I’m a diehard fan of Louis C.K. and Louie (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m. ET on FX Network). C.K.’s seriocomedy isn’t offering much in the way of comic relief these days, though. The plot lines seem increasingly horrific. Maybe they’ve always been, and I’m just noticing because I recently had to catch up on several episodes in one night.
Tickling with feathers
Let’s see: “Duckling” — an idea conceived by C.K.’s real-life 6-year-old daughter, Mary Louise Szekely — plopped the comic into the heart of the Afghanistan War, with all of its grim suspense. Luckily, the “heart” survived, as his screen daughter, worried for her dad’s welfare, sneaked the classroom mascot into his duffel as an amulet. Scary war, with a warm-fuzzy touch.
The “Niece” episode explored child neglect and mental illness. “Eddie” was about suicide, while refreshingly non-judgmental. “Country Drive” riffed on racism and starred a corpse. (No disrespect to nonagenarian Eunice Anderson’s acting.)
Hats off to the comedian for gingerly (pun intended) handling sobering topics that are his bread-and-butter: depression, divorce, meaninglessness, while always managing a twinkle in his eye, a glimmer of hope, like Tinker-Bell among marauding villains.
Revolutionary evolutionary comedy
Part of me wonders: Is this right? Has modern comedy gotten too serious? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert often evoke side-splitting laughter from me with their satirical news shows, yet they’re merely telling it like it is. It’s actually hard to find any good escapist comedy these days. Here’s this show by the comic genius Louis C.K. that’s so real and honest it often makes me wanna cry. Can’t remember the last time I LOL’ed watching it. My emotions puddle inside.
Laughing through tears is nothing new. As cutting-edge as Louis C.K. seems, it’s a tried-and-true formula: standing up when you’re down, the tears of a clown, laughing at the expense of the loser or over how pathetic life is. From the woebegone Charlie Chaplin and Jack Benny, to Rodney “Don’t Get No Respect” Dangerfield and the nerd-doomed slapshtick of Jerry Lewis … Jim Carrey’s “loo-HOO-seh-HER” springs to mind, an attack launched at others but landing on him … even the repressed/oppressed Woody Allen, “Hungarican” Freddie Prinze, and countless “downtrodden” minority and female comedians — much of it stems from Schadenfreude, happy at the misfortune of others. We’re glad we’re not that guy. Or maybe we are that guy, and that’s why we “get it.” They say, after all, a tickle is but the realization that an assault that could hurt doesn’t — the fear we feel isn’t life-threatening, so we laugh in relief and acceptance. Here’s a primer from the hilarious “Avenue Q”:
Does that mean comedy is mean-spirited at the core? I don’t think so, but more and more it’s the absurdist view that sells; the madcap-screwball variety appears passé. That must be a reflection of society, but someone smarter than I can analyze it.
In terms of comic art, though, Louis C.K. is that rare practitioner who packs a lot of punch and meaning into his non-punch lines and running-on-emptiness. The material he draws upon, his real-life fatherhood, is also what seems to inject the dark show with its blonde/blonde-feathered glimmers. These innocents, his own ducklings, ultimately make life worthwhile in spite of himself. The show is inconceivable without the drama of those kids, just as it seems C.K. hit his stride only after their real-world arrival added charm and contrast to his act.
Kinda glad Louis C.K. didn’t dedicate all of his life to masturbation but squeezed in some procreation.
And as much as I enjoyed the heralded “Duckling” episode (based on C.K.’s own USO tour in 2008 to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan), it seemed a bit predictable for Louie. For me, the Louie episode dubbed “Halloween/Ellie” — touching on random violence yet somehow skirting the horror a Halloween-themed episode might have dished — may prove C.K.’s most telling of the season. For all of the “loserdom” the show glorifies, the Louie character acts almost heroically in the end — granted, only after taking a cue from his 5-year-old fictional daughter, Jane.
The episode also seems to sum up C.K.’s approach to his art, when his character gets a golden chance to be golden boy to a Paramount Pictures exec, who sees promise in him and could help turn his life around. Of course, he blows it, with this movie pitch:
“You know how movies … there’s always a guy and, like, his life is always OK, and then something happens, there’s a conflict, and he gets to resolve it and then his life gets better? Well, I always wanted to make a movie where a guy’s life is really bad and then something happens and it makes it worse, but instead of resolving it, he just makes bad choices and then it goes from worse to really bad, and things just keep happening to him and he keeps doing dumb things, so his life just gets worse and worse and, like, darker and … he lives in a one-room apartment, he’s not a very good-looking guy, has no friends and he works in, like, a factory … a sewage disposal plant! and then he gets fired, so now he doesn’t even have his job at the shit factory anymore, and he’s going broke, and he takes a trip and it rains … just stuff, shit keeps .. horrible .. and then he meets a girl and she’s beautiful and he falls in love, so you think that’s gonna be the thing, the happy thing! but then she turns out to be a crook and she robs him, she takes his wallet and now he’s, like, stuck in the middle of nowhere and he’s got no wallet, no credit cards. Like, what do you do? how do you even get home …?”
Louie, Louie, Louie, Loo-whee!!
And here, not a clip from “Duckling,” but part of his bit on “duck vaginas,” which he recasts in the Louie stand-up segment. Warning: This is not “Duck Soup.” Also, it’s striking how peppy Louis C.K. seems before he developed the autobiographical but dour Louie persona.