Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Love LOUIE on FX

I hope the food is terrific.  On May 20th, at a luncheon, the trophies will be handed out to the winners of this year's prestigious Peabody Awards.  Those highly-respected awards are given for excellence in electronic media.  Today, it was announced that one of the winners is...Louis C.K.  The actor, comedian, writer and director won for his series, Louie.  The Peabody staff called his FX sitcom a "groundbreaking comedy that defies categorization."  As a fan, I am thrilled about this Louie achievement.
I totally agree.  It does defy categorization.  It's also wickedly funny, smart, socially relevant and -- this above all -- full of heart.  That's a quality missing in some sitcoms on other networks.  There isn't heart.  There's not that revelation about something in our human condition, in our spirit.  There's more of a focus on trying to be edgy.  How many more times is the word "vagina" going to be used as the punchline in prime time?  Instead of telling you why Louie is so brilliant, I'll tell you how it's touched my soul.  His was the first character on TV or film who reflected a certain single guy alienation and longing that I felt in the post-9/11 New York.  I'm not there now but, like Louie, I love New York.  If you're an outsider, Manhattan is the place for you.  It's the original Island of Misfit Toys.
In the first episodes in the first seasons of Louie, I consistently did the DTST (Danny Thomas Spit Take) having a beverage while watching it.  He could have me howling with laughter one minute and then put tears in my eyes a couple of minutes later with some unexpected tenderness.  Do you watch Louie?  Remember the episode where he's got a huge container of sex lube in his carry-on luggage and he's trying to explain to the airport security agent that it's not a terrorist concoction?  That's before he boards a flight to a comedy gig, a flight with nauseating turbulence.  Everything that could go wrong goes wrong.  He just wants some kind of warm human connection to make him feel present and safe and special.  That happens when he gets a ride to the airport for his return trip.  That ride ...I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.  Taking his little girls out to a diner for pancakes at the crack of dawn?  The kindly old relative who uses racially offensive words?  The episode with Joan Rivers?  I loved 'em.  I understand his inner dissonance.

When Louie and his mother argued, it reminded me of arguments with my mother back then.  I love Mom.  But, for quite some time, she acted like a graduate of the Lucy Ricardo School of Finance.  A few years before I moved from my TV career in Milwaukee to accept a gig at a New York City TV station, she moved to Milwaukee and bought a house that only she liked.  Then she quit her job.  So, while I'm new to my new job in New York City, she's having major financial drama with that house.  I assumed her mortgage and spent the next two decades paying it off.  In 2009, things got really weird for me back in Manhattan.  I felt as if I'd become invisible despite years of on-camera television work.  I'd been on a show that got cancelled the previous year.  Not only was finding new employment difficult but I could not get a broadcast agent. Veteran agents, folks well over age 35, met with me and asked me if I'd ever done any on-camera work.  One agent asked me that as she was holding my headshot/resumé.  I kid you not.  The thing was, when she asked, I was seen hosting a Food Network show that was airing nationally Monday through Friday mornings in repeats.  The show was listed on the other side of my headshot.  The headshot she was holding.

The cancelled show was a fulltime gig.  I loved it but I could've earned more had I been a dental hygienist.  I was broke, lonely and faced with the fact that I could lose my once-affordable studio apartment.  I decided that I could move in with Mom and start over.  I'd paid off her mortgage.

She didn't want me in the house.  First of all, she didn't approve of my career.  "You were meant to be  writer," she said.

"You weren't meant to be on TV," she said on the phone.  You know why I'm telling you this?"

"Because you're a broadcast agent?"

"No.  Because I'm your mother and I'll tell you the truth.  You were meant to be a writer.  You always got good grades on your term papers."

I tried to explain to my long-divorced and single mother that doing the work I was "not meant to do" is how I paid off her mortgage.  That took her to the next question.

"Are you still gay?"

"Uh...well, yeah.  It's not like a magazine subscription.  You just don't cancel it.  Mom, I was with Richard for a year and half until he died.  We weren't just roommates."

"When you were growing up, how was I supposed to know you'd be gay?"

"Ok, Mom, remember 7th grade at Mother of Sorrows?  Sister St. Mark was teaching us how to use reference books?  She gave us a homework assignment on a Friday.  We had to write a 2 page report on someone famous and list our reference books as footnotes.  I went to school Monday with an 8 page report on Edith Head.  And 4 of the pages were illustrations."

"Yes!  And you got an A.  You were meant to be a writer!"

I could relate to Louis C.K. on his sitcom.  I connected to him.  He was just a regular guy looking for a safe place to fall.  In the writing, he reflects that thing about family and romantic relationships that many of us discovered in middle-age --  often the people who are the closest to us see the least.  They miss some obvious points.  That's the human condition.  We all strive to be noticed, validated, acknowledged and appreciated.  We don't want to be invisible to those close to us, those we love, because we've become like an everyday commonplace fixture.

In the series, he takes us over bumps and potholes in a ride back from his comedy club act so that we can see the big picture.  There are so many recognizable moments in the emotional turf of that sitcom.  It reflects a world I know in a city I love.  I am so, so thrilled that he'll be able to put a Peabody Award next to his Emmy.  Bravo, Louie!  As gay-friendly as the sitcom is, he should also be honored by GLAAD one of these seasons.

By the way, I didn't move into Mom's house.  She's not living in the house now either.  Career and sexual orientation weren't the real reasons why she didn't want me in her house.  Without it between us, we drew closer together.  One of the unexpected joys during this bleak Recession that hit us both.  She now wants me to get back on television.  I'd love to -- and I'd love to do a bit part on an episode of Louie.

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