More Lie-down Than Stand-up: Our Favorite Louis C.K. Scene

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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This image released by Crackle shows comedians Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld in a scene from Seinfelds new web series talk show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Credit: AP
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

So “Louie” is back. After 19 months of waiting, season 4 of Louis C.K.’s sitcom – in which there is not too much “sit” and plenty to say about the “com” – is back on air, on the FX network in the U.S. and Yes Oh in Israel on Tuesdays at 7 A.M. (concurrently with the U.S. airing), Wednesdays at 10:30 P.M. and Saturdays at 8:40 P.M. (as well as Yes VOD).

If you have been exposed to Louis before, you know what his particular charms are as a comedian in his one-man series (he writes, directs, stars in and edits it). After all, not every comic is hailed as “America’s undisputed king of comedy” (GQ Magazine), or “performer of the moment, whose moment gets bigger and bigger” (NYT).

In a way, it is more standup than sitcom. Every episode – 14 in the new season, to be screened in two back-to-back episodes, each 22 minutes long – starts and ends with Louis performing before a live audience. The “situation comedy” bits, involving a single father of two, are episodic and sometimes left sort of dangling, although in the new season there is one story – so Louis told Charlie Rose on PBS – that spans six episodes.

The opening scene of the second season could become a classic: Louie is asleep in bed not too early in the morning, disheveled as he is when awake. He is roused by the noise and clamor of the garbage truck, sanitation workers and metallic dust bins. When he tries to shut them out of his slumbering mind, the garbage men get into his room through the window and trample on his bed, covering it with rubbish and forcing him to get up. Most of us know how that feels and what kind of a day it portends.

When Charlie Rose asks Louis what it takes to be where he is (after 25 years as a standup comedian and a very successful TV show that has earned him accolades as “a philosopher-king,” a sobriquet that makes Louis laugh uncomfortably), he answers: “Understanding life, by living it, and being on stage an awful lot of time.” When pressed to elaborate, Louis readily admits that being ready to fail - for instance by trying out new and daring material (as far as subject matter and treatment are concerned) - has a lot to do with it. I thought when I heard this that not being afraid to fail is what makes life worth living.

Each “Louie” aficionado (9.4 million viewers for the season 4 opener, more than twice the last episode of season 3) probably has a favorite Louie scene. To highlight the very special quality of his TV act, which entertains, bravely treads on unbeaten paths of discourse, and makes one think and learn at the same time, I’ll quote from a poker scene (one of many in the series) from 
season 1. Louie plays poker with comedian friends, and one of them, Rick, the only gay guy in the group, is being pressed by others for details about his sex life.

The conversation gets around to Louie’s use of the word “faggot” in his act. Rick notes that Louie uses that f-word, on stage and in life, more than he uses the word “hello.” Louie asks: “Do you think I shouldn’t be using that word on stage?”

Rick: “I think you should use whatever words you want. When you use it on stage, I can see it’s funny, and I don’t care. But are you interested in what it might mean to gay men? (…) Well, the word “faggot” really means a bundle of sticks used for kindling in a fire. Now, in the middle ages, when they used to burn people they thought were witches, they used to burn homosexuals, too. And, they used to burn the witches at a stake, but they thought the homosexuals were too low and disgusting to be given a stake to be burnt on, so they used to just throw them in with the kindling, with the other faggots. So that’s how you get “flaming faggot.” (…) You might wanna know that every gay man in America has probably had that word shouted at them while they’re being beaten up, sometimes many times, sometimes by a lot of people all at once. So, when you say it, it kind of brings all of that back up. But, you know, by all means, use it. Get your laughs. But, you know, now you know what it means.”

To which Nick, a straight comedian who admits that he is very uncomfortable with discussing the subject and details thereof openly, says “Okay, thanks faggot. We’ll keep that in mind.” And Rick kisses him on the forehead.

The word “faggot” (the etymology of which, by the way, is apparently different) will never mean the same for anyone who followed this scene. By touching a seemingly taboo 
subject head-on, stating outright that there are no words or subjects 
unusable or unsuitable for comedy but that one should simply know the meaning of the words one uses, “Louie” leads us to understand some principles of life. And standup comedy.

While it’s true that too much TV makes one slightly dizzy. there is 
always a show like “Louie” to get 
things straight. Whatever that word may mean.