In Between “Louie” and Louis CK

    I know that last bit sounds a little racist and very bizarre, but part of the majesty of “Louie” is watching CK walk up to the edge of acceptability and piss into the abyss. Season one of “Louie” started off better than 90 percent of what constitutes “comedy” on basic cable today, but season two was when Louis set his sights on something even grander. Season two — nominated for three Emmys, including Best Directing, Lead Actor, and Outstanding Writing (which he won) — saw Louie travel to Afghanistan on a USO tour, confront infamous joke thief Dane Cook, and visit an old ghost from his past who threatens to kill himself.

    But no one said being a writer/director/editor/producer/actor was easy, and sometimes the stretch marks showed themselves as “Louie” progressed through its sophomore season. It’s not that there were bad episodes in the first two seasons, but there were moments where you could see the show’s knees buckle under the weight of its own ambition.

    Looking back on season three of “Louie,” a new split has opened between the Louis CK we know and love and his fictionalized counterpart. In real life, Louis CK has learned just how well his own brand of fiercely independent comedy works. He made millions when he released his latest stand-up special on louisck.net for $5 and then sold his concert tickets — minus service fees — through the same website. Seeing his success, FX rightfully assumed that CK would want a larger budget and a primetime slot. CK refused on the grounds that it would hamper his creative control over the show. Even in his success, CK has maintained the kind of artistic integrity that would make Metallica fans jealous.

    But the Louie in “Louie” is someone who is much less certain of his future, and even his talent, and nowhere is this distinction more apparent than in the epic three-part episode “Late Night,” in which Louis’s sad-sack fictionalized Louie manages to “go viral” after a spur-of-the-moment stint on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The opportunity to take over David Letterman’s soon-to-be-empty seat at “The Late Show with David Letterman” is presented as his final chance at fame before he’ll be forced to teach comedy at a community college in order to feed his kids. (With that said, a “Louie”/”Community” crossover episode could only be the most amazing thing ever.)

    Throughout season three, the only times we get close to real-life Louis is through the short stand-up bits, which have become a rarity compared to seasons past. But when Louie comes out the of the other side of his audition unscathed (albeit without the job), he transforms into the Louis CK we know and love, who’s not afraid to march to the front of the Ed Sullivan Theater and proudly shout “Hey Letterman! FUCK YOU! I did it!” Behind the scenes, the audacity of the arc is shown in the sheer number of guest stars: Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Garry Marshall, Paul Rudd, Susan Sarandon and even David Lynch all appear in one form or another. But in front of the camera, we watch the story of a man coming to terms with his own talent and all the possibilities it can bring.

    With Louis and Louie on the same page, the possibilities are even more infinite than they ever were before. A new twitter page called “Fake Louie Episodes” is full of potential storylines that are as hilarious as they are entirely possible in the upcoming fourth season. One suggestion reads, “Louie is asked to host the Oscars. Is stalked by a vindictive Billy Crystal. Hikes a mountain.” But until we get our first tastes of this new “Louie,” I’ll be singing that theme song all year long.

    “Louie Louie/You’re gonna dieeeeee.”

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