Louis C.K. And Television As Conflict Management

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.