Out of all the people that ever were, almost all of them are dead. There are way more dead people, and you’re all gonna die and then you’re gonna be dead for way longer than you’re alive. Like that’s mostly what you’re ever gonna be. You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.
This is Louis C.K.: father, writer, director, boating enthusiast, and possibly the best comedian of his generation. That’s right – comedian. As in, tells jokes for a living. But Louis C.K. is a comedian in the fullest sense of the word: not only can he make people laugh, he can make them laugh about almost anything. Death, divorce, loneliness, the deep existential sadness that just comes with being alive. And there is such comfort to be found in laughing about these things along with Louie. Watching Louis C.K., I realised for the first time what truly great comedy is. Not a distraction from the hard realities of life, but a way of bravely, cleverly, and cathartically confronting them. Joel Lovell writes in ‘GQ’ about a conversation he had with Marc Maron about Louis C.K. What Louie gives his audience, Lovell notes, is a kind of liberation: “That’s the role that C.K. plays, Maron said. The service he provides is that he knows how to guide us into and then back out of darkness.” I would add that Louie also brings us out of the darkness a little less afraid. Or, at least, a little less ashamed of our fear, and more comfortable in our human skin.
It’s impossible to write about Louie the television show without first writing about Louie the person. Louis C.K. (born Louis Szekely) is an American comedian who lives in New York City. He has been writing comedy and doing stand-up since he was in his early twenties and (now in his forties) is hailed by his peers as one of the best comedians working today. His most popular stand-up specials are “Oh My God” and “Live at the Beacon Theater” (for which he won an Emmy), and he has recently appeared in the films Blue Jasmine and American Hustle. Despite his success and busy schedule, Louie still regularly plays gigs in comedy clubs in New York. “Stand-up has always saved me,” he says. Louie is a divorced father of two, and his daughters are a huge part of his life. He often talks about his kids in his stand-up, and notes that they are the people that keep him going.
Louie (the series) began in 2010 and has just finished its fourth season. The show is written, directed, and often edited by Louie himself. Louie is also the main character in the series – episodes follow his (fictionalised) everyday life as a comedian and a father in Manhattan. Louie may be most simply described as a comedy, though it is (like Louie’s stand-up) much more complex than that. FX, in commissioning the first season of the show, allowed Louie full creative control (in exchange for a limited budget) – something that rarely happens with television. The result is a series that is constantly surprising, and always evolving. Each episode is its own complete story, and although the third and fourth seasons have begun to explore some extended plotlines, there is still a focus on segments, rather than wholes (what FX President John Landgraf calls “extended vignettes”).
Watching Louie, I never know if I’m going to laugh, squirm uncomfortably, or cry. Usually all three. Scenes can turn in ways you don’t expect: a friend admits he wants to kill himself and Louie refuses to give him a reason to live; a sexy liaison with a model turns into a trip to the emergency room and a lawsuit; a depressing stand-up gig turns into midnight breakfast with his kids in a downtown diner. Episodes are often bookended with live segments of Louie’s stand-up (Seinfeld-style) that make you laugh out loud. Then there are the warm, family moments when Louie spends time with his children; the heartbreaking moments (the quiet, sober decision to end a marriage); the awkward moments (Louie onstage in front of the wrong kind of audience); and moments of confronting honesty (the famous ‘Fat Girl’ speech from season four). Louie is artistic without ever being pretentious; there is a sense of great personal honesty in everything Louis C.K. creates, a trait that is both wonderfully creative and incredibly brave.
I really struggled to write this post. After watching his stand-up and TV series (and listening to numerous NPR conversations between Terry Gross and Louis C.K.) I have a great deal of respect for Louie – both as an artist and as a person. He is so genuine; not afraid to say what he thinks, ready to learn, and quick to admit when he is wrong. I want to be this honest in my own writing, and I also want to do Louie justice in writing about him. I want to express the effect he has had (and continues to have) on my life and my way of thinking. Louie makes me feel better about a whole spectrum of niggling worries; about failure, aging, depression, death, and about sometimes being a crap person. Louis C.K. makes me laugh at things I never thought could be funny. And, to top it all off, he can drive a boat. All of these things make Louis C.K. a great comedian, a philosopher, and – perhaps most importantly – just a really cool guy.
Louie airs on FX. The series also stars Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker as Louie’s daughters, and has featured Sarah Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, and David Lynch (among many other excellent performers). A fifth season of the series seems very likely, as Louis C.K. has noted that “The show is not anywhere near over for me.”