kimberlee rossi-fuchs looks at the next to last episode of louie…
“Late Show (Part 2)” picks up right where we left off two weeks ago, with Louie still pondering whether or not to take a chance at the unlikely, yet life-changing offer to replace David Letterman as the host of the Late Show. As the episode opens, Louie seems to be leaning more towards no, as he tells his ex-wife, Janet, over lunch that he can’t take the job because of his responsibility to their two daughters. Janet immediately and correctly cuts through his bullshit, assessing that Louie’s only confiding in her so he can use her and the children, rather than his own ambivalence, as his excuse for not pursuing this chance of a lifetime. Rather than give him the pass she expects, she tells him their daughters shouldn’t be a factor in his decision, somewhat brutally pointing out that, “You’ve been a fine father, but nobody needs a father that much. The girls need a role model.” There was only one brief scene of Louie parenting this week, but it’s worth mentioning since his visible discomfort with Jane’s ratting out of the poor old woman stealing from the supermarket was a hilarious visualization of the moral gray areas of parenting.)
She goes on to argue that he’s just as capable a candidate as Seinfeld (“Jerry’s not that good”) and like the CBS chairman last episode, hints at a bleak, professional future if he chooses to pass up this chance. “If you don’t do this, what was it all for?” she asks, wondering what the last twenty years of his life and career were leading up to, if not this. While Janet’s lunchtime pep talk is more practically honest than rallying or inspiring, it seems to have convinced Louie to go for it, albeit in his typical, reluctant fashion. In the very next scene, we see him huffing and puffing as he goes for a brief jog through the NYC streets in his dingy sweatsuit.
The next day, Louie, with Doug in tow, takes the chairman’s advice and shows up at the office of Jack Dahl (David Lynch) to discuss the Late Show offer and get ready for his test show. (The face-changing secretary with a gun in her drawer and a strict interpretation of the proper pronunciation of Dahl’s last name is a typically weird Louie moment.) Whereas the chairman spoke freely and with brutal honesty, Jack Dahl is a man who wastes neither words nor time. He skips over any introduction or explanation of what he expects from Louie and immediately prompts him to read a joke from a cue card (an incredibly outdated and vaguely racist bit about Nixon confusing the Chinese and the Koreans). Caught off guard and a bit bewildered, Louie stumbles through the joke and, to Dahl’s irritation, forgets to say, “We’ll be right back.” Once Louie finishes, Dahl brusquely reprimands, “It took you one minute and twelve seconds to tell one joke. Comedy is about timing, son.” He tells Louie to work on his speed and come back on Wednesday and just like that, the meeting’s over.
While Louie’s had a fairly successful comedy career up to this point, much of the episode revolves around just how little that career has prepared him for the world of television. Yes, his jokes can kill in the more relaxed setting of a comedy club, but when the constraints of an hour-long running time and the expectations of a nationwide audience are factored in, the ability to sell a joke is no longer the most important piece of the puzzle. To succeed in this forum requires more than simply being funny, as to keep a show moving, one must also intuit the right amount of time to spend smiling at an applauding studio audience and acknowledging the band before launching into your monologue and then segueing into commercial.
Again, Louie bombs the introduction, plodding through the curtain and then redundantly reminding the non-existent audience of his name and creating a fatal amount of dead air. The difference between Louie’s clumsy approach and that of a professional is evidenced when Dahl attempts to show him how it’s done. Even Dahl’s smallest mannerisms are spot-on (the way he unbuttons and buttons his suit jacket is classic TV host) and as Louie watches him greeting an imaginary audience on camera, the cheering becomes audible to him and it’s as though he’s watching the real deal.
In addition to his understandable on-camera awkwardness, Louie still doesn’t look the part of the big television host, either and after his run through, Dahl says they need to discuss “body, face, beard, hair, clothes, you.” He reminds Louie that TV is a visual medium and notes that none of his performance will matter if the viewers can’t stand looking at him. In addition to getting in shape, he insists Louie abandon his traditional uniform of t-shirt and jeans and get himself a nice suit. Louie balks at the suggestion, saying he’s put a lot of thought into his decision and decided that he’s not going to wear a suit because “I’ve been this guy for twenty-five years. I’m not going to become a different person.” Although Louie’s desperately trying to maintain his own identity in the face of this huge television institution, Dahl’s uninterested in his reasoning, calmly writing off his excuses by stating, “You may like sitting around in your underpants, but that doesn’t mean America has to see it.” He basically ignores Louie’s protests and sends him on his way with the phone number of Alfonse, a boxing trainer, whose going to give Louie a similar jump right in approach in the ring the next day.
While Louie’s inexperience and unpolished appearance have cast him as a long shot in the race for the Late Show gig, his lack of showbiz savvy might be his biggest hindrance to getting the job. After his initial meeting with Dahl, Louie gets a call from Jay Leno, who, despite the alleged secrecy surrounding the offer, knows all about Louie’s chance at the Late Show gig. When Louie asks Jay whether or not he should go for it, Jay responds with seemingly heartfelt and honest advice and recommends he passes up the offer. He points out that like Louie, he once was the hip comedian of the moment, but “then you gotta do fourteen minutes every single night. No one’s the cool guy every night.” More so than anyone else so far, Leno’s advice speaks to Louie’s greatest fear about taking the job, that he’ll be forced to abandon his independent and respected comedic image to become the cheesy television host whom no one takes seriously. Yet Leno wishes him good luck if he chooses to go for it, adding, “And if you get it, this is the last time we’ll speak as friends.” Even more so than fellow comedy villain Dane Cook in his appearance last season, Leno was sympathetic and even likable in his brief cameo and his regret at giving up his edgy respectability for security and fame felt honest and almost a little sad.
Yet when Louie divulges the details of their conversation to good friend, Chris Rock the following day, Rock chastises Louie for being so naïve as to trust the word of a competitor. “He loves that job. He’s just trying to get rid of you,” he tells him. Rock’s got some advice for Louie as well, warning him to “smarten up, don’t listen to anybody, and watch your back.” Louie feels stupid for not having made the same assessment and thanks Rock for the advice. A few days later, however, when a bruised and beaten Louie is recovering on the couch from the pummeling he received at his first lesson with Alfonse, he flips on the TV to discover via Access Hollywood that Chris Rock is now campaigning for the Late Show gig, as well. Rock’s underhanded move has a delivered a much more devastating blow than those he received in the ring and the episode ends with Louie nursing a black eye and a battered ego, looking to be very much the underdog in his pursuit of making the Late Show with Louis CK a reality.
All Photos Credit: FX Network