“You need a suit, a tie and some Brylcreem.”
–Jack Dall (David Lynch)
To Louis C.K., the business side of comedy obviously has some Lynchian aspects — so much so that when he’s told to report to an executive in New York who’ll train him “Late Show Part 2,” the man, Jack Dall (the pronounciation seems to involve some inaudible nuances), is actually played by David Lynch in a funny and typically oddball turn. There’s an interesting flow to these casting choices — in “Late Show Part 1,” another filmmaker, Garry Marshall, took the role of the chairman of CBS, and now Lynch appears as another old pro with very traditional ideas of the game, focused only on the mechanics of talk show hosting with no interest in the actual content.
Jack gives Louie ancient cue card jokes going back several presidents ago, cares only about how fast he can deliver them, and demands he look presentable, a process that seems to involve going to a boxing gym and getting beaten up with no idea how to fight back. But Louie puts his foot down when it comes to wardrobe, insisting he won’t wear a suit. “I’ve been this guy for 25 years, I’m not going to become a different person,” he explains.
It remains to be seen where “Louie” is going with this three-episode arc, which wraps up next week, but it does suggest in offering its protagonist a wild jump at fame that insisting you’re going to be yourself can also be a defense mechanism, a way of resisting change and forward momentum. “Louie” is in many ways a show about a man who’s becoming open and honest about himself, warts and all, and how that honestly can provide moments of grace.
Consider how Louie bonds with the only other attendant at a colleague’s funeral (played by Robin Williams) over how awful the guy was in “Barney/Never,” or the converstion with the dad of the kid he follows home to Staten Island in “Bully” — wonderful, warm highlights in the show’s run. This vulnerable matter-of-factness can cause moment of pain and humiliation — best captured in the storyline involving Pamela Adlon’s character — but the show makes a solid case for it as the best way to go about living your life, no matter what kind of trouble it can bring you.
That said, Louie’s lying to himself in this episode, using his comfort with his identity as a way to avoid growth. He’s not letting himself want the job because he’s afraid — afraid he won’t get it, afraid he’ll fail if he does. He’s hiding behind his stand-up and behind his family, and in a nice scene with his ex-wife Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson) he gets called on it, on the fact that this gig is the point of everything he’s been working for and that his kids will be fine without him around all the time, And while Louie’s dithering, other people have no hesitations, would claw each other’s eyes out for this opportunity — Jay Leno and Chris Rock, playing themselves, try to dissuade him or take his place while he can’t take the prep seriously.
Next week brings the close of this storyline and the appearance of Louie’s rival for the Letterman slot, Jerry Seinfeld. Wouldn’t it be perfectly in line for the show for Louie to finally commit to wanting and trying to get the job only to backstabbed by a ruthless fictionalized version of Seinfeld? In the meantime, the most memorable image this episode leaves us with is Lynch greeting an imaginary, adoring crowd on the monitors while in person there’s only silence. It’s strange and appropriate — if Louie can’t mentally place himself as the recipient of that applause, how’s he ever going to manage it for real?