The mechanics of a joke are fairly straightforward: first there’s a set-up and then there’s a punchline (and then maybe a tag after that.) When an onstage Louis C.K. starts talking about his daughter’s joke-telling abilities, it’s a set-up for when he inevitably explodes one of her ridiculous joke premises a moment later in one long punchline.
Of course, an episode of a TV show can also be executed like a joke, especially with a master joke-teller like Louis C.K. behind it. On this week’s Louie, the set-up is itself a set-up – a blind date ambush. The punchline, however, is so unexpected that even the comedian himself, who at one point in the episode admits he’s heard enough jokes in his life to know how each one will end, does not see it coming. (Literally, if you’ll forgive the cheap pun.)
Here are the five most uncomfortable moments from tonight’s episode:
1. The cold open this week starts with Louie and his daughters sitting around the table eating dinner. When the youngest, Jane, initiates a knock-knock joke, Louie is quick to participate. Jane rebuffs him, though; she wants her sister Lily to answer the door, as it were. This subtle disregard for father Louie recalls other moments on the show, such as the season two opener when Jane straight-up tells Louie she prefers her mother, as well as some of C.K.’s stand-up material, which is roughly 27 percent about being underappreciated by his daughters. In this instance, however, Lily is Louie’s ally, refusing to “yes-and” the knock-knock joke, and instead answering, “Nobody’s home.”
2. The surprise romantic set-up at the heart of the episode is awkward from jump, with Louie’s pal Allen Havey inviting him to dinner immediately after mentioning a dead mutual acquaintance Louie doesn’t remember. But if the invitation to join Allen and his wife for dinner is already a little strained, when Louie realizes too late that there’s a fourth (female) guest joining as well, his face takes on the look of a weary battle general under great duress.
3. Punchline-conscious viewers might be wondering at this point what the payoff is going to be here. Will these two turn out to like each other or hate each other? Well, at first the meal goes just as terribly as Louie fears. The fourth guest, middle-aged, husky-voiced Laurie (a fired-up Melissa Leo), cuts her vegetables in a hostile enough manner that you can hear the shrill sound of knife grating against plate. When Allen’s wife points out that Louie is a comedian, Laurie’s reply (an eye-contact-free “Yeah?”) signals that she couldn’t possibly care less. After Louie is prompted to ask Laurie what she does, Laurie dismisses his follow-up question as aggressively as she cuts her asparagus.
4. Just in case any of us are left wondering whether the rest of the dinner went as poorly as the brief glimpse of it that was shown, in the next scene Allen and his wife are yelling at each other about how badly it went, one room over from where the ambushed twosome are sitting. The would-be couple has to sit and listen to a fight about who let the conversation die during dinner; that is, until Laurie asks Louie if he wants to go get a drink.
5. Finally, we come to the punchline. Laurie is a bitter crank who curses and drinks like a sailor. Although she may not exactly be Louie’s type, his lust for women who bust his balls has been well-documented (see every exchange with Pamela.) The two end up getting hammered and having a nice time, and when Laurie starts driving him back to his motorcycle (!) she ends up pulling over in a secluded spot and offering up oral sex. Everything up to this point could have been predicted. They either hate each other or they like each other, or both, as the case turned out. OK, that’s a fine conclusion; not very funny, but whatever. Except then there’s the twist.
After Laurie is done pleasuring Louie, she cannot seem to entice him to return the favor. Louie’s protestations spark a hilarious conversation about sexual quid pro quo. “Do you know how many dicks I’ve sucked that I didn’t want to?” she says. “Because I’m a good kid, because I do what’s right. I’ve never left anyone hanging.” She then bemoans the state of the country and blames it on President Obama, in what Vulture’s Zach Dionne mentioned last week is becoming a motif. Ultimately, though, Laurie finds a way to ensure that one good turn deserves another, a perfect tag for the end of this joke.