“Niece” could have very easily been an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Louie unfairly depicts himself as an asshole unable to communicate with those different from him, a.k.a. anyone who’s not a comedian, not unlike what Larry David has been doing for so many years. Picture Larry trying to have a conversation with a 13-year-old girl, who’s just been dropped off into his company because his sister has to flee, to make a spectacle of herself in a public fountain. Even the ending of the episode, where Louie’s told by a hospital employee that he’s going to have to look after the girl for longer than he previously supposed/hoped, happens suddenly, without the audience seeing the conclusion of the plot, like the final scene of “The Doll,” among many others. Plot resolutions don’t matter on Louie, just as they don’t really matter Curb, either; it’s the set-up that counts, and “Niece” had a good one.
The 13-year-old girl in question is Louie’s niece, Amy (played by Gideon Adlon, Pamela’s daughter), who wears black because black is how she feels on the inside. Her troubled, frazzled, Philadelphia-bound mom (Lisa Emery) drops her off at Grand Central, and Amy doesn’t even remove her headphones to ask what’s going on until after she’s left with Louie. She’s used to disappointment, and like so many teenagers before her, she takes solace in being miserable and listening to indie rock club-approved music. Or Bauhaus, because I totally imagined her listening to “Small Talk Stinks.”
Louie tries to talk to her, but because he’s so clearly trying, she doesn’t even bother responding. I’m a little torn on my feelings for Amy (although Adlon is a fine actress): on one hand, she’s clearly had a shitty life, with her dad having physically abandoned her and her mom emotionally, but GOD TEENAGERS ARE JUST THE WORST. But at least she likes comedy, and Amy asks her Unkie Louie if she could see one of his shows.
And this is where the episode dropped off for me, ever so slightly. Godfrey has always come across as a comedian who tries too hard; he’s the exact opposite of, oh I don’t know, Todd Barry and Nick DiPaolo, who don’t look they’re trying at all, which is precisely why they’re so damn funny. Amy’s sick of people who don’t care, though, which is why she’s unable to speak to her uncle or Todd or Nick, who hilariously claims that girls aren’t real until they’re 16, when they emerge as either a person or a whore. But she responds to the ball of energy that is Godfrey, fresh off a “where you folks from?” set.
Godfrey speaks to Amy like she’s someone who’s interesting, and she even takes off a piece of her armor, in the form of her black hat, all while Louie takes a piss in the comedy club’s dungeon-like bathroom. Godfrey attempts and succeeds in cheering up Amy, even if only for a few minutes, by being personable, warm, and charming, not to mention good looking. That, I liked, because although Amy seems like she’d be more in the Todd Barry camp, she’s still too young to be that beaten down by the world (give her a few years). What I didn’t believe, however, was Godfrey’s parting line to Louie, when he says, “You’ve just got to learn how to talk to people who aren’t like you. It’s called empathy, man.” The delivery was off, as was the word choice. “Empathy” isn’t what Louie needs to learn, because all he does is identify with Amy’s emotions about how everything sucks; it’s the “I’ve been there” of emotions, and Louie, well, he’s been there. He’s had to deal with his non-pregnancy fart sister for a lot longer than Amy. The word should have been “sympathy,” to show compassion to Amy.
But there’s a mere trifle compared to Louie’s bombed stand-up set, where he tries to change his comedy style more to Amy’s liking, more towards the Godfrey way of doing things. (It could have also been self-censorship, but that seems even more unlikely.) He asks a woman in the front of the audience where she’s from, and she responds that the last comedian already did the same bit, and it was hilarious. While it’s nice that the show didn’t go the more typical route of Louie doing such a killer set that his niece begins to respect him, I still don’t believe that he would have done something as drastic as totally changing his material to mimic someone else’s.
“Niece” redeems itself in the final few minutes, when during their walk back to the apartment, Louie gives a homeless man (who’s not crazy!) a buck and Amy says he shouldn’t have done that. You’re only encouraging them, she states, and besides, charity only exists because well-off people want to feel good about themselves. She got this attitude from her deadbeat father, and when his name gets brought into the conversation, Louie responds, “Yeah, and then he ran out on you.”
Like so many scenes and episodes of Curb, that sentence is technically accurate, and it’s unfair that Amy still defends her dad, but come on, you don’t say that to a child. To Louie and Larry’s credit, they both talk to children and teenagers as if they’re adults — at no point in “Niece” does the un-hip uncle ask Amy if she wants to see Katy Perry or another tween act (what happened to the Gaga tickets?!?). As contradictory as it sounds, Louie and Larry, or “Louie” and “Larry,” are both seen as outcasts by society because they treat young people as equals. Louie’s problem in “Niece” isn’t that he looks down on Amy or pretends that she’s a stupid kid; it’s just that no one, and I mean no one, knows how to talk to a 13-year-old girl. Except for Godfrey.
Josh Kurp was listening to matchbox 20 when he was 13 years old.