The anguish of a scared, middle-aged man staring into the void is food for laughs in a hit new US show coming to the UAE.
Louis CK makes merry with misery in sitcom Louie
Even the darkest cloud gets a blacker lining in the cheerless world of Louis CK, whose semi-autobiographical television sitcom Louie explores the lonely, miserable life of a divorced, ageing, standup-comic father.
From the opening credits - when this balding, bearded redhead emerges like a bloated rat from the subway into the New York night, pausing just long enough to wolf down a slice of pizza, as his eyes drill into passers-by from a restaurant doorway - it's clear he's a man on the prowl for the meaning of life, before he scurries back underground into the Comedy Cellar nightclub.
But misery brews the oddest company, and Louie Szekely — an American stand-up comedian with Hungarian roots who's known professionally as Louis CK — attracts a coterie of oddball Big Apple characters with his brand of grotesque comedy that still, amazingly, manages to thump your heart like a bass drum as it snares your funny bone.
"When you get divorced in your 40s, you don't have a role anymore on the earth," Szekely told a press conference in Los Angeles earlier this year. "I mean, so many people get divorced that there ought to be a template. But there isn't. So I think it's fun to watch the frustration, too."
If Seinfeld was "the show about nothing", as critics joked in the 1990s, then Louie is "the show about everything" as it weaves snippets of Louis CK the performer onstage with vignettes of edgy comic drama for the grittier tastes of 2011.
"I started, a few years ago, to act things out on stage and being more narrative than just commenting," says Szekely, who serves as the executive producer, writer, star, director and editor of his show. "So some of those started to feel like stories that would be worth seeing."
At the editing bench, he splices together a bizarre blend, yet the parts make for a stronger narrative whole - and a half-hour of jokes, situations, encounters and dialogue.
Louie finds the middle-aged dating scene a freak show, the breakdown of his middle-aged body depressing and his prospects of happiness little more than urban legend. The silver lining in his world is his two young daughters, for whom he's a first-class father - even if his encounters with other parents at school parent-teacher meetings drip with tension and fly south faster than his awkward first dates.
Critics love the show, with TheWashington Post's Hank Steuver writing: "What else can I do but yap excitedly and try to get you to watch one of the best shows on TV right now?"
Louie episodes "are sharply drawn and often very funny, bleak and bluntly vulgar", says the Newsday arts writer Verne Gay. "That vulgarity is at the core of his stand-up - a sharp uppercut to your jaw that arrives after a flurry of soft blows to your midsection. It can be a surprise, and is sometimes effective or just repulsive. But that's Louis CK and Louie - you take the good with the bad. Fortunately, this show is usually good."
John Landgraf, the FX Network president, who recently renewed Louie for a third season in 2012, is also a fan.
"I have laughed so hard at Louis' show that my sides ache, and I've also been deeply moved," says Landgraf. "Judging by the hundreds of conversations I've had in the past year with comedians, actors, writers, producers, and directors who have come through FX's offices, Louis CK has made a series that is viewed by the creative community here as the absolute cutting edge of comedy at this moment."
Szekely recruits his comedy cronies and unknown New York acting talent for the show, deliberately, to keep viewers off-balance.
"There's something about people who are really recognisable that takes - for this show, for some reason - it takes you out of it a little bit," he says. "My favourite thing is when you find somebody who nobody really knows who they are, and they are really, really skilled."
He's killed at Carnegie Hall and been celebrated at Sundance (for his movie, Louis CK: Hilarious) - but fame and wearing so many TV-production hats have their downside. Working on the show means he gets sick of the sight of himself.
"I start to hate the sound of my voice," he says. "Once I'm editing episodes, I really want to vomit - into a big basket with my face on it."
Louie premieres tonight on OSN Comedy and will be broadcast on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays on OSN Comedy and OSN Comedy +2