Louis CK’s show ‘Louie’ is essentially half an hour of stand-up interspersed with sketches, during which a fictionalised version of Louis CK (played by himself) goes about his always awkward, often humiliating daily business. Haven’t we been here before with, for example, Larry David? Maybe, but ‘Louie’ is probably the next stage of the evolutionary process – less polished, harsher, more universal. For all of his social gracelessness, Larry often has a point. And overall, he’s usually winning. The Louis CK of ‘Louie’ is skint, unattractive and often brilliantly, excruciatingly wrong.
Michael McIntyre might have noticed that, say, a self-service checkout is sometimes difficult to operate. But Louis CK has noticed that most of our lives are essentially pointless and destructive and that the only certainties are loneliness, disappointment and death. Bought a new puppy? Louis has found a way to link this incipient source of delight to a nightmare he once had about a pile of dead dogs. He’s like Bill Bailey possessed by the spirit of Bill Hicks.
Which leads us to Louis CK’s most important attribute. Billy Connolly always reckoned he got away with all manner of filth because he delivered it with a laugh. Louis CK manages the same thing with existential misery, and it’s the key to his comedy. Contemplating ageing? Decline? Compromise? Futility? So’s Louis. And he’s not coming up with any comforting answers. But he’s doing it with a smile. Does that make his uncomfortable truths easier to bear? For the duration of the show, certainly.
For such a big star, Louis CK is the king of DIY. In terms of his live stand-up shows, he controls everything, from ticketing to the DVD releases – he’s promised to keep prices low for his O2 show on March 20. For his TV series, he’s accepted a tiny budget as the price of complete artistic control. No gimmicks here, nor any torturous, spirit-sapping compromises with TV station compliance units; the scripts and ideas stand or fall on their own worth.
There are three seasons of ‘Louie’ already in the bag and a fourth is in the works. The opening few episodes are very good indeed. Reports suggest that in due course, ‘Louie’ gets great and eventually, becomes utterly unmissable. Get in early.
‘Louie’ starts Tuesday January 22, 9pm, Fox. For Time Out's verdict on episode one, click here