TV Club

Louie recap: Robin Williams guest-stars with Louis C.K.

“Man Dies, Mourned Only by Strippers”

Robin Williams and Louis C.K. in Louie.
Robin Williams and Louis C.K. in Louie.

Courtesy FX.

Everyone knows that whenever Robin Williams plays a serious role, he sports a beard. So when the stand-up-turned-Oscar-winner walked, bewhiskered, into a black-and-white shot of a graveyard, I figured within minutes Williams would be hugging C.K. and saying, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

But of course that’s not what happened. The solemnity of that wordless opening scene was punctured in—where else, this being Louie—a diner, where Louie tells Robin that the deceased “was the biggest piece of shit I ever knew.” Big bearded guffaws follow, and soon the two are trading awful stories about Barney Ross, the not-so-dearly departed—a no-good club owner who stiffed comics and robbed Williams of 600 grand. Given how much C.K. loves boxing, is the name a nod to the great Jewish pugilist? (I assume the echo of Barney Rosset, who died more or less around the time this episode was probably filmed, is a coincidence.)

While the competing Barney impressions by C.K. and Williams made me smile—were they doing someone in particular there?—the real laughs arrived (for me, at least) when the two men ventured into Sweet Charity, a strip club favored by Mr. Ross, in a twisted sort of tribute to their late acquaintance. This, the club’s delicious name suggests, is what real charity—the kind spoken of in 1 Corinthians—looks like: a joyless trip to a dank, seedy strip joint to make up with a dead guy you always hated. Some viewers will surely fail to find anything funny here, but this whole scene was an incredible joke of the darkest kind.

Especially when Sweet Charity’s employees began weeping over the death of their faithful customer. That was both funny and sweet—and surprising, too. “Man Dies, No One Cares” is an old story; “Man Dies, Mourned Only by Strippers” is a new one. And while I’ve praised the music on Louie before, no song cue has made me happier than “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger scoring the impromptu grief session. “Ba-by you KNOW you’re growing UP so faaaast …”

The segment should have ended there, with Kelly Keagy singing warnings to his little sister. That last scene of Louie and Robin laughing once more and promising to attend each other’s funerals weakened this otherwise excellent several minutes.

The second part of the episode didn’t grab me quite as much—though I loved Jeremy Shinder as Never, whom I’ve wanted to meet since his mother told us in Season 1 that he had “definitely suffered from the fatigue syndrome” afflicting children at his school. Shinder is perfectly cast, with a chubby-angelic-street-urchin quality that C.K. wisely amplifies with suspenders and bow tie. (He reminds me a bit of Peter Costa, who stole several scenes on The Cosby Show before, apparently, giving up acting.) And there are many funny moments in this segment, from Never’s mom explaining that he can’t eat food with carbon (“An apple?” “I’ll die”) and that gross, hilarious bathroom scene (“I diarrhea’d in the tub”). Also, Opie and Anthony (plus Amy Schumer and Jim Norton) did some pretty amazing radio voices. But the “comedian disses crappy city” business was a bit anticlimactic (even if it’s based on personal experience), and in general this half lacked the zippiness necessary to sustain a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day-style farce.

That said, I would definitely watch a talk show filmed in Louie’s living room and co-hosted by Shinder and C.K., with the former always wearing one of the latter’s oversize sweatshirts.

Last week, after Maria Bamford joined us in the TV Club, she emailed me one last note containing an insight that I recalled when watching the “Never” segment. I’d asked her why both she (with The Maria Bamford Show) and C.K. both chose to imagine scenarios that seemed worse than their actual lives. Bamford suggested that maybe there’s some relief in creatively facing your worst fears. Which does seem to explain some of the storylines on Louie.

I gotta go to the adult learning center to learn African—