By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Louis C.K.’s life is one of unavoidable complication.
His rants about body weight, age and prejudice showcase human interaction in hilarious and profound ways, bending structural conventions accordingly--the more self-deprecating he becomes, the more sporadic and limitless his form. This shifting form makes “Dr. Ben/Nick” endlessly surprising and engaging, erasing expectations and the comforts of cliché.
The third episode of Season 1 begins with Louie once again harping on his never-ending list of insecurities. As usual, his on-stage rants elicit control over his appearance, like a school child making fun of their own braces before someone else can. The subsequent sketch shows something quite different--reserved humiliation. Louie heads to the office of his friend Dr. Ben (played by the always fantastic Ricky Gervais), where he is embarrassed, insulted and violated.
“Dr. Ben” acts as a one-joke sketch that adds depth to C.K.’s stand-up and character. It shows difference between his on-stage confidence and in-sketch humility, creating a hilarious opposition. It’s the type of humor we’ve come to expect from "Louie." But at episode three, it’s silly to be so sure of consistency, as “Nick” bridges gaps between these separate worlds.
After conventionally opening with a stand-up bookending the last sketch, the camera then follows Louie off stage. We see him engage with people directly in an uncharted space between the stand-up and a sit-com segment as right-wing comedian/friend Nick DiPaolo takes the stage, starting the second half of the show. At this point, all previously stated rules go out the window.
DiPaolo’s conservative humor isn’t popular with the club’s audience or Louie. After the set, the two get in a political altercation, leaving DiPaolo bleeding. The moment once again breaks the rules by slipping into a documentary-style drama that doesn’t play for laughs. Much like the rest of the episode, the moment is surprising, but its resolution is a poignant one.
At episode three, C.K.’s insistence on maneuvering his form and subverting expectation makes "Louie" an absolute joy to watch, and its unpredictable structure is a perfect setting for his complicated life and relationships. So while it’s not always the funniest show on TV (most of the episode is filled with dramatic conversation that contributes to the episode even more than the jokes), C.K. gains artistic freedom. He recognizes that there’s more to comedy than simply mocking human foibles: It pays to understand why people stand on different sides of the line.