kimberlee rossi-fuchs looks at episode 10…
The story in “Late Show (Pt. 1),” the second multi-part episode of the season, unfolds over three days in LA, where Louie’s successful Tonight Show appearance goes viral and earns him a surprising and life-changing offer. Like “Miami,” the episode portrays details of a comedian’s life on the road, but goes further to capture the comic sensibilities of Louie (both the real-life CK and his sitcom counterpart) and reveals how they don’t always necessarily translate to mass appeal. “Late Show (Pt. 1)” also poses a question that many successful artists eventually face — whether it’s more important to keep true to one’s particular viewpoint and style or to reach a wider audience and achieve a higher degree of both personal and financial success by adapting one’s image to suit public tastes.
The episode opens on a Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Louie’s killing it in a performance at The Improv. We’re usually given just brief glimpses of CK’s standup, but here we get a pretty substantial two minute bit, as he riffs on American privilege and the laughably ironic stress and unhappiness it causes. He posits that fretting over when and how to tell our children about unpleasant subjects like death and war is a decidedly American luxury that most of the world is denied, as children in war-torn countries learn much earlier, as soon as they’re inevitably forced to ask, “How come Uncle Henry’s head is gone now?” From there, he touches upon our rampant consumerism, ridiculing the arrogance that makes us think we each deserve only the finest and the stress of making sure we get the best available Blu-Ray player or whatever other “made from the same Asian suffering” high-tech toy we desire. It’s a great joke and classic CK, mining laughs from our shallow frivolity while also pointing out an underlying callousness to the suffering of others that often makes our comfortable lives in the US possible.
Aside from perfectly capturing CK’s dark, misanthropic side, the bit also sets up the episode nicely, as after the set, we immediately see Louie acting like the very type of spoiled, petulant American he was just ridiculing on stage. As in this season’s earlier “Miami,” Louie’s on a business trip to a glamorous destination (here, in LA on the Tonight Show’s dime) and views the whole experience as more of a hassle than a luxury. Convinced that he’ll be bumped from his Tonight Show appearance after learning Tom Cruise is the night’s other guest, he grumbles about the waste of his time, despite the fact that he’ll still be paid and received a free trip for his troubles. Later, he wakes up in his beautiful hotel room and curses the southern California sun shining through his windows. Upon learning that his surprise hit appearance on Leno has won him a meeting with powerful CBS honcho, Louie isn’t excited, just annoyed that “there’s not even time to jerk off, for Christ sakes.”
Perhaps some of that grouchiness can be attributed to the fact that, much like how he stood out from the beautiful people of Miami, Louie’s schlubby, low-key New York aesthetic doesn’t necessarily mesh with that of the slick, professional Hollywood-types he finds himself surrounded with. After Tom Cruise doesn’t show up for his Leno appearance and Louie gets promoted to leading guest, the rep makes note of his too casual attire (the traditional CK jeans and black t-shirt) and sics a swarm of hair and make-up people at him, whom the sweating and nervous Louie bats at like King Kong swatting down planes. Doug, Louie’s ludicrously young agent, is a walking punchline in the episode. Gaping in bewilderment at everything that unfolds, blatantly ignored by the receptionist, and, in a hilarious visual, getting boxed out and practically sat on by Garry Marshall’s network chairman, Doug serves as the physical representation of just how unpolished and un-Hollywood Louie is.
As the CBS honcho who requests a meeting after seeing Louie’s Leno appearance, Garry Marshall is all no-nonsense, Hollywood business. Just as he doesn’t hide his disregard of Doug, he doesn’t fawn or kiss-ass with Louie (though he does make a feeble attempt at relating to the NYC-resident by name dropping the touristy Carnegie Deli) and cuts right to the chase. David Letterman is set to retire at the end of the year and although the network is leaning towards casting Jerry Seinfeld as his replacement, he’s willing to give Louie a shot in an attempt to save the network around $11 million. When Louie balks at the offer because, “I’m not that guy,” the chairman doesn’t resort to flattery, but rather brutal honesty to convince him. When he sums Louie up as a “working class stand-up,” who earns around $80,000 a year and “probably peaked five years ago,” Louie’s eyes light up in self-recognition. He goes on to paint a bleak portrait of Louie’s future that includes “teaching comedy at community college to support your children and falling asleep to the Late Show with Jerry Seinfeld.” Again, from the look on Louie’s face, it’s clear that it’s a future scenario he’s often worried about, as well.
While the chairman agrees that Louie’s “not that guy,” he thinks he can become him with a little effort (including getting in shape and dropping about forty pounds, of course). He proposes that Louie take some time to prepare, and then shoot a test show. Perhaps the nation will love him and he’ll be the next host of the Late Show, at a much cheaper price tag than Jerry Seinfeld. If not, he says, the network will just go with “$12 million slam dunk” Seinfeld and though it’ll be no skin of his back, Louie’s career will probably never recover from the failure.
The fact that Jerry Seinfeld is Louie’s rival for the job draws an apt parallel between the two comedians, as both found television success playing fictionalized, less successful, working comedian versions of themselves (the chairman’s $80K estimate must be well below what CK’s really earning nowadays). Yet Seinfeld and CK are very different types of comedians and while one can easily picture the polished, family-friendly Seinfeld hosting a TV institution like the Late Show, it’s hard to imagine the misanthropic CK winning America’s hearts with an inoffensive, PG-rated monologue or engaging in pleasant banter with the likes of Snooki.
As a result, the chairman’s proposal represents much more than just a job offer. He’s asking Louie to fundamentally change who he is as a comedian in order to get the job. The episode ends with Louie still pondering the offer, torn between the obvious financial benefits (not to mention the appeal of the kind of household name-recognition reserved for only the very famous) and the risk for both failure at the task and the irreparable destruction of his reputation and respectable, if not always fulfilling, comedy career. While it seems pretty obvious that he won’t wind up as the new Letterman, Louie is a show that is never afraid to break from reality, so I’m interested and eager to see how it all plays out.
All Photos Credit: FX Network