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Louie Recap: Battles

Louie.

On last night’s Louie, we finally got to see the showdown comedy nerds have been waiting for: Louis C.K. versus Dane Cook. Okay, it wasn’t a real showdown between the two men — Louis C.K., of course, is actually playing a fictitious version of himself, and any similarities to real characters is coincidental, etc., etc. But still, even a fake tête-à-tête between the two made for an exciting prime-time title bout.

As the episode kicks off, though, we’re at an anodyne-looking suburban kitchen, the set for Oh Louie, a toothless multi-camera pilot that even Chuck Lorre would dismiss as “kinda hack,” before dozing off on his bullion-weaved patio chair. Louie’s been given the show’s starring role, playing a selfish blue-collar husband whose wife (and studio audience) fawns over his every wiseass remark. But Louie — reduced to spouting modern-caveman zingers while wearing a backwards-cocked cap — can’t stomach the scene and stops filming. “I thought we were going to do a show about marriage, like a really honest, real show,” he tells the director. “It’s gonna suck, like every show on television.”

Returning home late that night, Louie’s immediately handed baby Lily, and we realize this is all a flashback, a look at one of the first times Louie had to sacrifice his family for the sake of his career (not to mention his integrity). “Your dad’s not gonna have a sitcom,” he tells her. “I wanted to, so I wouldn’t have to be on the road all the time, away from you. Sorry, baby. Your dad is a comedian.” Then he sings a song about a rooster. It’s an awfully sweet moment, and a somewhat wrenching one for any viewer who happens to be, oh, I dunno, a new father stuck writing a cable-sitcom recap on a Friday morning instead of taking care of his crying infant (then again, I cock my ball-cap sideways, so I guess it’s not entirely applicable. Still, it’s a lovely daddy-daughter moment).

We’re then off for a quick trip to the Comedy Cellar, where Louie talks about the girl who killed herself two years after being with him. “That’s the gestation period for the suicidal shame that comes from having had my penis in your mouth.”

To help make things right, Louie visits his youthful promoter, who has a 10-year-old’s face and Robert Evans’s fashion sense. After helping Louie plan his next tour — one that will help him spend more time with his kids — he explains why he can’t get Louie those Gaga tickets: She works with a different concert-promotion company — the same one that handles Dane Cook. If Louie wants tickets, then he’ll need to appeal to Cook himself. The only problem is that the two men hate one another, as Dane’s been accused of stealing some of Louie’s material (if you need background on this years-old squabble, look here). So Louie descends into the bowels of Madison Square Garden to meet with Cook, who’s protected by a fleet of barrel-shaped bodyguards, and who’s holding court with a pair of unidentified companions, most likely Cook’s moisturizer sommeliers. Louie, a bit sheepishly, asks for an audience with the comic — and a favor.

To help make things right, Louie visits his youthful promoter, who has a 10-year-old’s face and Robert Evans’s fashion sense. After helping Louie plan his next tour — one that will help him spend more time with his kids — he explains why he can’t get Louie those Gaga tickets: She works with a different concert-promotion company — the same one that handles Dane Cook. If Louie wants tickets, then he’ll need to appeal to Cook himself. The only problem is that the two men hate one another, as Dane’s been accused of stealing some of Louie’s material (if you need background on this years-old squabble, look here). So Louie descends into the bowels of Madison Square Garden to meet with Cook, who’s protected by a fleet of barrel-shaped bodyguards, and who’s holding court with a pair of unidentified companions, most likely Cook’s moisturizer sommeliers. Louie, a bit sheepishly, asks for an audience with the comic — and a favor.

Now, normally when two long-simmering, long-separated foils finally meet — think Bond and Blofeld, or Lieutenant Yelly and Mr. Mumbly in Heat — there’s some chatty banter to start it off. But Cook’s having nothing to do with it. Instead, he folds his arms and assails Louie for not defending him when Cook was accused of pilfering his jokes. “You never [accused me],” Cook points out, “but you let other people say it … why would I steal three jokes from you when I have hours of material?” (Louie: “Because they were funny jokes.”) Cook then points out that, while everyone thinks he’s the selfish asshole, Louie’s the real jerk here. “[Everyone thinks] you’re a good guy,” Cook says. “But you let your name be used to hurt me. And then you’re asking me to use my fame to get you tickets. I mean, how shitty do you feel right now?”

Louie’s response: Maybe Dane didn’t deign to crib those jokes outright, but instead kind of inadvertently absorbed them. “I think you saw me do them, and I think they just went in your brain … I don’t think you meant to do it, but I don’t think you stopped yourself, either.”

After granting Louie’s Gaga wish, Cook can’t resist a parting shot. “What bothers me is [when people say] I stole the joke about the itchy asshole,” he says. “because I get an itchy asshole a lot. For you to think you’re the only person to have an itchy asshole in America? That’s bullshit.”

Both men do some of their best acting here: Louis C.K. seems genuinely anguished by both his neediness and his lack of doing more to diffuse the situation, while Cook comes off as genuinely miffed, never exaggerating his jerkiness so as to winkingly let us know he’s in on the joke. That is, if the whole scene really is a joke — for all we know, this is pretty much how things played out between the two men IRL. Either way, Cook almost comes off as the victor.

The scene ends with Cook giving Louie some advice: Don’t just give your daughter an envelope with some tickets. Give her a gift with actual meaning — something you found for her, something she’s not expecting. Something in a box. And sure enough, when Lily gets her present, it’s a beautifully wrapped box whose contents we never see (Marcellus Wallace’s soul? A Good Luck Chuck Blu-ray?). “That’s nice,” says Lily, clearly let down. Cook’s advice may have been well intended, but in the end, he’s always going to make someone think he’s an asshole.

Watch the scene here:

Photo: FX