By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; C05
"I'm 41" are the first words out of comedian Louis C.K.'s mouth, as he performs his chubby-schlubby stand-up shtick to an audience gathered in New York's Comedy Cellar. It's a scene from his quasi-autobiographical new series, "Louie," which debuts Tuesday night on FX.
But in a later episode: "I'm 42." And when a 26-year-old woman comes up to Louie after his set and tells him that older men turn her on, and they go to his place and hop in bed, he brings her to ecstasy by shouting: "I'm almost 43! I was born in 1967!" (Oh, yes! she screams. That's so old!) "I remember when movies cost $3!" (Yes!) "I remember smoking on airplanes!" (Oh, yessss!)
It seems all our guy comedians who got their start in the 1990s are now preoccupied with getting old. Forty is the new Shecky Greene, and it's all they can talk about. "Grown Ups," the new movie with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James and David Spade, seems obsessed by the same theme: Look at how old we're getting! You shudder to think how whiny these guys will be at 50. (You want a hilarious examination of age and the life of a comedian? Go see the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work." She'll tell you about age.)
"Louie," meanwhile, succeeds with a morose and fatalistic sense of hilarity. The first episode sputters a bit, but the second and third episodes are worth watching. It conjures some of the same discomforts of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and some of the absurdity of "The Sarah Silverman Program"; it also makes "Seinfeld" reruns look like "Barney & Friends."
Some viewers will recognize Louis C.K. (real name: Louis Szekely, pronounced "see-kay," hence C.K.) from the his short-lived 2006 HBO sitcom "Lucky Louie." He is a comedian's comedian, always beloved by his fellow stand-ups. He has written material and screenplays for some of the best, including Conan O'Brien and Chris Rock. He also experienced a surge of popularity in 2009, when a clip of him decrying modern society's sense of entitlement (the "Everything's amazing and nobody's happy" rant) on O'Brien's "Late Night" show went briefly viral online. But success in front of the camera has mostly eluded C.K., probably because he's hard to love.
"Louie" is built around the real Louie's life as a recently divorced father of two daughters. Between getting his girls off to school and nights spent at the comedy club are his visits to his uninterested shrink or to his proctologically giddy doctor (Ricky Gervais, in a cameo). Louie seems codependent on his status as an aging loser in all things: life, money, sex, happiness. But if happiness came, there'd be no material.
One particularly moving scene, in the second episode, comes at Louie's regular poker game with his comedian buddies. Here is a group of men each afflicted with that slouchy nastiness that seems standard issue to their ilk, having gross-out conversations that are deplorable and yet oddly poetic at the same time. And, being male comedians, the conversation easily turns to slurs about gay sex. The difference here is that one of them, Rick, played by Rick Crom, is gay.
"You guys ask me [about this] every time I'm here," Rick says. "I talk about gay sex more with you guys than I do with any of my gay friends. You're obsessed." This leads to something I've never seen on television -- a brief etymological discussion of how "faggot" went from meaning a bundle of kindling wood to a word that "Every gay man has had shouted at them while they're being beaten up. . . . So, when you say it, it sort of brings it all back," Rick says.
"So should I be using that word onstage?" asks Louie, who uses it all the time.
"By all means say it, get your laughs," Rick says. "But now you know what it means."
A forlorn quality defines "Louie," but there is a joy here, worth waiting for, especially when Louie cracks himself up, and a genuine smile spreads across his meaty, freckled face. "Louie" intelligently harnesses the dark cloud that follows a truly funny man everywhere he goes.
(30 minutes) premieres at 11 p.m.
Tuesday on FX.