Did you watch last night’s episode of Louie? Pretty good! No one ever really talks about the mild sense of dread that engulfs you while you watch the show. Just, I mean, the fact that the show is completely unstructured and everything is so loosely tied together with no narrative cohesion or payoff on expectation means that you’re just kind of floating along and you genuinely have no idea what is going to happen next. This is part of the beauty of the show, and what makes it special, but it can also be terrifying. It’s like when your phone rings in the middle of the day on a Wednesday and you see on the caller ID that it’s your mom and your first thought is “Oh God, no, what is wrong?!” because she shouldn’t be calling you in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. You talk to your mom on Sundays. Those are the rules. But when you answer the phone, it turns out she just saw an article in the paper that made her think of you, or she wants to know, eight months in advance, if you bought your plane ticket for Thanksgiving yet, or she pocket dialed. That’s what the show is like. Someone could die on Louie at any second, but half the time the show is just accidentally pocket-dialing and sitting there for five minutes listening to a woman in line at the pharmacist.

Oh, but so also, it is interesting how Louie is using his TV show as a very public method for resolving long-simmering conflicts with friends and/or enemies. It’s the kind of thing that a lot of people might fantasize using a TV show for* but no one ever really does, and certainly not in this way. So let’s talk about that for a second!

In last night’s episode, Louis is farting around on his couch when an old comics showcase from the ’80s comes on. At first he is put off by seeing his own much younger face, aging and mortality and blah blah blah. But then Sarah Silverman comes on, and now it is more fun to reminisce because it’s not his own impending death that he’s confronted with or whatever. He calls her and they talk about how things used to be. And then a young Marc Maron takes the stage. Marc Maron, of course, is currently experiencing what you couldn’t even consider a career revival so much as a career emergence, due to the incredible success of his podcast WTF in which he interviews fellow comedians (and Jack Black and Fiona Apple). So there is young Marc, who used to be best friends with Louis we are told, and Louis goes quiet and then explains that he and Marc haven’t talked in 10 years because of their horrible falling out over something Marc did. And then Louie has a realization that it was his fault the whole time, and Sarah encourages him to talk to Marc, and so he does. He goes over there and lays it all out in this monologic mea culpa until Marc interrupts him and says that he did the same thing five years ago and Marc isn’t sure what he wants at this point. Oh! So Louis just sort of awkwardly shuffles out of the house and that’s the end of that. It’s kind of a weird scene! It is, of course, most reminiscent of another scene from the last season of Louie, in which he confronts Dane Cook for stealing his jokes.

Everyone can probably relate to having a friendship fall apart, and some percentage of those people can also imagine making some kind of attempt at amends. The number of people who might then publicize these amends is far smaller, but it is an interesting method of conflict management. In both instances: the scene with Marc Maron and the scene with Dane Cook, there’s an odd mixture of honesty and fiction. Later, after the Dane Cook episode aired, Louis explained in interviews that he had written the script exactly as it was delivered and that there was a time when Dane wanted to make some changes to this script. The Marc Maron scene is much shorter, much less dramatic, but it has the same sense of muddled reality. Did Louis really apologize five years ago? Are they still in this state of self-perpetuating enmity? Well, clearly they have worked it out enough to appear on each other’s shows, and who knows. More importantly, it’s hard to say who even cares. They’re both FULLY grown adults and doing fine. Besides, I spent the whole scene being distracted by Marc Maron’s shorts and bare legs anyways.

The weird thing about this moment in last night’s episode, though, was how completely unfulfilled it was. Because the two-part interview that Marc Maron did with Louis on WTF was about the same subjects, and yet was so much more thoughtful and intense and “cathartic.” That’s the luxury of a three hour interview distributed on-line, of course. But it still exists, and can be placed in direct comparison with last night’s TV reboot of the Louis/Marc relationship, and it is superior.

But so, what’s the point? I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I am saying I’m not entirely clear on what it is. With the Dane Cook episode, Louis appeared to be announcing to the world that he had put this chapter behind him, and that he did not hold grudges. That is much easier to do when you have a critically acclaimed television show and are on the verge of making millions of dollars on your next stand up special, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact that it gets easier to make amends and accept responsibility for your flaws when you feel both professionally and economically stable and satisfied doesn’t make it any less truthful that you’d like to make peace with the past. This, though, is something else. For one thing, it was much less dramatic and much less “funny” than the Dane Cook thing. For another thing, we already have the aforementioned “better” version of it. And finally, while we can all relate to losing our minds in IKEA, we can’t all relate to repairing a damaged relationship with an old friend after seeing their early ’90s stand up set in a late night rerun and having Sarah Silverman convince us of our errors. There are things here that we recognize, for sure, but there are just as many things that are foreign.

Which is kind of the weird trick of art anyways. Here is a man who has his own TV show named after himself in which he stars as a version of himself replaying events that have occurred with his friends who are also playing themselves, and somehow it is both entertaining and emotive. This is television used as the blunt instrument of ego-glorification that it is in the most unapologetic and aggressive way possible. Because even when Louis shuffles around and apologizes, it is still his name in nine out of 10 credits. It is still called Louie. And for every moment that is genuine there is one that is self-indulgent. For as thoughtful as it can be, it gets a little preachy sometimes. But what doesn’t? (See also: Videogum.)

I don’t know. I was just thinking about it.

*I realize even as I type this that I’m not actually sure LOTS of people fantasize about using a TV show to air out personal grievances with people close to them, and that in fact, it takes a particular kind of self-involved narcissistic monster to think “You know what would be fun to do on a TV show?” so there are ways in which my entire argument is collapsing even before I have begun to make it. That being said, Louis is still doing this thing, even if most people would never think of it, and it seems worth talking about, even if it’s much less relatable or universal than I had originally set out to pretend that it was.
Comments (17)
  1. i knew i should’ve watched this last night….damn.

  2. Mark Maron *SWOON*

  3. Oh man I feel the exact same sense of dread every time I watch Louie. I think it’s because of episodes like “Eddie” or the Halloween episode that makes it so you never know when an episode is going to take a turn for the massively dark and depressing.

    • I’m more glass half full about it. I just like sitting down and having no idea what I’m in for. It’s always great. The most “so-so” episode of Louis is still super rewarding, even season 1 when he was figuring out what he wanted to do.

      • Oh I agree that it’s always enjoyable to watch. It’s probably the only tv show I watch where I have no idea what to expect going in to each episode. I just wouldn’t watch it before going out on a Saturday night if I haven’t seen the episode before.

  4. The Dane Cook episode was far more fictional, or heightened-seeming specifically because it did ‘resolve’ so well. It was like a period at the end of a sentence.

    What was so much better about the Maron episode was that it was more realistic, more awkward and completely disassembled the notion of catharsis, which exists almost entirely in works of fiction.

    Few of us can actually put things entirely behind us and confronting past hurts head on doesn’t just magically make them go away. Striving for catharsis is often just as messy and unsatisfying as depicted last night. Sure, Louis CK is bound to consciously or unconsciously inject some hagiography into the proceedings, but I think it’s about as honest as any artist can be expected to be about themselves.

    • I guess I agree with you in a lot of ways, EXCEPT for the fact that that Marc Maron interview exists and is so intense and self-examining? I mean, if they hadn’t been playing themselves, I would’ve thought “Wow what a good telling of something that is very common and hard to express properly”, and so in that way it is “honest”, it’s very realistic. We often have high expectations for conversations and making up and a lot of time it just fizzles or isn’t well received or goes in a completely different direction.

      But it feels weird because it’s kind of a thing that really happened, this fight, and we heard a lot of their ideas and feelings expression to one another in very clear and relateable ways, so it feels like they’re using this thing that really happened to portray a thing that happens in life but did not actually resolve this way? I think that’s what’s peculiar about the art/fiction in Louis’s show. This conversation was way more appropriate for the themes (does this show have themes?) we often see when we watch this on TV, but it feels weird to watch it when you’ve heard the interview, because maybe that interview is really real. We always talk about honesty with “Louie” and I don’t find the show to be un-honest, but it’s strange to thing it uses fictitious accounts of real things to tell real truths. Kind of a mind-fuck, is all.

      • We’re not even in disagreement, really. The fact is that a podcast can run 1 million hours and let the conversation wander and build nuance over time. A TV show has to be concise. Think of it as Mark and Louis Abridged.

        And trust me, WTF seems like it’s a big deal, but not that many people listen to it. Just a sizable (but still relatively tiny) core of specific comedy/media fans. Likely most people watching Louis do not know a thing about the podcast, much less that specific episode.

  5. I felt the same way–the mixed feelings about the show’s merits and self-indulgence. It reminded me of going to your friend’s improv show where everyone in the audience besides you is also an improviser, and what was a perfectly funny bit onstage suddenly takes a turn into a meta-commentary on The Art of Improvisation.

    Louie has certain episodes that feel more like vanity projects than others–this one, obviously, and you all might disagree with my next choice, because it seems like everyone but me loved it, but I thought the Iraq/USO one did too. I loved last week’s episode, because it mined comedy and pathos from recognizing the humanity of unsavory acquaintances. But I think the flip side of that empathy is sometimes this kind of boring, self-indulgent, public quest for personal honesty that comedians and writers and other wordy artists can fall into.

    • P.S. Gabe, you seem a little abashed at the end of this piece, with the “I don’t know. I was just thinking about it.” But you shouldn’t be! This was great! I love it. More posts like this please.

  6. “Life is completely unstructured and everything is so loosely tied together with no narrative cohesion or payoff on expectation means that you’re just kind of floating along and you genuinely have no idea what is going to happen next. This is part of the beauty of life and what makes it special, but it can also be terrifying.” – fixed that for you.

  7. It seems like, slowly, Louis is making “Louie” into a big weird autobiography, the very BEST kind of autobiography, and I think that sort of explains the need for the inclusion of the Maron part even though, as Gabe says, a more superior version exists. Sure, but not as a part of this collection. It feels stupid to say that he didn’t get to say his piece, because, I mean, dude talked for three hours, but it was still literally under Maron’s auspices. So this is him owning a piece of that as part of his own thing, which I totally get. Also I have to assume that more people watch Louie than listen to WTF, right?

  8. Its completely self-indulgent, sometimes downright uncomfortable to watch, and yet it is still funnier and more clever than most every other show on television these days. Sometimes I relate to a situation, sometimes I cover my eyes and feeling fremdschamen for everyone on screen. As for the Maron bit, it felt a little off to me, but knowing that he was also on the WTF podcast makes this seem like a sort of bookend – like they both needed to have an outlet for the situation from both of their perspectives. But really, you’re right, who cares? Who gives a crap if Louis CK and Marc Maron had beef and it took 10 years for them to get over it. I don’t know. Its funny and real life is hard so sometimes I enjoy staring at the lives of others.

  9. I don’t think there’s any need to know about Louie and Marc’s real-life history to get and enjoy the scene. It could add a bit of depth, I suppose. But it seems to me to be a simple and clever premise in which a guy realizes his long-held grudge is based on misunderstanding, goes to apologize, then learns that he did exactly the same thing 5 years before. It’s surprising and awkwardly funny.

  10. This post is awesome. So many things I think about with Louis C.K. all the time.

    I know he’s beloved and nigh-unimpeachable for most people, but I think it’s pretty clear to most of us that he’s pretty self-satisfied. “Why shouldn’t I be? I deserve it,” he would say in response, in a way that just goes to prove the point even more strongly. I won’t lie, it’s a big turn-off for me. Louis is funny, mostly. And I like him, sometimes. But this thing, this “9 out of 10 credits,” “come on my critically acclaimed TV show and recite the words I write about our mutual hatred,” thing. I dunno. Guys? Did you all leave yet?

  11. I am pretty pissed that I haven’t been watching Louie’s third season. I’ll be catching up with it later.

    I do want to point out though, as a listener of Marc’s podcast, that after the Louis CK 2-parter, Marc was vocal about not being able to get a hold of Louis for quite some time after that.

    So anyone who is a fan of the two of them who would like to know if Marc ever got back in touch with Louis after the interview from 190 episodes ago in October of 2010 would probably be delighted to see them in frame together now.

    That’s probably cathartic for the fans. I liked what pickpocket said. If anything, maybe Marc’s and Louis’ real history distracted from the storytelling in the episode.

  12. My girlfriend broke up with me last night after watching this episode. I guess we were technically talking through Wilfred but…

    At first I was like, ah shit, Louie is going to be ruined for me.

    Then I was thought, this is really ridiculous, because Louie hit it spot on with how you have important people in your life, they disappear for one reason or another, and then something makes you reconnect after days, months, years.

    So yea I’m being introspective about it but the genius of the ep was not just that Louie went over to apologize to Marc Maron and it wasn’t some Hollywood ending with them hugging – I mean that’s been done to death, but that Louie had done the exact thing five years before and totally forgotten about it.

    That’s life, right? Shitty things happen between people, we forget, remember, apologize, and do it all over again. Louie’s a great show because it doesn’t give us any false hope. Louie and Maron aren’t going to be best friends again, and Louie leaves feeling like a weird jerk. Life.

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