Considering the entire series follows a stand-up comedian’s life, it’s almost inconceivable to think Louis C.K. hasn’t yet dramatized on Louie the slog-ridden travels of touring comedy until this week “The Road Part 1.”
That said, despite chronicling C.K.’s efforts to bring laughter to cities across America, this penultimate episode is definitively the most cynical chapter in this fifth season thus far. It’s here where the off-kilter comedy revitalized throughout the year becomes short circuited to display candidly the frustrations and misery of a 47-year-old comedian, away from home and family and dealing with his social insecurities and other hassles in environments he simply can’t enjoy.
The character, clearly as tired, haggard and uncomfortable as can be, once again represents the melancholy and humorous oddities of his world — a traveler who accepted what he does and tries to make it through morally and psychologically alright, yet constantly can’t work against trepidations of both his own and from his neighbors. As Louie puts together his luggage, sorting his clothes as “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sweat,” he immediately displays and portrays the day-to-day monotony of traveling comedy. It’s a lot of sitting, awkward talking or lying around, eating a burger as you wait for your set to come. As seen here, the actual work is often so miniscule in the midst of all the boring activities that it almost feels like a nonsensical road trip from hell.
You have to stay in crappy hotels, while crazy people yell and ask where to find their friend Roger. You sit behind earnest drivers like Mike (Devin Ratray), moving you around but ironically can only travel the world through the words of actual travelers. Although some as gracious as Bill Burr and Myq Kaplan keep Mike laughing and happy. But Louie’s been around the country several times. He’s seen it all and he’s even met people like Mike before already, even if he’s never directly met the driver before in his life, on the road or otherwise.
“It’s like going to the toilet, it’s something you have to do,” C.K. says to a soon-weeping Mike. It’s his living, and he’s at a point where the things that excited them became boring, that which disappointed him now hurts more and the people he meets are now a rotating calendar of faces. And it would seem the only thing to make him stop and take notice is an airport JizzyBuns, something like a more frank Cinnabon where the cashier taunts the already-desperate customers. Though “The Road Part 1” does take the time to note how life can bring unusual circumstances — like a lost child on the train you ultimately becomes Louie’s concern in an empty airport waiting area. As he he continues to learn the hard way, these moments come with little reward, even when the comedian cares enough to not only notice them but make an effort to fix others mistakes. All it leaves him with is a lost suitcase of luggage.
Where documentaries like Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, Blue Collar Comedy Tour movies or many Comedy Central segmented behind-the-scenes show the fun and variety comedians have on-the-road — like fast drinking, female fans and a roaring crowd — Louie isn’t afraid to bare witness to what really happens, even in its own satirically surreal way. It’s just a job, ultimately, and what is most special about “The Road Part 1” is how it diverts every expectation towards any exciting incidents.
Louie’s interaction with a disgruntled motel attendee while on the phone with his manager, the finally back Doug (Edward Gelbinovich), about his temporary lodging situation seems like it’ll lead to an altercation of sorts. But the only real action is the comedian closing his blinds. An emotional monologue with Louie’s confessed feelings on road comedy results in, as mentioned before, an emotionally broken driver. But C.K. doesn’t make amends or even take him out for drinks to cheer him up.
Later, Louie’s attempt to bring a lost child to her mother finds the adolescent in question running away, never to be seen or heard again as our main character continues on his way. And when he does realize he lost his bag, and finds himself panicking with the airport staff to recollect it, this results only in him accepting his lost, going on the plane just in time and then buying a new suitcase and wardrobes for his travel. And when he counts the clothes as he did before — “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sweat” — things come full circle and yet the cycle continues.
Such is the life of a comedian, and so does “The Road Part 1” adhere to the principles of both work traveling and also Louie’s unusual variety. This balance is as well managed as anything on the show because C.K. continues to know exactly what he wants to do and say. And while this may seem boring to some, that’s because this work is often quite dull. The road life is no adventure, like C.K. tells us, and even the little impressionable moments don’t result in much besides bullet points along the way. As we are guided by jaded guitar licks this week as we once were with strumming banjo chords during “Pot Luck,” we, again, follow the day-to-day struggles of C.K., in ways funny, sad, thoughtful, odd and, yes, sometimes even very casual.
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