There’s a bit from Shameless, a Louis C.K. stand-up special from five years ago, in which the comedian laments the existence of a man he saw in nothing but roller blades and a thong, swaying happily by with his “Kenny G hair” while C.K. was jogging. “I actually had to stop jogging because I needed my whole body to fucking hate this guy with,” C.K. says, repulsed by the man’s near-total nakedness and the flamboyance of his wheeled sashaying, which C.K. mimics for the audience. “Go skate into an AIDS tree, you motherfucker.”
Now, it’s not entirely fair to take those comments out of context—the bit is sort of about C.K.’s own bitterness. (But only sort of.) And C.K. goes on to mock homophobia later in that very same special (as he has on many occasions since). Still, it’s amazing to watch that cringe-inducing riff about the roller-blader after seeing “Miami,” tonight’s episode of Louie, which is about the silly limits that straight men, afraid of seeming gay, impose upon themselves. Louie elaborates on that theme in the episode’s closing Comedy Cellar scene, with the same jokes he recently told on The Tonight Show. When he made them there, Leno referred to the typical get-up his guest was wearing—sweatshirt and brown slacks—as “probably the most heterosexual outfit” he had ever seen.
Early in this episode we see Louie in precisely that attire, dragging a suitcase around at the Miami airport. By the time he reaches his hotel, he’s taken off the sweatshirt, but that’s nothing: To his right, in the lobby, there’s a sculpted, shirtless, golden-hued man without a single visible hair on his torso. It took me a second to be sure he wasn’t a mannequin. Then I thought maybe he was a greeter of some kind, but I’m pretty sure he was just supposed to be the kind of person you see in hotel lobbies in Miami. (I’ve never been.) Mostly, of course, he’s an omen of what’s to come: an awkward encounter with male beauty.
I love that in order to dramatize the way straight white American men stupidly struggle with—and even refuse—a certain kind of intimacy, C.K. presents a scenario that reads as gay as possible. It keeps you guessing at what’s really going on, and wondering where the episode might be headed. Louie and Ramon—a handsome, compact, muscular lifeguard originally from Cuba—have a classic meet-cute: The latter saves the former from what looks like drowning. (In fact, Louie’s just waving to a man folding up beach chairs, one of which has Louie’s stuff on it.) Their dialogue’s pretty stiff—“Are you funny?” “Yeah.” “Then I did a good thing by saving you”—but they have a convincing physical chemistry. The two become fast friends, and throughout the episode, Ramon (played by Miguel Gomez, whose background, actorly or otherwise, I’ve been unable to unearth via Google and IMDb) jabs playfully at his new redheaded friend. Louie clearly enjoys the affection. At one point he splashes Ramon as the two run back into the water.
All of which they’re both comfortable with. But then Louie decides to extend his stay in Miami so he can hang out more with Ramon, who appears visibly troubled by this development. Ramon suggests a drink in the hotel bar, and there the two have an exchange that harkens back to the bravura game of “relationship charades” that Louie played with April in the season premiere. This time Louie talks, but he doesn’t say much. Ramon asks why he decided to stay longer, and Louie replies: “I’m not ... OK. I don't judge anything, but ... I have zero anything, OK? I guess the thing is, I feel like. ...” Ramon then starts to tell Louie about his cousin Manny, as a way of tactfully explaining, presumably, that he has no problem with what he assumes Louie is. “No no no,” Louie says. “I’m not ... it’s just ... I don't know if I ever ... I'm not trying, I’m not trying anything ... and I'm not. ...”
I liked this scene—and the whole project, so to speak, of the episode—so much that I loved “Miami,” even though it’s far from C.K.’s most entertaining work. (Does that count as “gaming the system,” Allison?) As I said, some of the dialogue is stiff. And Ramon’s little speech about the people who live in the tall apartment buildings, at a remove from “the real Miami,” lands with a thud. Apart from the Cellar routine at the end and one very funny exchange with a slender woman in a bikini who assumes Louie will let her have one of his strawberries (“You just ate a strawberry that you can't have,” he says as she walks away), the episode doesn’t really go for laughs. It even includes a scene of staged stand-up that sounds deliberately unfunny. (“I know it’s not popular to say, but I hate balloons,” Louie tells the crowd. Is this satire? And if so, has Louie ever satirized stand-up that way?)
Still, as an example of “television as worldview,” to quote James Poniewozik again, the episode was riveting and delightful. Also: the music! We haven’t talked yet about how well C.K. scores this show, in a manner that seems more cinematic than televisual.
A few other notes: Jonah asked in Week 1 where Louis ends and “Louie” begins. Whatever gap there is between the two tightened a bit more tonight, I think, as Louie explained to Ramon that he (like C.K. himself) spent his first seven years in Mexico, and speaks Spanish (though he’s rusty). And those glasses Louie wore while eating strawberries—which you can also see in photos of C.K. on set—gave him a more stylish, sophisticated look than we’ve seen before.
What’d you guys think? And where’d you get the balls to be a comedian?