Is Louis C.K. Comedy's Lou Reed?


by Joe Gross
Louis C.K. and Gaby Hoffman
Louis C.K. and Gaby Hoffman

'Louie' stays weird, but breaks new ground

For those of us who paid to sit through (and genuinely loved) Pootie Tang, seeing Louis C.K. come to dominate both the stand-up scene and the sitcom is legitimately fantastic. We remember the "waving a peach" and "BAND THING!" punchlines. We endured Lucky Louie, a show that didn't work even if you understood his neo-Honeymooners mindset. And there's a reason he made so much money from selling his own comedy special and that people go to his website to buy tickets to his tour: People believe in this dude's art. Sometimes the good guys win.

A lot of people think Our Hero abandoned the casual surrealism that informed such lunacy as Pootie Tang in favor of a more autobiographical style, both more conversational and more intense, more sexual and more personal. I submit that this is incorrect, and here is why: From show to show, almost from scene to scene, the viewer doesn't completely know what the tone of Louie is going to be. And this is its greatest strength. I think Louie's first three seasons are analogous to the first three Velvet Underground records — the latter as much art as rock, the former as much comedy innovation as short-film mastery. Like Velvet Underground & Nico, with "Sunday Morning," "Heroin," and "Femme Fatale," the first season of Louie set up all of its strengths and moods, from the smart and empathetic (the brilliant "faggot" speech) to the over the top (Ricky Gervais) to the dead serious (the God episode).

The second season is pure White Light/White Heat: doubling down on everything and turning up the noise, from the hysterically soulless sex with another parent from the school to the stunning Joan Rivers appearance and the exhausting intensity of the Dane Cook bit (either of those could be "I Heard Her Call My Name"). All of this culminated in his "Sister Ray," the hour-long USO tour episode.

And, sure enough, the third season is (Velvet Underground). It's not mellow, but it explores more subtle emotional ground. The first episode is classic Louie absurdism, complete with a wrecked car, a motorcycle accident, and a jaw-droppingly funny casting choice for his ex-wife. Melissa Leo makes a gutsy guest appearance as a hookup who drives a pickup truck. Elsewhere, Louie gets to the heart of the complexities of male friendship in an episode set in Miami. But the "What Goes On" of the third season, the dazzler of the episodes that I have seen, is the upcoming two-parter starring Parker Posey. She blends every aspect of her onscreen personas, bringing the intensity of Best in Show, the bitchiness of Dazed and Confused, the goofiness of Superman Returns, and everything else she has ever done for Christopher Guest.

If there is one actress who was born to play off Louis C.K., the increasingly DIY comic powerhouse, it is the Indie Queen herself. Indeed, her character here is almost a riff on that most cliché of cinematic women, the Flighty Gal — the glasses! The bookstore job! — who teaches the Uptight Guy how to live. It's an incredibly smart, measured performance and, while I hope that Louie doesn't settle for this tune for all that long, one sincerely hopes that Posey sticks around for as long as possible. Dude's found his Moe Tucker. Or his Sterling Morrison. You get the drift.

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