It’s not that anyone necessarily doubted Melissa Leo could be funny, it’s just that the Oscar-winning actress hasn’t really needed to be — her recent career’s been defined by roles that have been fierce (“The Fighter”), frightening (“Red State”), warm (“Treme”) and desperate (“Frozen River”), but not funny. But as Laurie, the landscaping company owner set up at a dinner party with Louis C.K.’s Louie on last night’s episode, Leo’s is gruffly hilarious and unsettling, upending gender expectations while physically manhandling the “Louie” protagonist into a hook-up.
The pair’s eventual fooling around in Laurie’s truck is itself the kind of turnaround the show has come to specialize in — a subversion of the expected trope of the reluctant blind date turning out to not be so bad after all. That’s the apparent initial scenario of “Telling Jokes/Set Up,” which finds comic Allan Havey, playing himself, inviting Louie back to his home to have dinner with him and his wife Debbie (Larisa Polonsky) as well as, it turns out, Debbie’s friend Laurie, who wasn’t informed of the plan ahead of time either. Dinner is stilted, with silences broken up by the scrape of Laurie’s knife on her place and Debbie having to coax conversation out of the two strangers like socially recalcitrant children: “Louie, why don’t you ask Laurie what she does?”
Laurie and Louie seem to have nothing in common. She has no interest in his stand-up career and he’s at a loss at what to say about her small business ownership, and they both begrudge their friends putting them in this awkward situation. (Laurie’s also a little intimidating — Louie may have stuck with his motorcycle despite the accident he had in the season premiere, but she’s got a giant pick-up, and she says she doesn’t want a husband because the “last thing I need is another mouth to feed.”) But the two find shared ground in their annoyance with married people — “they just want to spread their shit on everybody,” as Laurie puts it — and bond over their similar pessimistic outlooks on life at a bar, having escaped the Havey household after what may have been a strategically staged fight by their hosts.
“Louie” then somehow takes a turn into a date rape joke and discussion of expectations of sexual reciprocity — and that it works, if uneasily, is entirely in Leo’s hands. It’s partially thanks to her unabashed matter-of-factness (“your sperms are dying inside my mouth right now”) about what she sees as an expected exchange in which she gives him a blowjob and therefore it’s only fair that he should “strap on the feedbag” — Laurie’s not insecure and she’s not acting out of self-loathing or a need to be liked, but with the thought of an (unfairly) assumed quid pro quo.
But it’s also that she’s given the stereotypical male role in pressuring one’s date to put out, an idea made more amusing by how much smaller Leo is than C.K. They’re in her car, she’s got her arm slung over the seat and a hint of a swagger, and while she may not have paid for dinner, she’s just given Louie enough of a service that she feels assured she’s owed something in return. He, then, ends up in the traditional female part of this scenario, resisting because “that’s very intimate and I don’t really know you” and “it’s too soon.”
The point that the scene gets across is that Louie feels more secure, if not comfortable, turning Laurie down despite her anger and outrage is because he’s a guy and has never been expected nor thought to give into the type of sexual coercion plenty of girls have faced on a night out. It’s one that the show, after teasing out, finally turns into a joke by having Laurie first cast aspersions on Louie’s heterosexuality and then sucker-punching him and threatening to break his finger unless her gets her off. Aside from Laurie’s callback to the random “What about Obama?” joke from last week — “What is wrong with this country? Obama,” she sighs in exasperation after Louie’s “no” — the episode’s funniest moment may be Louie’s blithe no-harm-no-foul agreement to go out with Laurie again, after all that. No one said dating was easy.