“Come On, God”
When I was a sophomore in college, two things happened to me at the exact same time: I realized that I was no longer a conservative Christian in any real sense of the term, and I realized that many of the hottest women on my campus were conservative Christians and they were dating several attractiveness levels below themselves. Now, granted, most women marry men slightly less attractive than themselves, just because that’s how we’re evolutionarily wired to behave. But the disparity here was pronounced. I’d come out of that world. It wouldn’t even be that much of a fake to slip right back into it and keep on keeping on. Any moderately good-looking guy with the ability to stave off losing virginity until marriage was all but guaranteed to end up with an incredibly, incredibly attractive woman, pleased to have found that unusual thing for someone in her late teens or early 20s: a guy who didn’t seem to be constantly thinking of sex.
I was put in mind of this during tonight’s first episode of Louie, “Come On, God,” for obvious reasons, I would imagine. Louie, who’s agreed to appear on Fox News’ Red Eye to defend masturbation, of all things, from a woman named Ellen, who says sexual purity should be maintained until marriage, finds himself greatly intrigued by her. And, of course, she’s a gorgeous woman (excellently played by guest star Liz Holtan), but she’s also so intriguing because she’s something completely and utterly new to him. Louie views sex and masturbation as a matter of course. These are just things people do, and in the case of the latter, it’s something people do often. To Ellen, they’re something sacred, something to be saved for the special person and the time being right. The episode doesn’t demonize her point of view; it just finds it almost incredibly alien.
And yet that alienness is a kind of turn-on, all the same (remember how the episode ends). Ellen and Louie do hit it off, even when he makes a bungled pass at her. He’s certainly much more at ease with her than he is with the woman he meets in the elevator, the woman he later fantasizes about stuffing an entire bag of dicks inside of. (Louie’s masturbatory fantasies have the same quality as a lot of people’s dreams, what with the odd plot shifts and the Asian guy who wanders in to offer advice from the sidelines.) After their drink, the two return to her suite—it pays well to be in the anti-jerking off league—and have a frank conversation about how much she would like a relationship where sex wasn’t on the table, where she and Louie just talked to each other and were honest with each other and eventually worked up to chaste kisses and, eventually, marriage. I love the look on Holtan’s face in this segment, as you can see just how pure and spiritual this all is for Ellen, how that’s perhaps a viable way to live her life but probably not one someone who’s already had sex and all of the messiness that goes with it could ever go back to.
The easy thing here would have been to make Ellen a hypocrite. She would get drunk and have sex with Louie, and then she’d be mad at him for taking her virginity or reveal that it was all a lucrative scam she was running on the conservative Christians of the country. That’s a path millions of other comedies have taken, and I’m sure Louie could have found something interesting to do with it. But that’s not what Louis C.K. does. He, instead, chooses to portray that, yeah, Ellen is pretty happy with the life she’s chosen, but it’s necessarily a life that shuts out certain experiences. She’s happy because she doesn’t really have a choice not to be. The second she starts to question the fantasy she’s built for herself, well, the sooner all of those walls are going to come tumbling down, and the sooner everything she’s built falls apart.
And, yeah, you can be happy living your life in that fashion. But Louie can’t be because he’s living his life honestly, in a world where, yes, he’s pretty miserable a lot of the time, but he’s also honest enough to admit that sometimes all he can think about a woman is that he wants to have wild sex with her. Masturbation is, after all, a highly personal act, the sort of thing that is rarely shared with someone else, and opening up about it to us is the sort of raw and honest thing the show does frequently. It’s a risky thing to do an episode about masturbation, simply because Larry David already kind of made this his territory on Seinfeld, but C.K. finds a new way to tell the story, and he has the added benefit of making a woman who seems like she’s a kook turn out to not be a kook at all, just someone whose frame of reference doesn’t contain certain things Louie considers an important part of his own life. And it’s also hysterically funny, one of the funnier half-hours this season.
And that’s the thing: You can shut off your frame of reference. You can turn off certain parts of yourself if you want something badly enough. Louie probably could have stopped masturbating if he really did want the same thing as Ellen, really did want the pretty girl badly enough. But, ultimately, he didn’t. He took the messy, honest, painful, depressing side of life over a side of life that requires shutting off so much that it would no longer resemble what he had before. I sometimes wonder if those guys I knew in college—all of whom are still married to their girlfriends of the time, mind—are as happy as they seemed to be. Probably. Could I have been one of them? Nah.
One of the worst things you can do to someone is say, “Stop me from killing myself.” What do you say to that? How can you possibly convince them not to do it? There’s really no way. Once someone has made up their mind that the only way out is to end it all, there’s nothing you can say that will convince them that, hey, the sun is bright and the grass is green and the sky is blue and goshdarnit, people like you. Once they’ve made the choice, the best thing you can possibly do is just be there to say that, hey, I wish you wouldn’t. Which is what Louie does for his friend Eddie in tonight’s second episode of Louie, even if the episode leaves things decidedly ambiguous. We’ll likely never know if Eddie did take those pills, but by barely trying to stop him, Louie may have made the best effort possible to keep Eddie alive.
“Eddie” is just the latest “dark” episode of this show, an episode that is about a rather cautionary tale of what might have happened to Louie if he was less talented or less hungry or less… whatever. Eddie Mac, played by comedian Doug Stanhope (in a terrific performance), is a funny guy. He proves that by getting up at the open mic and telling jokes that are legitimately amusing. But he doesn’t really have a personal stamp. He’s funny, but he’s not funny enough. Where Louie pours his heart out onstage, Eddie’s telling jokes that are the latest variations on jokes you’ve already heard. They’re funny variations, but they’re not the sorts of things that are original enough to win him late night talk show gigs or the acclaim of millions.
What I love about the episode is that it doesn’t let Louie off the hook for any of this. Sure, Eddie was a shitty friend who resented Louie’s success. But Louie also promptly forgot about Eddie after the bridge was burned. Instead of even thinking of the guy once or twice over the years, he just let that old relationship drift off, as so many of us are wont to do. And now he finds Eddie to be a nasty, bitter person, who’s let some essential part of himself rot away. Louie may be something of a glum person, but Eddie seems to believe the world owed him better and screwed him over. For all that Louie has to complain about, he’s still got a good career and great kids and a little he’s generally pretty happy with. What does Eddie have? Driving around the ass-end of the country, performing at shitty little gigs, slowly watching his life slip away from him.
For most of the episode, when Eddie talks about how he’s “done,” Louie assumes, for obvious reasons, that he’s just “done” with comedy, done with having to shovel all of the shit he’s been shoveling. But, no, Eddie reveals in that terrific street-side scene: He’s done with life. What he wants, more than anything, is to take the drug he assumes his doctor gave him as a suicide pill and ease on out of life after one last night he really enjoys. Is it a slightly too-romantic view of suicide? Almost certainly. But it’s the view nearly every single person has had at one point or another. Things have just gotten too hard. Nothing will work out. It’d be much easier to just end it all.
And as we’ve slipped right on by the halfway point for this season, it’s worth asking if any other show on TV could have even done a scene like this or if only Louie is the kind of show that could. For all of its weird, idiosyncratic moments and rough edges, Louie is a show that gets away with so much because it feels so unfiltered. It certainly helps that it’s airing during the summer, but is there a show on right now better than Louie? Only Breaking Bad can make a serious claim, and I’d argue that Louie, which is even better this year than it was in its first season, is slightly ahead of that terrific show. And even if that’s not true, it’s hard to think of a show more honest than this one, and that honesty ties together both of tonight’s episodes. Everything about this season feels absolutely direct from the brain of C.K., as though he knows exactly what he wants to say and is having no problems expressing it. And that’s been thrilling to watch.
So Louie leaves Eddie where they had their conversation, hoping what he’s said will be enough to walk Eddie back from the brink, even as he knows it just might not be. There’s really nothing more to it than that, just two former friends who get to have one last night together before whatever comes next, the one of them just needing to find the other to get someone to say, “Hey, don’t do this.” And even if Eddie goes ahead and takes his own life, Louie taking the time to say, “Hey, life is shitty, but everybody’s gotta go through it together” may end up being just what he needed. Louie can’t save Eddie’s life. No one but Eddie can do that. But he can, just maybe, get through to him on some level, puncture through the layers of angry, self-protective bullshit and get him to see that, yeah, he still means something to someone, even if that meaning has vastly eroded.
- No, you’re not seeing things. Nathan is away building a time machine. He’ll be back next week!
- “So we’re like porn for God?”
- “Wow. Masturbating’s really important to you.”
- “She’s an angel, and I want her to drown in my cum.”
- “It’s just like there are zero dicks in there.”
- “The sewers of America? That’s where I work.”
- “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Shitty Fat Tits.”
- “You’re making fun of water right now.”