Apologies for not getting to Louie until now — A Dance With Dragons kind of ate my brain last week. This post contains spoilers through last week’s episode, “Joan.”
This episode starts with a woman Louie can’t get away from fast enough, and ends with one he can’t get enough of. When he tries to order groceries from the corner deli, he’s interrupted in the middle of a complex negotiation over whether he was six or 60 bananas by a call from his sobbing sister, declaring, “Louie, I am so sorry I wasn’t a better big sister to you.” Maybe this is the way Louis C.K. sees the world, but there seem to be an awful lot of hysterical women in his life.
And it’s because of that it’s refreshing to see Joan Rivers show up after Louis bombs a gig in Atlantic City, resorting to begging his audience to stay by telling them “Folks, why are you giving your money to Donald Trump? He’s a billionaire and you work hard for your money.” But even though he’s cranky and depressed, Louis’ face lights up watching Joan do her shtick on the main stage. For once, this is a woman who isn’t using Louis because he’s famous, or inviting him over for spectacularly awkward sex, or getting mad at him in some old dude’s apartment. She’s in his field, and she’s incredibly accomplished, and as it turns out, she’s pretty cool — suddenly, Louis’ hanging out with her in her suite where “Cher had this place, she slept here. Madonna. Bette Middler.”
So it’s interesting to see the particular variety of gawky that Louis pulls out for the occasion. “Do you know how many blow jobs I had to get where I am now?” Rivers asks him. “I don’t want to guess,” he initially demurs, before venturing “40? Around 40?” It’s of course manipulative of Rivers to push him to answer, and it’s probably unfair of her to freak out when he guesses an insulting high number, but his answer does reveal something about how he sees the business and imagines it must be like for women. And then he ends up sleeping with her, but not before Rivers warns him not to tell anyone “for your sake, not mine. Nobody likes necrophiliacs. And if you meet Melissa, not a word. She still thinks I’m a virgin.”
Both Rivers and Louis operate in a kind of comedy that involves them saying things about themselves before someone else can say them. With Rivers, the things she says are outsized, like a bit where she complains that her breasts sag so much that she has to kick them out of the way when she walks. Louis, on the other hand, mostly says things about him that are true. The distorted version of herself that Rivers puts on display keeps people away from the real person behind the performance, while Louis is much more painfully vulnerable. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a gender inversion, but it’s a fascinating juxtaposition that says more than just a study in tradecraft.