There have been a lot of big revelations on this season of Louie — his heretofore unmentioned sisters, his love of car-ride sing-alongs, his latent sexual hunger for Joan Rivers — but last night’s episode provided one of the most notable revelations thus far: Holy crap! That Doug Stanhope dude can act!
Stanhope, for those who don’t know, is a longtime stand-up with a reputation (whether deserved or not) for being unabashedly skeavy; to those who don’t follow stand-up, he’s probably best known as the guy who hosted The Man Show for a bit, along with a Girls Gone Wild infomercial that ran on late-night basic-cable channel in the mid-aughts. He’s also been known to have a drink or two onstage, a fact that makes “Eddie” one of the more affecting (and dark-cornered) episodes of Louie thus far — a little bit Leaving Las Vegas, a little bit After Hours, and a whole lotta ( :( (that’s emoticon for sad guy in a skicap).
“Eddie” begins with a set at the Comedy Cellar, with Louie discussing how he's unable to deal with the less fortunate: “You ever see a person and think, I would kill myself if I woke up like that?” he says. “I have only the courage for a perfect life. Anything below perfect, I don’t want it I don’t even wanna be cold in the winter.”
Speaking of below perfect: Louie heads offstage and bumps into a half-lidded, gravel-voiced guy in a skicap. Turns out it’s Eddie, a friend from Louie’s early stand-up days. From the beginning, it’s clear Eddie has more chips on his shoulders than a Pringles model, immediately taking offense when another comic asks if he works out of L.A.: “The sewers of America, that’s where I work,” he says. “Places you wouldn’t be welcome, you phony New York piece of shit.” Eddie supports himself (and his drug habit) at crappy clubs, and offers Louie a ride home before heading out of town for what he says will be his last gig.
Eddie lives out of his car, which is loaded with junk, weird toys, a hot plate, and old-school “gas station porn” (which presumably consists of a BP exec rogering a Kemp’s ridley turtle). They stop at a liquor store, where Eddie picks up a bottle of vodka — “I would like to die from you,” he says in a loving sing-song voice — and reminds Louie of their old drinking days, which we see in a black-and-white flashback. In it, a young Louie (who looks a bit like a young Bob Mould) gets a pep talk from Eddie after a failed set: “You don’t suck,” Eddie says. “They suck. You’re funny.”
After convincing Louie to come hang out for a bit — “You’re not gonna see me after this” — Eddie drives them out to Brooklyn for a rinky-dink open-mike show. He wants to get Louie back to his roots, away from the comedy clubs (“where comedy goes to die”). Louie agrees, fueled no doubt by both the instantaneous nostalgia and ominous fascination that arise from running into an old, troubled friend. They check out a few laugh-deprived amateurs, and then Eddie delivers a gruff set of self-loathing sex talk (“I get a boner, I treat it like the medical condition that it is, and I drain it like a cyst, quickly.”).
Outside, Eddie lays on the real reason for their impromptu sojourn: He’s depressed, burnt-out, impotent, and planning to kill himself, courtesy of some heavy meds he got from a sympathetic doctor. “I’m cashin’ in,” he says. “I’m 40-shit years old, I got nothing, I got nobody, and I don’t want anything, I don’t want anybody. And that’s the worst part, when the want goes.” Louie tells him this is crazy, prompting Eddie to ask: “Louie, look me in the eye and tell me I have one good reason to live.”
After a long moment of silence, Louie refuses to give him an answer. It’s not that he can’t think of a reason for Eddie to live; it’s just that it would be cheating. “I got my reasons to live,” Louie says. “I worked hard to figure out what they are. I’m not just handing ’em to you if you want to tap out ’cause your life is shit — you know what, it's not your life. It’s life. Life is bigger than you.” Eddie quickly cuts him down: “You’d love to be the guy who talks this loser — who you never think about — out of suicide, so you can feel better about yourself.”
Suddenly, a pair of mouthy passersby interrupt their argument, deflating the tension and reinforcing the absurdity of two grown men arguing the merits and downfalls of suicide in a public street (the scene, BTW, almost looks unplanned, as if the stragglers just happened to walk in, and C.K. and Stanhope rolled with it accordingly). Finally, they realize it’s a debate neither of them’s going to win, so Louie heads home and Eddie drives off to Maine. We never find out what happens when he gets there.
Up until the last few weeks, I was torn between my enjoyment of this season of Louie and my frustration with those who seemed to reflexively declare every episode a work of genius. There had been great, TV-transcending moments — Louie’s life-is-short existential exegesis, his brute-force honest declaration of affection for Pamela — but the show was also swaddling itself in a level of heightened fantasy that I’d found off-putting, and I missed the grounded realism of season-one classics like “Bully” and “Poker.”
“Eddie,” much like last week’s already infamous Dane Cook installment, has swung Louie back to reality — so much so that I can’t help but wonder how closely both episodes adhere to actual events. Maybe Stanhope’s character is based on a friend of Louis’s, or maybe his naturally self-loathing performance stems from being closer to Eddie than he’d like to admit. Or maybe he’s just one of those rare actors who can play drunk without coming off like a wild-eyed fifties-Western ne’er-do-well.
Whatever the character’s origins might be, I don’t want to really know the truth, in the same way I don’t want to know if last week’s sitdown with Dane Cook was scripted, improvised, or both. Louie’s best episodes work because of an unspoken agreement between its creator and its viewers — an agreement that what we’re seeing is founded, to a large extent, on actual events. Knowing what’s real, and what’s just TV, would subject Louie to a fun-sucking fact-checking process that would expose the liberties C.K. takes, and possibly diminish our trust in him.