It would have been so easy for a “comedian goes to Afghanistan” episode to be self-serving. It could have played to the comedian’s ego, showcasing how wonderful of a person they are because they’re literally risking their lives to perform in front of the men and women who are protecting our country thousands of miles away. Or it might have been the dreaded Very Special Episode.
Instead, “Duckling” was barely about Louie, and when it was, it was about him looking after a baby duck, trying to get laid, shitting on Buffalo, New York, and the one moment of tension was offset by a fat man falling down while chasing a baby animal. Rather, “Duckling” was a weirdly patriotic episode about a bunch of guys and girls just doing their jobs the best they can, otherwise known as the American Way.
Like so many unfortunate parents before him, Louie is tasked with looking after the class pet—or in this case, pets, and more specifically, ducks—for the evening, even though he’s going on a USO Tour* the next day. When Louie arrives in the war zone (with Texas and California playing “Afghanistan”), he opens up his suitcase and sees that Jane has left him a present: one of the ducks. That’s really the only plot of “Duckling,” with the rest of the episode touring the Middle East with brief interludes for Louie to perform in front of the soldiers. (In the credits, it says, “Idea for this episode by: Mary Louise Szekely, my six-year-old daughter.”)
*: previous USO’ers include Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, and pretty much every other great comedian of the 1930s-1950s. Also, to read about the time Louis actually visited Iraq, click here.
A good chunk of “Duckling” takes place on a helicopter, with sweeping cinematic views of the desolate landscape accompanied by a Jimi Hendrix-lite soundtrack. While many might look stoic dressed up in camouflage and bulletproof vests, Louie seems like he’s ready to piss himself, which he actually does later. Throughout the episode, he’s at his most, well, Louie, attempting (and failing) to woo a 19-year-old cheerleader with talk of Steven Tyler (American Idol host…and that guy from Aerosmith), rather than sit in the camp circle and hear stories of wartime heroism. It’s only when he’s performing, when he’s telling jokes about his balls to hundreds of soldiers, does Louie seems comfortable.
What impressed me most about last night’s episode (and there was a lot to be impressed about, beginning with Louie calling his youngest daughter “dude,” as in, “Dude, just stop”) was, like “Come On, God” before it, there were no moral or political judgments passed. Louie’s in Afghanistan for one job only—to cheer up the troops—and that leaves no time for pointless arguments on whether we should even be over there in the first place. The only time the show dipped into politics was when Louie stated that his testicles look like John McCain. (There was a brief moment of religious judgment, too, but that seemed to be more of a set-up to him showing her the duck than anything actually substantial.)
The final minutes of “Duckling” have the USO transport helicopter unexpectedly landing because of mechanical problems. It’ll be a half-hour or so before help arrives, so until then, the group Louie’s traveling with, including country-western singer who served in the military, is instructed to sit tight. While Louie slathers on sunscreen to protect his delicate, freckled face from the sun, a group of gun-wielding Afghani villagers walk towards the black hawk down. Arms are soon raised (both in the firearms sense, and the Louie-throwing-up-his-hands-to-surrender sense), and the tension is high—until Jane’s duck escapes from Louie’s book bag and he waddles after it, falling down in the process. Everyone, both the Americans and Afghanis, begin guffawing at the fat man who fell down, and before long, everyone’s petting the duckling and sharing drinks.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only way we’ll ever achieve world peace is for every human on Earth to watch at least five seconds of Big Man Go Down every day. Louie recognizes this, and that’s what I’m thinking: Louis C.K. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.
Josh Kurp doesn’t believe there’s someone out there who hasn’t heard of Led Zeppelin.