Why so many questions in the title? Maybe it’s because so often I find myself asking them during and after each episode; maybe it’s because some of us are taking rhetorical theory and it’s causing us to question EVERYTHING. Who knows.
What I DO know is that I love Louie, and I’m excited to write about it for my final paper. I’ve loved Louis C.K.’s standup for a very very long time, and his show on FX (or Netflix, for most of us) is like 5 seasons of 30-minute snippets of his bits. There’s even actual scenes of standup in there – because Louis plays Louie, an overweight/self-deprecating divorced dad of two who is a working comic, the show is heavily based on his real life. It’s been praised for the inclusion of standup in the show, and is perhaps the first of its kind; in that case, it could be seen as a comedy variety show, as the textbook defines.
Image from Neon Tommy
That being said, for anyone familiar with C.K.’s standup material, they know that it is often dark. For some, too dark. But he has this uncanny way of saying something completely deranged that not only lets the audience know he doesn’t really believe it, but has them laughing at it at the same time. And even if you don’t agree with what he’s saying (see: C.K.’s and subsequently, the young, straight white male’s justification for the use of the derogatory F-word), you still get a general idea of his mindset (i.e. he’s offensive, but maybe he’s not a homophobe).
Louie takes these bleak, unhinged concepts and exaggerates them so much that you’re not even sure if it’s supposed to be funny anymore. With standup, C.K.’s sole purpose is to stand onstage and make people laugh; however, with Louie, the comic gets an hour on a non-major network with liberal censorship policies and full creative control. I would speculate that if C.K. was socially and professionally allowed to make people emote things other than laughter while he’s onstage, he would. Louie is just his outlet to do so.
I do not suggest reading this entire article, because I find it to be very pretentious, but there is one part of it I liked: the author defines a new kind of audience, the “Laptop Loner,” who sits in bed at odd hours and binge watches television shows alone (a.k.a. all of us). He goes on to say that “Not only does Louie’s audience not know when to laugh, they don’t even know if what they’re watching is supposed to be funny. For the Laptop Loner, this ambiguity is made all the more palpable by the absence of viewing partners; we use other people’s reactions to gauge the correctness of our own. But it also makes the ambiguity less assaulting. Alone, we can be comfortable in our discomfort.”
Louie can be categorized as a sitcom, a variety show, a comedy-drama (or “dramedy,” if you want to be cutting-edge) or whatever else you want it to be. That’s the beauty of it. Is it supposed to be funny? We may never know, but we will keep watching.