Friday, September 14, 2012

LOUIE ("Late Show: Part 2"): David Lynch and the Pupkin-Headed Teleprompter

Anyone at all concerned with comedy TV in this country knows that LOUIE (Thursdays at 10:30 on FX, parental discretion advised) is what matters in this moment. It's 'real' yo - it's how reality is, maybe. And if it ain't real then it's certainly surreal, especially after this week's episode. Before this it had always gone deep into the abyss of sexually frustrated, mildly overweight middle-aged white male angst within us all, now it goes further, to the Rupert Pupkin within us all. And of course I'm referring to Scorsese's itchy 1983 exercise in comedic torture, KING OF COMEDY, because Louie (the character) has a shot at replacing Letterman (the host) and of course he must follow that opportunity, even if it goes against the grain of his depressive sloth.

And in my apartment, LOUIE hits close to home, literally, as in they're always filming actorss the street at the "Community Bookstore & Cafe" and at our supermarket and on the streets immediately around our 7th ave and Garfield Apt. in Park Slope. In the arc they're filming he goes to the bookstore to pick up Parker Posey, who plays a cute employee who, we must diagnose if we're familiar with the type--is bi-polar. Having the bookstore so close conjures many thoughts: is Louie supposed to be living here in Park Slope? I thought he was on the Upper West Side! Why on earth would he come all the way out there just to go to a bookstore? I've been in there and it's very nice, but books are cheaper on Amazon, usually, so it's hard to buy things there, or anywhere, at all... any more.

This all has to do with the LOUIE episode with David Lynch by the way --I'm not just location dropping.  It's relevant. Bear with me.

At first the casting of David Lynch as "Jack Dahl" -- an ancient Tonight Show executive assigned with the  task of grooming Louie for the slot of Letterman's replacement-- seems like just a stunt - a freaky sign he's dreaming or something. But then he springs into action and you know this is serious: giving no advance warning, he starts timing Louie with a stopwatch while his agent holds up a cue card of a joke written during the Nixon administration, and Louie thinks the whole thing can't even be real and if he just acts bewildered and dumb enough he'll escape. He's been using this defense all through the show, and it's frustrating us. But Dahl refuses to even acknowledge it, and remains (intentionally?) oblivious to Louie's awkward reticence and feeble blamecasting about the datedness of the material. Also, Dahl announces, Louie will need to wear a suit. When Louie refuses, Dahl stares at him in bewilderment. that a suit would be the dealbreaker strikes him as absurd, a dumb whim no serious man would entertain, so he sends Louie off to a boxing gym for a well-deserved beating.

But during Louie's second visit to Dahl, it all starts to take shape. In the best scene, Dahl demonstrates the technique of standing before a curtain on camera and waving and gesturing to nonexistent audience members as an applause and laugh track plays. Whole books have been written about audio mimesis as utilized in Lynch's amazing MULHOLLAND DR. (at the Club Silencio), and the eerie ghosts of 20th century sound recording still echoing across time. So this scene bravely encompasses all those books and the Silencio in a single take.

Top - Louie / Bottom - Mulholland Dr.
Basically what this 'mimesis' is, as far as I can tell, is a study of how we let electronic reproduction take over for our own voices, becoming more and more aligned with the machine, so we become more and more like cold machines ourselves, our voices nearly always spoken in phones instead of in 'real time' - our music coming from iPods rather than live bands. It all adds up to make us alienated from the text of our own lives, to become passengers on the ship of ourselves while streams of ones and zeros do the talking to and for us. How do I know? I designed this poster for a guest lecturer at Pratt a few years ago and not to toot my own digitally-encoded horn but I'm good at seeming to know about weird new academic subjects without really knowing shit. (Shhh- I never go to the lectures I make posters for --shhhhh, why go hear someone actually speak when there's podcasts?)

One thing I do know: if you want to imagine David Lynch's acting in this LOUIE episode without seeing it, know that he was either consciously or unconsciously channeling the Weenie King (Robert Dudley) in PALM BEACH STORY! (in video below, FF to about halfway through).
So what Dahl is driving at in LOUIE is that hosting a show (especially on CBS) with tens of millions of viewers is a matter of  surrendering to a kind of mass hypnosis common denominator existence, like AVATAR in reverse. All your rough edges must be sanded away because you are being welcomed to the machine of non-specific demographic catch-all appeal, where you are reduced to ones and zeros and sent across vast cable distances and there is no place for modern slacker t-shirts and jeans when the men you have to impress still consider poodle skirts the height of sexy, as Lynch clearly does in MULHOLLAND DR.

Louie's TV talk show guest appearances reveal he's funny and perceptive and on point, so why not give us some of that guy, don't we--and Dahl--deserve it, in this season? LOUIE is still brilliant as a show, but as a character--as a semi-fictional version of himself--he's stagnating through a kind of dopey everyman cluelessness. Compare him to Seinfeld or Larry David who both kept their intellect as fictional versions of themselves on their shows and Louie is found wanting. He finds his comedy lately by breaking simple rules of common sense and intrinsic understanding of how to avoid unpleasant situations. An earlier episode found him sticking around a Florida hotel after already saying good-bye to the cool friend he made, never imagining it won't be awkward or pointless; calling the cops to find his lost daughter rather than checking her closet, where she goes to read all the time; agreeing to babysit some skeevy kid who likes to throw other people's stuff out the window (and other things too gross to mention); agreeing to help a truly insane woman on a trip to the brutal, soul-crushing, waking nightmare known as IKEA, then declining her proffered fellatio payment; accepting a fellatio offer from a drunken insane truck driver lady but not reciprocating; buying a motorcycle on a whim without a clue how to drive it, then crashing with nothing but a blank shrug as an apology to the lady stuck watching your kids; letting rival comedians (Chris Rock, Jay Leno) know he might replace Letterman leaving when he signed a confidentiality agreement not to tell anyone. No one this self-sabotaging and dumb could make it as far as Louie has, even the scaled down fame within the show. He'd never make it one week on the road with his helpless schmuck schtick, they'd beat the tar out of him in the parking lot, with good reason. They'd be doing him a favor, like Dahl is by having beat up in the gym.

Jack Dahl is the first character in Louie's show to be adequately annoyed by him. Hopefully next week Dahl will hook him up with some Adderall and Effexor. Clearly the casting of 'king of post-modern audio mimesis' Lynch in a role that requires him to wave to an invisible applause track for two minutes is genius, but one must ask why Louie CK reserves no genius for his own character. He is not Buster Keaton and he is not Cary Grant. He is not comely, yet he acts the way a comely maiden does... if he dropped his handkerchief he'd stand there helplessly, expecting a rescue from a tall dark rationalization. And that's not cool. Only young hot chicks can get through life in this kind of bubble, not middle-aged comedians with famous friends and TV deals - they clawed their way up for that shit, with brains, talent and relentless pursuit of bigger and bigger audiences.

So it begs the question: does Louie think we would identify with a character who won't even identify with himself? We would be paralyzed too in these surreal situations with Dahl and that's just one reason why we didn't pursue a show business career. I remember auditioning for a voiceover agent and since I wasn't able to snap into brilliance in a crowded office after waiting around for ten minutes and dealing with the subway to get uptown she declined representing me, since I was dizzy from lack of sugar and dry in the throat and hungover I flailed. I took it as a sign. My nerves just couldn't handle being expected to snap into brilliance on a dime. So instead I stay home gazing into a conglomeration of electricity, plastic and digital code shining in big rectangle, like the Evil Queen hallucinating Snow White in every crack, every glowing ball a mirror showing a deformed face I won't claim as my own. Ideally the guy in the mirror would claim it as his, but as LOUIE progresses, it's pretty clear not even he wants to own up to his puffy visage.

(see also Roger Cormier's Splitsider recap from which I borrowed yon images)


  1. I don't watch a lot of television, so I did not know this show even existed. I know about Louie the comedian because there tend to be a lot of his jokes posted on Tumblr.

    From your description at the end, it sounds as though he might follow the character pattern I started thinking about while watching Sponge Bob a while back: TOO DUMB TO DIE!

    This is a common character type in movies and television, perhaps exemplified most clearly in Maxwell Smart and... Peter Sellers' inspector dude. People who do dumb stuff all of the time (stuff that would lead to anyone else's death!) and who get away with it anyway without even knowing they've gotten away with anything.

    Anyway, I am going to check out this show. Any series that cast David Lynch is worth a gander!

  2. Katy - Louie is no Sponge Bob, Peter Sellers bumbler; he is more of an emotional chicken shit. He takes his frustrated and alienated experiences and swallows them down until he can vomit them on stage. He is a kind of sin eater for the walking dead.

    Erich - You put on a suit, Brother!

  3. Man, if I lived in New York I'd wear a suit every day. I would follow the John Lurie adage: My suit is my office so I gotta keep it clean.

  4. I didn't know the had dress codes! It's too damn hot in Austin to dress, so most everyone looks like Louie CK, but with ear lobe gaskets. Do you have anything published I could order? I am good for shortish articles online, but anything over a few pages and I get cross-eyed. Also, Do you ever do the fests down here, SXSW or Fantastic Fest?

  5. johnny I know the feeling...I'm dressed like Louis right now, at work, no gasket tho, and nothing published outside of anthologies, old horror film mags, etc. Working on it, of course, incl. e-book but not sure that would count if you're looking to get away from screens.

  6. Kindle screens are different. I started to reread my hardback of Chronic City a few weeks ago and it was so cumbersome I just ordered it on my Kindle. Computers are great and all, but Kindles are a refined expression of progress. So, keep me posted. In the meantime, I will be running my printer. I am super intrigued by your Uma Thurman Comes From Alien Blood conjecture, and in skimming, I like the way you present the case for something we all know deep down inside already anyway.

  7. Thanks J, Depending on which Kindle you have, you can get acidemic delivered wirelessly -

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  9. Anonymous07 May, 2014

    I loved the fact that Dahl had a gun in his office desk drawer. One of my all-time favorite tv appearances---just classic.

  10. Anonymous28 July, 2016

    Man, you got that right!
    I mean the David Lynch's channelling Robert "Wienie King" Dudley part.
    I've just watched "The Palm Beach Story" and as soon as I heard and saw that character I jumped on my sofa... Man, the resemblances! As soon as the film was over I rushed to the www to see if anyone was thinking the same, how many academic papers were written on the subject. Gladly I'm not alone. ;)

    But I must add that I totally think it's conscious. The Wienie King is almost everywhere — in "Twin Peaks" (Mayor Dwayne Milford's hilarious «Is this thing on?!» immediately comes to mind), in "On the Air" (I won't quote here, I saw the series along time ago...), in "Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me" (Gordon Cole! do I need to say more?), I mean, it's everywhere, it totally pervades his work. ;)

    Anyway, despite this original post being almost 4 years now, I needed to vent this out. ahaha
    And I'll check out this show also, I now got curious.

    all the best!


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