Louie: “Late Show (Part 1)”
Louie takes a meeting with CBS.
August 31, 2012 4:47 pmSam Lindauer
Like CK does in the excellent first part of “Late Show,” I’m going to try to cram a lot of things into not so much space. As it served the story, things were able to move very quickly for Louie this week as he explores an “overnight success” phenomenon of comics that may or may not exist anymore.
The episode opens quietly outside a comedy club in California on Wednesday, it’s already clear this will be a very different episode than what we’re used to (an already unpredictable show). Louie does his act before a The Tonight Show producer asks him later to come on the show and close after Tom Cruise. Worried he’ll be bumped (because Cruise likes to go long, obviously), he begrudgingly accepts the offer to the delight of his agent.
The next day we’re taken to The Tonight Show set and we see Louie waiting around for his time to go on. In this scenario he is clearly Louis CK, not super-famous comic. When the producer comes into his dressing room, he assumes he’s been bumped. But instead, he tells him that he needs to go on the panel because Cruise has cancelled. It’s such a dire situation, Leno himself comes in to ask for Louie’s help. (As an aside, I am not a fan of Leno’s at all, but he gets cred for appearing on the show, especially considering Louie’s Conan connections).
Louie is rushed out to the stage and manhandled by makeup people and the producer before being thrust out into the limelight. We then cut to the next day. After missing multiple calls he stumbles around his room, still normal working-class comic Louis CK. When he responds to his agent’s messages on the phone, we find out that he might become something much more. He has a meeting with CBS.
After waiting to be called in, Louie and his agent meet the chairman of CBS played by Garry Marhall, who was a surprise casting choice, but an excellent one. After being forced to sign confidentiality agreements by Charlie from legal, Marshall drops a bombshell on Louie. He asks if he’s interested in taking over The Late Show for David Letterman who is retiring. It’s an astronomical question and Louie immediately says no. Why would a mid-40’s guy like him be the choice to replace an icon like Letterman? The answer is that he isn’t the choice. He’s been asked if he’s interested. The guy they want is Jerry Seinfeld who will cost them a pretty penny. But Marshall wants to see if Louie wants a shot.
“If you’re a hit, everyone will think I’m a genius and I’ll have saved the network about 12 million dollars,” the chairman says. Louie’s a backup option and doesn’t let Louie back out of this without seriously considering the ramifications.
Marshall wastes little time getting down to the reality of the situation. Whether as a negotiating tactic, or just being a harsh-but-wise guy from the Bronx, the chairman of CBS lays out a terrifying future.
“If America hates you, no ones gonna blame me, and we’ll hire Jerry Seinfeld to do the show, no harm, no foul. But you’re gonna take the heat on all that. You’re gonna crack your head on the ceiling and you’re gonna go down. Probably for good.”
He goes further into the nightmare that many performers must feel before laying out why he needs to consider this. It isn’t necessarily about art, or being free to do whatever he wants. There are real-life consequences to not taking this job.
“Here’s the reality. In ten years you’re going to be teaching comedy at a community college somewhere to support your kids and falling asleep to The Late Show with Jerry Seinfeld. You’re circling failure in a rapidly decaying orbit. That’s the reality as we talk now. But we can change that. It’s in your power to change that...your chances are very slim, but you can change it. I’m gonna ask you one more time: David Letterman is retiring, do you want his job?”
A truly riveting speech from Gary Marshall, not something I’d ever expect. It shows the cynicism, the speed and the ferocity of a life-changing moment that presents itself so clearly. It’s rare that a comic, or anyone for that matter, will have someone say, “Your life will change because of this”. What’s truly unbelievable was that this sort of thing allegedly happened a lot with young comics. Comics in the 80’s were known for going the Tonight Show-to-life changing stardom road. It’s an oft-repeated story that many comics of a certain era parrot.
Louie is placing us in a different sort of reality – The Tonight Show is still relevant enough for a comic to get this type of meeting, CK is a known, but not well-known commodity, David Letterman is retiring – where a performer has to take into account his or her entire life and make the choice to turn left or right.
Marshall laying out Louie’s life as a comic and his potential futures is reminiscent of the Wizard coming out from behind the curtain in Oz. The fact that there’s one person out there who can tell you everything about yourself and change your future is disturbing. What makes this all the more surreal is that CK has invited us into the mundane aspects of his life – fatherhood, dating, divorce – so we feel as though we know the man well enough to know the truly cataclysmic effect this could have on his life. Just yesterday we were worrying about how his daughter was picked on at school and now he can be the next David Letterman or a nobody teaching community college students how to be standups.
The episode ends before Louie is able to answer the question, it’s impossible to tell if he’s interested. This version of CK is not the comedy superstar he is now, he’s likely the guy you may have seen on YouTube or maybe make a guest spot on Conan. This is pre-Lucky Louie/Louie Louis CK, these fears of having to struggle to support his family may have been much more real then, or even earlier in his career.
In the director’s chair, CK did an excellent job making these three days feel like a whirlwind. He had to make each of these pieces fit with each other in 30 minutes so the end felt like we had all just been through a bizarre dream. One second he’s in the comedy club, doing what he does at the top of the show each week, then he’s backstage at The Tonight Show getting pushed into the spotlight and before we know it, he’s in front of a man who has the power to change his life while throwing around names that have enormous significance in comedy and popular culture in America.
“Late Show” is a three-parter and I am absolutely engrossed in this story already. While I think it’s a safe bet that Louie will not turn into The Larry Sanders Show, I think that any way we get to the point of CK turning down/not getting the job will continue to be a fascinating look inside a world that most of us will never see (or fully understand). If the next two parts are anywhere near as strong as this, we may be watching the peak of CK as a storyteller.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10