Comedian Louis C.K’s comedy manifesto is one of a brutally honest, Everyman take on society at large. From coffee shop encounters to airport check-ins, he speaks unapologetically from a place of a world weary, divorced father of two, balancing his work life with a series of mid life crises.
Funnily enough, the show in question, the largely successful Louie, on the FX network, has the same synopsis verbatim. This means the show comes ready made as strong as his act, which has captivated audiences around the US. Early in the season we are quickly given the same character we see on stage, in a manner similar to HBO’s ‘Curb your enthusiasm’, this is an exaggerated version of C.K’s real life stage persona. His lifestyle reflects his own, balancing a life with two daughters alongside the trials and tribulations of his comedy career.
The character is completely relatable, an archetypal audience favorite, someone who never quite gets it right. The most consistent theme in Louie’s life is one of family, which captivates audiences instantly and permanently, but his significant long term concerns in life are tempered with various childlike distractions. Struggling to hold on to his freedom of spirit we see Louie buy a motorcycle on a whim, relentlessly try to entice his first black love interest, and try the club scene, among other hilarious adventures.
However, as previously mentioned, the comedic events of Louie’s life do not take center stage on the show. The stand-out brilliance of Louie’s writing here is the blending of comedy and drama. The show takes unpredictable twists in terms of tone, to the point of toying with audiences emotions almost putting them at unease, taking an initially hilarious situation into a dark place, or putting a devastatingly effective ice-breaker in the middle of a moment of turmoil. Some episodes of Louie raise no higher than amusing from start to finish, and once accepted that the show isn’t a barrage of gags, one starts to realize these episodes are the most thought provoking in nature, and often the most relevant.
A famous example of this formula is within the season 2 episode “Oh Louie/tickets”. In the latter half of this episode (most episodes acting as two separate stories or anecdotes) Louie is trying to get his hands on Lady Gaga concert tickets to give to his daughter for her birthday, and the only way to get hold of them is through fellow self-portrayed comedian Dane Cook, who needs a long overdue word with Louie. The episode is rooted in history as the retrospective debate between the two, after Dane was accused of stealing some of Louie’s material by the press, such as the joke hilariously referred to in this scene as “the itchy asshole”.
“You know, the one thing that really gets to me, is when people say I stole the joke about the itchy asshole, because I get an itchy asshole. So for you to think you’re the only person who got an itchy asshole in America, that’s bullshit.”
“You should try natural laundry detergent.”
The episode is a eerie mix of tension relating to a real media scandal, and a humorous take on the assumed rivalry, a clever and authentic piece of writing.
C.K outlines in a number of interviews the importance of quality visuals in his show, filmed on a RED camera, the show is a rare example of stellar cinematography in mainstream television, the episodes appearing much like short art films, a fascinating concept for any episodic television show. This is accompanied by a varying style of editing, a job also done by Louis himself, where the editing style such as film grain or sepia, sometimes even surrealistic visuals effects are utilized to enhance the feel of a particular episode. The show makes a point of conveying to the audience that each episode should be taken almost as a new fable, with rules separate from each other. This idea is cemented when C.K does not hesitate to use the same actors in different roles, and create narrative contradictions with Louie’s back-story between episodes.
Louie is a perfect 21st century example of the kind of artistic expression possible when a man in C.K’s position of chief writer, Editor and Director, has Creative Carte blanche over such a broad comedy format, covering amusing creatures within real life and show business environments. The social commentary, used as a vehicle for a brutally, often painfully honest character study, is one of the finest television has to offer, and the show’s inspiration will be felt in network television for many years to come. As a UK video producer, I see the whole act as fantastic show of innovation and near-entrepreneurship.