“Joan” was a reminder why The Daily Show doesn’t have guest hosts. The audience tunes in to see Jon Stewart and peek inside his brain–the guests and many of the Stewart-less moments are forgettable. The show largely works because Jon Stewart’s mind is at its center. Louie has operated around a similar premise. The show regularly changes genres, adds and loses supporting characters, but every bit of it comes directly from Louis CK. “Joan,” which features an extended conversation between Louie and one of the regular fill-ins for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, was Louie‘s first attempt at having the equivalent of a guest host. Let’s hope it’s the last.

Each episode of the series has lived or died by its success in conveying Louis CK’s message.  Even when Louie’s not the person communicating in a scene, Louis CK is directly speaking to us as an audience. This was the first episode where Louie/Louis CK spends a considerable amount of time listening. Louie meets Joan Rivers, who spends a good portion of the episode talking about her long career as a comedian and reminding Louie that he’s a lucky man. As a result, the episode lacks the focus and sharpness that comes from its singular perspective. It’s difficult to pinpoint whether the episode fails on an even deeper level because of the person delivering the message (Rivers) or because the rambling, trite message (show business is a fickle business, but it’s better than real work) isn’t worth repeating yet again. Either way, the central message is from Joan Rivers, not Louis CK. There is a reason FX doesn’t air a show called Joan.

The appearance of Rivers, whose career has seen a resurgence from a documentary about the ups and downs of her long career, is a reminder that even comedians are prone to romanticism. Nevermind her late-career nastiness on red carpets, search through Joan Rivers’ standup videos on Youtube and you will be hard pressed to find many laughs. She is something of an institution, but her greatest quality is the tenacity to find new ways to insert her tired brand of Vaudeville/weak self-deprecation humor into every decade. The endorsement of Rivers makes me rethink Louis CK’s recent praise of Old Bill Cosby. I haven’t seen a Cosby’s recent standup, but I was hopeful after hearing the Best Standup Alive state that the aging comedian was the “best comedian I’ve ever seen live.” Seeing Louie chuckle at Joan Rivers’ sagging breast jokes made the Cosby comment feel hollow. There is certainly room for praise of longevity, but it’s disingenuous to mix up persistence and actual talent.

While the episode’s longest vignette falls flat, some of the smaller moments in “Joan” were memorable. The opening scene is a warning that everyday drudgery is an unavoidable plague. Tragedy is all around and everyone is hurting, but we still have to remember to get (6 or 60) bananas. The promising start to the episode, which features Louie attempting to order groceries and get off the phone with his depressed sister, was its most successful. Minor annoyances are fodder for every sitcom on television. Only Louie is interrupted by moments of REAL pain.


One Response to “Joan.”

  1. cvalentino says:

    I had expected to hate this episode for several reasons. First off, I’ve always hated Joan Rivers. Her cruel red carpet commentary critiquing beautiful actresses for minor bodily faults has always turned me off. Second, you hated it so I had very low expectations. It took awhile to get to watch it because of the delay on the On Demand on our system, and I was surprised that I liked it. I thought the play between the two was sweet and found his blow job estimate funny. I’ve felt the fatigue of whatever job I have at the time multiple times already and I’m not even 30. I’ve felt the pangs of embarrassment after realizing how lucky I am to have those jobs after a good grovel period, too. The only part I didn’t like in this episode was his fake chuckling at Joan’s set. It felt too fake. But overall, I guess I liked it more than most that saw it! Maybe I was just happy for a break from the “trying to be a better dad” theme.

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