Considering the rising success Louis C.K. has seen in the last few years, largely due to his DIY work ethic in Louie as well as the waves he made regarding the self distribution of his last few stand-up specials, “Late Show Part 1” is a much harder sell than the similarly autobiographical Louie segment, “Oh, Louie”, in which C.K.’s troubles with network executives in developing an honest and authentic family sitcom were depicted. The dissonance felt in “Late Show Part 1” results from the fact that both Jay Leno and a fictional CBS chairman, excellently played with an apt combination of sleaze and cunning by Gary Marshall, characterize Louie’s appearance as lead guest on The Tonight Show as the big break for which he’s been waiting his entire career. Marshall even goes so far as to say the comedian, “peaked five years ago.” This doesn’t exactly mesh with our present day understanding of C.K.’s actual real world success. In “Oh, Louie” the segment is clearly a flashback to when he and his wife were still married and his first child was still just a small baby. So despite understanding that Louie is not meant to be a factually accurate representation of the real world Louis C.K., knowing the segment was taking place in the past made it easy to accept. “Late Show Part 1” appears to take place in the present day so the fictionalized Louie clashes more so with the actual C.K.
In addition, “Late Show Part 1”, while of course done very well – Louie, in its almost three complete seasons of television, has yet to include an episode that was not impeccably executed – spends most of its time building up the pathos of the climax where Marshall provides Louie the career defining opportunity of replacing David Lettermen as host of The Late Show. While this make-or-break moment is sufficiently tense, it’s not especially funny. Nor is it meant to be.
There are, however, a few laugh-out-loud bits throughout the episode. The stand-up Louie performs at The Improv at the episode’s open is an excellent indicator of how great his Tonight Show appearance must have been (we don’t actually get to see this million hit viral video to be, a wise decision on C.K.’s part). The painfully true notion that American parents get the privilege of deciding when to explain ugly things like war to their children whereas Iraqi children don’t necessarily get the same opportunity, instead they just ask, “Why is Uncle Henry’s head gone?” is tragically hilarious. Louie continues to juxtapose tragedy and comedy when he describes the absurdly arduous job of the consumer to research his or her purchases by reading long reviews online from people crazy enough to, “murder-suicide their entire family,” after describing the “counter intuitiveness” of a Blu-Ray player remote.
Also I’m just going to put it out there that Louie waking up may be up there with Donald Glover crying in terms of physicality that brings tears of laughter to my eyes. Louie’s confounded anger and dismissal of the maid whom doesn’t understand the concept of the “Do Not Disturb” sign was quite amusing as was his quiet slew of curses in response to seeing the sun and his disappointment that there’s, “not even time to jerk off,” before his meeting at CBS.
And because C.K. takes the time to include so many great details I feel obliged to acknowledge them. I’m referring here to the inclusion of Improv founder Budd Friedman as well as the names of Jay Larson, Shang Forbes, Red Grant, Bill Burr, Carlos Mencia, and Steve Byrne on The Improv marquee and the posters inside the club of Maria Bamford, Todd Glass, and close colleague Chris Rock.
Yet the most stand-out supporting role of “Late Show Part 1” undoubtedly goes to Louie’s unusually young looking agent, Doug, played by the nearly 23 year old Brooklyn native Edward Gelbinovich. Gelbinovich has made appearances in the past but this may have been the first time his character was present for a specific purpose – to highlight just how out of depth he and Louie are when faced with this new opportunity – at which Gelbinovich excels. I especially loved when Marshall completely ignores the young agent by sitting on the arm rest of the chair he’s occupying.
Though Louie’s meeting at CBS wasn’t particularly funny, it was excellently written and included the mention of another comedian announced to make an appearance at some point during this three episode arc, Jerry Seinfeld. I loved that C.K. allowed us to see the confidential sales pitch Marshall gives to convince Louie to consider the job of Late Show host, especially the mention of how much Seinfeld would be paid for the gig, 12 million dollars, compared to what is offered Louie, a mere one million. Usually talk of money and salaries is deemed a social faux pas or bad etiquette, but in this case I appreciate the exposure of details otherwise purposefully kept from the public to maintain the illusion that big ticket celebrities aren’t so wealthy they must be out of touch with their target audience.
Not for nothing, but I’m inclined to consider the possibility that C.K. may have, just possibly, been influenced by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy when writing the three part “Late Show” arc. Obviously this is a facetious statement, but “Part 1” does serve mainly to set up the next two episodes in which we’ll presumably see Louie two months in the future having attempted to lose 40 pounds in preparation for his test show.
Louie has always walked a very thin line between fiction and reality. Usually this tightrope act is performed with such skill each vignette could not be more effective. This is why in “Late Show Part 1” it’s a bit jarring imagining Louie as anything less than a master of his craft. It’s nonetheless fascinating to witness the behind the comedy scenes take for which Louie has in part become known. It may also be telling in that C.K. is now in reality set to have the pilot he wrote with Spike Feresten in 1999, Before We Made It, the comedians’ take on a group of 20-somethings trying to make it as working artists in the city, premiere as a TV movie on, you guessed it, CBS later this year. The project was originally never green lit but in light of C.K.’s recent success the network has reconsidered its options.
Though it’s really too early to judge “Late Show Part 1”, its merits won’t truly be seen until the other two parts premiere, it more than makes up for its lack of back to back punch lines with genuinely tense set-up and I’m excited to see where parts 2 and 3 take us when the show returns on September 13th (damn you, Anger Management!).
This article was first posted on September 2, 2012