkward body taking the initiative to come beside hers, rather than using filmic close-ups to get hers right before his eyes. The song is interrupted once by her male colleague—“Can I help you?”—but it starts again, as though this narrative could have a redo, or doesn’t necessarily need to go without a stutter.

Posey isn’t hot, she’s “h-horribly cute,” as Louie tells her later. She wears glasses, which she takes on and off during Louie’s various interactions with her. He doesn’t ask her out on a date during their first encounter. Instead, he repeatedly returns to the bookstore, and they, in a sense, get to know one another. She, additionally, gets to learn more about Louie’s daughters. Posey loves the children’s section. Maybe these added features are actually that–features. Her initial recommendation of a funny book doesn’t work for Jane, but she does seem to understand the power of novels to take budding female anxieties out for “a safe kind of spin.”

Like the reality show that appears as something of a meta-text throughout this episode, the novel is a site of safe projection. As the credits roll, the reality show returns as a kind of mediation and meditation between Part 1 and Part 2 (the final lines holds its speaker in suspense: “I just want to go home”). Like real reality shows—and like Louie—this made-up one follows the rhythm of alternating between people who speak to the television, commenting on their actions/character (engaging the audience much like stand-up Louie does), and then the actual scenarios where character gets played out.

That the reality show mirrors the form of Louie begins to beg the question: what is the genre of Louie? Does it have a start or a finish? Does it have endless starts? Are there parts that add up to a whole? Or is everything just a part? Is Louie autobiographical in the way that all reality television is based on an ability to “cheat” the real? Or is it as transparently artificial and predictable as this fake reality television show emphasizes? Are we to judge it—even pre-judge it—by a supposed genre? Or do we wait for it to surprise us?

Louie is wrong about expecting a “no” from Posey when he asks her out. Even if he harbours an obscene amount of visual prejudice against women, Louie uses his charming brand of vulnerable stuttering to talk Posey into a date by preemtively talking her out of her prejudice. Posey, though, counters his prejudice against her; she doesn’t “choose guys based on looks” and agrees (“of course!”) on a date. This disequilibrium between them is what suggests to me that Part 2 might be the last segment for these two.

Fist pump,
Jane

Episode 3 of Louie: Bellies and Balloons

Dear Evan, Phil, and Jane,

Louie’s Miami is a sort of virtual reality desert that perpetually “unmans” him. A man’s voice (gay—Louis CK likes to make a point of not-flagging-but-flagging gay flight attendants) announces they’ll be landing soon. In Miami, the very first people we see aren’t so much people as they are two bellies, women’s, invisible under fashionably ruched fabric. At check-in, a shirtless lanky man’s belly dominates the scene, and the camera lingers on it and refuses to follow Louie to the check-in counter. The next day, as he applies sunscreen (always a depressing reminder of one’s mortality), he gets knocked down by a mixed group of young bellies. “Sorry, man, I didn’t see you there,” they say. There’s no malice; he’s just not visible to them. They almost literally walk through him. Somewhat recovered, about to take off his shirt, the camera zooms in on the concave stomachs of the women around him. Louie pulls his shirt down and goes back to his hotel room, where he orders and eats a series of sandwiches and falls disgustingly asleep.

There’s no joy, no surprise, no adrenaline, just a never-ending dirge-like meditation on his grotesque existence. But what’s interesting about it is that it’s basically silent: it’s the visual representation of his usual stand-up, and the stand-up has gone missing. This episode has Louie at his most blindingly inarticulate—perhaps even more so than in Episode 1, where he forces April to break up with herself. That’s not quite right: it’s not the Louie himself is more inarticulate, it’s that the audience’s experience of the show is non-narrated. Usually we have Louis CK, stand-up comic, to tell us a little about what Louie is doing. In Episode 1 we had April to interpret Louie for us. But in Episode 3 we’re as close to Louie as we’re ever likely to get: we’re seeing the experiences he always jokes about from the inside.

Except for one, of course, and it’s a big one: we don’t see Louie jacking off. Louis CK has dedicated an entire episode to Louie’s defense of masturbation. This is not coincidence.

So what happens to Louie in this oasis of disciplined bellies? Well, for one thing, the gorgeous people are effectively making it impossible for him to be there. He spoils the thing by being part of it—you see that in his face. He’s the thing his stand-up is always in some sense about being: an apparently white dude who isn’t especially attractive. So he starts looking for alternative Things To Be.

At first he tries out the routine of an old man, and gets up early to swim before the Speedorati descend en masse. Other old men wave. It’s a whole outsider’s world he’s discovering—a pool of other lonely men with saggy bellies.

In being unsexed, he’s also being feminized, of course—he’s paralyzingly body-conscious despite his social invisibility. Even his things are invisible—the chair guy stacks the other chairs on top of his other things without so much as a pause.

Then someone sees him and pulls him out the water. “Don’t be embarrassed, man, anyone can lose control in the water,” Ramón says, kindly.

“I wasn’t drowning, but thanks for saving me,” says Louie when they’re saying their first goodbyes. The show loves that line because Ramón is obviously Louie’s prince charming. He’s young. His belly is enviable. He belongs in the beach universe, but he prefers Louie’s company to the bellies. He pulls Louie out of the water against his will, rescues him from the Island of Old Geezers and turns him into the little kid he was when he last spoke Spanish. They chase chickens (the camera, incidentally, beheads them in this scene more often than not—they’re two bellies chasing chickens). They eat. Then the camera cuts to a bunch of American-themed murals in Spanish. Murals of George Washington, “Padre de la Independencia” and a Mt. Rushmore mural with “God bless and protect America” are interlaced with murals of Pedro Knight and Libertad Lamarque. The question of which is and isn’t the “real” America is everywhere in this episode, and it’s typical of Louie that Louie’s contact with Ramón’s world is based on a series of misunderstandings: he wasn’t drowning and he isn’t gay, but to insist too hard upon either of those things might close the wormhole to this happy dimension.

There are two noteworthy moments: one is Ramón’s insistence that laughter is a gift. He thanks Louie for making him laugh even as Louie tries not to thank him for being saved (and objects to the girl taking the strawberry he didn’t give). I don’t know what to do with that moment. Maybe it’s underscoring that Louie is becoming more ungenerous as a function of his isolation, in which case his inability to clarify to Ramón that he isn’t gay is both a symptom of his inarticulacy and a marker of his growth. It’s an act of generosity to go ahead and let Ramón read him the wrong way.

The second noteworthy moment is when Ramón introduces him to his uncle who beckons Louie closer and says, “Louie, un amigo es un hermano, y un hermano es uno mismo.” A friend is a brother, and a brother is oneself. This obviously speaks to Louie’s self-loathing: he can only make a friend when he stops despising himself long enough to do something else, but it’s probably doing something else too, which I hope isn’t the Latin equivalent of the Magical Negro.

I don’t know what to make of the bellies, guys, but they’re everywhere—bellies are both appetitive and disciplined; they seem to contain the principles of deprivation and satisfaction both. Take the girl who takes Louie’s strawberry. Her concave belly nevertheless takes from Louie’s overstuffed one, and he’s pissed. He forces the belly to recognize its moral bankruptcy.

This doesn’t satisfy, though. Louie isn’t full yet. He’s as bitter and bloated as he is existentially hungry. It’s when Ramón comes up and slaps him on the back, making Louie spill coffee, that a different model comes into focus. For what it’s worth, Ramón’s habits of ingestion are accordingly specific and spare: “I’ll have a Sprite,” he says when Louie offers to buy him a drink to thank him for saving his life. Louie, in the meantime asks for some “brown liquid in a glass.” Ramón doesn’t ask for an intoxicant, whereas Louie wants a glass of brown oblivion.

Maybe Ramón is just giving Louie a way to see himself as contributing something good to the word. “Are you funny?” he asks. “Then I did a good thing by saving you.” And the self-loathing goes down a notch, and Louie spends a night being silly, and hates balloons a little less.

The last scene is worth recapping:

“First of all, I have zero anything, okay?”

“I guess what, the thing is that, I feel like…”

“See? I’m gonna stop you right there.”

“When my uncle says all men are brothers, it’s true right?”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever—I’m not trying anything that—and I don’t mean that—I mean, you know.”

There’s no standup until the very end of this episode. Before that there’s a clip that starts with Louie saying “I hate balloons.” It gets cut off, because it’s as much a part of Louie’s sterile life cycle as anything else. Louie hates balloons. He’s the jaded comedian who knows all the jokes, the guy whose funny muscles are exhausted, the guy you can’t get to  laugh. The standup only shows up at the end, with a speech about heterosexual men being anxious. “You can’t really throw wonderful around so much,” he says, of an encounter that clearly was, at every level, wonderful.

Is this episode actually about letting go of some parts of Louie’s heteronormative “American white guy” masculinity and letting the parts that don’t fit into his comedy breathe? Is this the real Miami? Or is Ramon’s Miami just a Never Never Land, a day Louie got to spend as an overgrown kid in an inclusive America that doesn’t revolve around eating too much and jacking off? Is it about finding that your roots are so painfully particular that you can’t feel like you fit in even when people call you “my brother” and claim you? Maybe it’s about understanding that friends are brothers and brothers are us, but that’s not as comfortable or comforting a slippage as it seems.

Muchos pantalones, man,

Lili

RapeJoke and The Politeness Police: Louie, Tosh, and Episode 2

Dear Jane, Phil, and Evan,

I’m a bit behindhand as I’m writing this from Chile, but tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

*

Girl: “You’re making jokes about rape, and that’s offensive.”

Boy: “You don’t like rape? You don’t? That’s really weird, cuz you wouldn’t exist if your mom hadn’t been raped by that homeless Chinese guy. No, listen, I’m sorry. It’s hard to really come back from that, but I’m sorry. Can you do me a favor?”

Girl: “What?”

Boy: “Can you please die of AIDS? Does anybody here have AIDS? Can they put their dick in her face and get her started on that?”

*

I thought about making this one of those “who said it?” Facebook infographics where you prove that Rush Limbaugh and Mira Sorvino or whoever say the same stuff. It’s pointless, of course. We all know it’s from Louie’s first season, the “Heckler/Cop Movie” episode, and we all know that it almost perfectly mirrors the woman’s account of her encounter with Daniel Tosh wherein he wondered how funny it would be if five guys gang-banged her right there (here is a good meditation on how funny). The internet has its laws, and I hereby dub this the Tosh Theorem: if there’s an article about Daniel Tosh and the girl who spoke up at his show, then there’s a commenter saying that Louis CK already did an episode on this. And the two instances—the real-life one and the fictional one—will blend, and the comments will curve asymptotically toward a single self-evident truth:

Was she a heckler? Is saying you don’t think rape jokes are funny heckling? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t (here’s a worthwhile defense of the latter), but we don’t ask those questions. Instead, we use the word heckler to simplify a complicated moment wherein two different scales of right and wrong come into conflict.

If we had any doubts about Louie’s influence on comedy culture, we need look no further than the extent to which that “Heckler/Cop Movie” episode has crystallized comedy-goers’ sense of how people are supposed to behave at a show. It’s what everyone quotes. That episode shortcircuits to this: if you’re a bad audience member, you’re a bad person.

“You have a good life and it’s just the way you want it to be,” Louie says in his Reasonable Guy voice. “These guys don’t have a life. This is all they have. Their lives are shit. They don’t have families, they don’t have friends, all they have is this. They have these fifteen minutes … and you took it away from them.”

Comedians are a special case. That’s the argument. It’s slipped in there so quickly you barely notice it as the guilt goes swishing by. Not that the special pleading should surprise us. Remember Joan Rivers’ line to Louie? “What we do, my darling, is a calling.” Louis CK believes that, and he believes that comedians in their capacity as comedians are exempt from our scorn and our bad behavior—or should be. He doesn’t feel this way about other jobs; Louie, remember, has no trouble hassling people doing other kinds of menial work. Like rental car agencies. “I always switch my car,” he says. “I ask for another car, and they ask me, ‘why?’ And I’m like, because I’m an asshole. That’s why. Just—this is your job.”

The girl offers a version of precisely this argument. “People are going to talk,” the girl says, “and it’s your job to deal with it, or learn to handle it at least. Why are you being such a baby?”

“Most people are polite,” Louie says, “and would rather cut off their hand than hurt a show by talking. A good person wouldn’t do that, so you must be a bad person.”

Linger, if you will, on the ambiguity of that phrase, “hurt a show.” At first I thought it referred to the audience’s right to a show they paid for. But that’s not it—Louie’s defense has less to do with the audience and their rights than with the comedian whose performance it is. It’s the comedian’s show that’s being hurt.

Louie doesn’t really think he’s an asshole for demanding a different car, or for dropping a rental car off in front of the airport without returning it and making someone else go get it. Not really. These things might make him a bad customer, but they don’t make him Fundamentally Impolite, i.e., a Bad Person. Politeness is beside the point in an ordinary transaction like renting a car. Who cares about whether a rental agency customer service representative has family and friends? Not us! But comedians and their audiences transcend the transactional, Louie implies. Therefore, being a bad audience member is morally wrong.

That’s the crux of the Louie Defense that got lobbed at Anonymous Woman by the #toshdefenders: being a bad audience member makes you a bad person.

It’s worth reviewing that logic, because it’s otherwise hard to understand the phenomenon that followed l’affaire Tosh, in which hordes of shock jocks suddenly transformed into scorched-earth Emily Posts. These people were adamant about manners, and their thought process was clear: a violation of etiquette absolutely and uncomplicatedly warrants a thought experiment in which someone is gang-raped in front of the audience by five men. (Or, in the manager’s account of things, a thought experiment in which the comedian wonders aloud whether the woman objecting to a rape joke is upset because of her own history of sexual abuse. He seems, oddly, to think that this version of things is better.)

It is wildly weird to see a crowd that revels in stories about jerking off and sisters getting raped morph into prim neo-Victorians when someone interrupted Tosh’s show. Ever the notetaker, I summarized some iterations of the phenomenon as best I could:

A slight variation on the theme held that she was preachy, shrill, and an instance of the damage feminism has done to society. The following argument was made without a shred of irony:

Being sanctimonious about someone else’s sanctimony is the new shock humor. Politeness is in the air, y’all.

Jane got us all thinking about comfort and courtesy last week, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about comfort and courtesy since.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” Louie says to Laurie in Episode 2. “You wouldn’t want me to do something I’m not comfortable with, would you?” “Fuck that,” Laurie says.

Everyone should read Jane’s history of what it means to be “comfortable,” but at the heart of its usage in Episode 2, and Laurie’s rejection of it as relevant, are two competing paradigms of politeness. Laurie says it’s impolite not to give sexual satisfaction if you’ve willingly accepted it. Louie says it’s impolite to demand a sexual experience that the other person does not wish to deliver. The first case is built around a gift whose social function goes unrecognized and is not reciprocated. The second is built around an understanding of a gift as a donation detached from a social context and which requires no reciprocation. But both parties agree on one thing: the terrain on which their arguments will live or die is the field of Good Manners. Which—this is the fight they’re having—is the more discourteous action?

Evan observed that the end of Episode 2 was a sort of extended nod to The Aristocrats. He is immensely, profoundly, oh-so-right. I didn’t know about The Aristocrats, I’m embarrassed to say, so  when Evan mentioned it/them I watched Bob Saget’s epic take and most of the 2005 documentary where all the greats doing their best versions of the all-time best comedian joke. I ended up … puzzled. It’s admittedly not the sort of joke one is supposed to hear forty times in a row, but even taking that into account, the joke just wasn’t very funny.

When I say the joke isn’t funny, I’m really talking about the punchline. The way the joke is supposed to work is by upsetting your expectations of what aristocrats do and are. It works beautifully if you’re a nineteenth-century person who subliminally associates the aristocracy with courtesy and correctness and purity. No twenty-first-century person has any such associations—the word “aristocrat” is a quaint anachronism. We have the Kardashians and before that we had Paris Hilton. We don’t resent the rich the way we used to, and they don’t try to model morality for us. They’ve become The Aristocrats. That’s just how it is, and so the joke just doesn’t really speak to us anymore. It doesn’t enliven our sense of society or the language; it doesn’t act on our deeply-held expectations. It’s the kind of joke an uncle tells but with some shit, incest and vomit thrown in. It feels old.

But there’s another way the two poles The Aristocrats juxtaposes have collapsed. It’s not just that the “aristocracy” has gone and got itself some diarrheic morals, which it has. It’s also that the comedians have started codifying morals of their own. We used to have the filthy decadence on one side and the patrician masters of etiquette on the other, so it was funny when they became connected. Now, though, there’s a sector of the population that is simultaneously the raunchiest, loudest, filthiest and the group most stringently obsessed with enforcing social proprieties. That sector is the comedy crowd. That may be inevitable, but the point is that #toshdefenders aren’t thinkable in a universe where The Aristocrats is funny.

I want to get back to Evan’s important point, though, about how Louie is using The Aristocrats. The Aristocrats is shock-based; but it’s a slow-cooking shock.  It’s takes the funnybone burnout that plagues comedians and rubbing it viciously until it becomes erect. In this sense, it’s intensely coercive. But it’s also an insider’s game, a game of comedic one-upmanship. It’s a contest at its core. And it’s a blank check to indulge in what seems to have become the Holy Grail for comedians: the rape joke. And that Holy Grail is what everyone is circling the wagons to correct. If the rape joke is the Holy Grail, the funny rape joke is the Philosopher’s Stone.

Louis CK’s support of Daniel Tosh might sadden but it shouldn’t surprise us. Let’s be real; Tosh wasn’t even taking a risk when he flamed that woman. It wasn’t a misstep. He cribbed his heckler shutdown technique straight from CK in “Heckler/Cop Movie.” Sure, it’s possible that the resemblances are coincidental. It’s much more likely that in the heat of the moment he reached  out and found, ready to hand, a comedically critically acclaimed script on that very subject! That he wondered aloud about the funniness of rape the very week Louie aired Episode 2 was just a stroke of good luck. As I waded through the soup of sanctimony, anger, freedom of speech claims and theories of comedic liberty—nestled in with the comfortable consensus view that a bad audience member deserves all The Aristocrats can give and more—I may have missed something important: the end of Episode 2 was (unless I’m much mistaken) supposed to be CK’s crowning achievement: a funny rape joke.

Rudely,

L

PS–No sooner had this post gone up than Gerry Canavan and Rafi Kam informed me that Louis CK walked back the Tosh support this very eve,  claiming (among other things) that the tweet to Tosh was a coincidence. That seemed wildly unlikely, but I just reviewed his Twitter usage habits and they’re random and spare enough that it does seem plausible. (Just.) I can’t see the clip because Chile is a barren wasteland without same-day access to breaking American television, so I can’t comment in any more detail, but I hope what he said was good and makes us feel better about him. It doesn’t change any of the above: “Heckler/Cop Movie” is clearly a source text for comedians and comedy-goers—that’s how it’s functioning, regardless of Louis CK’s intent—”Setup” is still setting up a rape joke, and politeness is (literally) all the rage.

Over and out,

L