I think we can all agree, by this point, that Louis C.K. is the world’s most thought-provoking comic. His stand-up has been the kind of instantly memorable, instantly recognisable stuff that parents deploy while they’re complaining to each other about their kids, or that guys recite over poker games when they want to talk about their marriages without bringing up the specifics of their own situations. His business acumen is sharp: he had the crazy idea of producing material and charging people directly to see it on his website, a radical notion that gave him and an array of other comics a whole new way of distributing and profiting from their material in the age of free content.
He took his dogged pursuit of total creative control into his series, which is so much more than a lo-fi TV sitcom. And now, with the fourth season of Louie, he’s about to make yet another leap. He’s about to become Woody Allen. I don’t mean, of course, that he will become the Woody Allen we know today — the man who produces many mixed feelings, if not outright fury. No, I think Louis C.K. will become Allen as we remember him, as we still wish he were: the weird, un-ignorable comedian with the widest possible influence on the culture. The two men have a lot in common already. Their career trajectories are remarkably similar. They are both comics who worked in the trenches — Allen wrote for Sid Caesar, Louis for Letterman and Dana Carvey — before they eventually took the plunge and went out on their own, full time. They both have an obvious desire to transcend their status as comics, and become auteurs. But there is a deeper sense in which Louis could replace Allen — as the brilliant self- hating schlub that audiences, particularly men, need. It’s a key position in the ecology of show business: the man who has enough confidence to project his own total lack of confidence.
There are and always have been schlubs, of course. They’re most of the funny people, in fact, which is why good-looking men who are funny, like Paul Rudd, are so rare. And you can even find guys with the looks of Rob Lowe who have the gall to complain about how they can’t be taken seriously as comic actors because of how good- looking they are. But Louis and Allen are next-level schlubs. They are funny because they recognise their own unattractiveness and talk about it openly, which takes real guts, and transcendently, which takes genius. Unfortunately, in the case of Allen, that recognition of his own flaws morphed long ago into creepiness, and recently well beyond creepiness. When the Dylan Farrow letter dropped, I went through all the Woody Allen movies I loved, looking for references to paedophilia, and, to cut a long story short, there were tonnes of them.
I asked myself then, ‘what have I been watching all this time?’ I think the answer is clear enough: not a schlub who recognises his own schlubbiness, but a monster who recognises his own monstrosity. The difference between Louis and Allen (besides allegations of criminality) is that Louis uses his self- consciousness as a means of working through his own issues. Yes, Louis C.K.’s comedy can be supremely dark — like Allen’s, and maybe even darker — but what’s most surprising about it is its morality. Season four of Louie marks the moment when Louis, like his predecessor, transforms from a mere comic into a full-blown auteur. What’s different is that he appears to want to be a good man, not just a good artist. And that might just make him even bigger.
by Stephen Marche
Watch Louis doing his thing here…