SNL Episode 6: Louis C.K. Parties in the Dark

Louis CKIt’s probably fitting that the two shows that make former New Yorkers feel the most complicated dim sum array of emotions, Louie and Saturday Night Live, conflated last weekend, less than a week after Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast. Missing a regional joke on “Weekend Update” or watching Louis eat at Russ & Daughters can give transplants a mean case of the wistfuls, especially if you spent the past week biting your nails and watching weather reports of swirling gray clouds, wondering if things were going to be Okay, Bad, or The Worst Imaginable. I tried, and failed, to learn to skateboard a few blocks from the Comedy Cellar; when I would come back to New York during winter break in college, I’d sneak in with friends and drink uncomfortably as comics picked on us because we were obviously terrified of being poked fun at (so, inevitably, we were) for wearing skimpy tank tops under our giant parkas. It’s easy to identify with the Louis of Louie even if you’ve never felt your sneakers stick to the floor of a pizza joint on MacDougal, but most people who leave New York allow themselves a private imaginary identity that still wanders around Union Square at night with headphones on and rents a tiny apartment with a bleak but voyeuristic imaginary view into a nonexistent neighbor’s living room, and Louie sure has a way of stoking the fires of that fantasy. In an e-mail sent to fans before SNL aired, Louis C.K. wrote:

Last night we shot some pre-tape segments in greenwich Village, which was pitch black dark for blocks and blocks, as it has been for a week now.

Its pretty impossible to describe walking through these city streets in total darkness. It can’t even be called a trip through time, because as long as new york has lived, its been lit. By electricity, gas lamps, candlelight, kerosene. But this was pitch black, street after street, corner round corner. And for me, the village being the very place that made me into a comedian and a man, to walk through the heart of it and feel like, in a way, it was dead. I can’t tell you how that felt. And you also had a palpable sense that inside each dark window was a family or a student or an artist or an old woman living alone, just being in the dark and waiting for the day to come back. Like we were all having one big sleep over, but not so much fun as that.”

It’s rare that I feel homesick, because Los Angeles has been home for a long time. But even when the jokes fell flat last weekend (hello, “Australian Film Legends”!), and even during my least favorite part of “Some Nights” by fun. (“When I look into my nephew’s eyes … ” — ☹), I wasn’t in the mood to hate. Sandy served as an ominous reminder of how comforting our routines can be: 37 years of nature and politics’ whack-a-mole, and still SNL manages to throw together something to take your mind off the whole mess. Who knows what the week preceding the taping looked like? Dark, wet, and at times probably very unfunny. A viewer has to tip her hat.

The cold open poked fun at Mayor Bloomberg’s (Armisen’s Bloomberg is great) infinitely fun-pokeable address following the hurricane: his cold-smoked trout way of delivering Spanish; his insta-famous interpreter Lydia Callis and her incredible hand pizzazz; and, of course, his hatred of deliciously fattening comestibles and imbibables. Chris Christie (Moynihan) and his fictional Jersey interpreter, a gum-smacking Pedrad, took the mic to express his secret support for Obama (he’ll vote for Romney, but he’ll hate himself for it). I miss Nasim Pedrad and wish she’d see more air time, but whatever: Bloomberg’s note to Hispanic viewers to beware of cranky white people, with no Showtime to watch their beloved Homeland (“White people love Homeland. Be patient with the white people; missing Homeland is the worst thing that has ever happened to them”) was hilarious.

Louis C.K.’s opening monologue was a welcome break from the long run of musical numbers SNL has featured this season. Wearing his customary Louie-casual garb and holding a mic, he began with a segment observing how much power we use (140,000 people remained without electricity as of Sunday) and then launched into a story revolving around being stuck at an airport and losing a game of “decency chicken,” winding up as the only bystander who stepped in to help an old lady who had collapsed. She stuck with him: “I thought I was helping an old lady,” said C.K., “now I have an old lady.” Just when the comedian got mean, he pulled back: He loves old ladies, in fact, and wishes “that [he] desired them sexually; [he] could spend the rest of her life with her.” The hand-held microphone and lack of TelePrompTer was such an engaging change of pace, it almost made some of this season’s previous monologues look bad by comparison, almost like the overcrowded laser-barf stages of The X Factor performances when compared with the relatively spare, and arguably more successful, sets on The Voice. Sometimes, you don’t want Muppets or anyone in sequins doing the can-can on the periphery. C.K.’s monologue was like an SNL breath mint. I appreciated this.

Of course, with Donald Trump furiously stroking his own Twitter handle as the world looks on in horror, it was no surprise to see an installment of Fox & Friends. Though these sketches essentially present the same truthiness joke over and over, I love them because Bobby Moynihan as Brian Kilmeade gives me the Diet Ted Knights. He warned citizens of the danger of running into piranhas with AIDS (“I call them parades”). Trump (Sudeikis) appears to pout and drop the bombshell news that Obama has been texting with terrorists, followed by a deputy from FEMA, Dave Pryor (C.K.), who struggles to relate helpful information (avoid contact with flood waters) while being pelleted by Fox & Friends-isms (Doocy says go ahead and drink that hot-fridge milk, because “it’s better to drink spoiled milk than no milk at all”). C.K. is good at playing world-weary, so I liked seeing his buttoned-up, square variation on this theme, right until he was ushered off the F&F set to make way for the best part, the quick scroll of corrections (“trees do not have bones,” “transitions lenses do not reverse the gender of your eyes,” “there are a finite number of people in China” — but this complete list, from September, is still my favorite).

“Fox & Friends” was followed by what was easily the best sketch of the night, the pretaped “Lincoln.” Parodying an episode of Louie starring Abraham Lincoln, down to the title credits (Lincoln ascending the subway stairs, Lincoln eating a pizza, Lincoln’s name as star, director, and editor), was brilliant and this was executed flawlessly. Lincoln sits at a bar and attempts to chat up a recently emancipated slave (Thompson), who rebuffs him and serves as inspiration for the stand-up set that follows; when you make conversation with a slave owner, of course you have to pretend you’re cool with it, even if “owning a person is not cool, you stupid dick.” Aidy Bryant as crazy Mary Todd Lincoln (“my wife is crazy — literally historically insane”) was the best we’ve seen her so far, even though she mostly puttered around in the background grumbling about tickets to the theater — speaking of which, Lincoln told the crowd at the Comedy Cellar, “One thing I’m really sure of is that somebody’s gonna murder me.” Tad Lincoln provided the original music.

This one was hard to top, so we slid way, way down into this episode’s dirty ashtray, “Australian Screen Legends,” a flop that hinged on the joke that Australians have silly accents and are, well, unsubtle? Is that so, SNL? C.K. plays John Chisholm, “long regarded as Australia’s Steve Zahn” (the best line of this one — make of that what you will), who is most prominently featured in a Brokeback Mountain–esque scene discussing his boner with Graham Dixon (Bill Hader) before preparing himself for cowboy-on-cowboy intercourse. C.K.’s Aussie accent didn’t suck, however, and he sallied forth with whatever dignity a person could cling to under such circumstances. Did I mention there was a power outage?

Because of the power outage I will not air my unpopular opinions about the band fun., but I will say that I had already heard “Some Nights” two times on Saturday, once in my car and once in the dairy aisle at the grocery store, and I did not want to hear it a third time or look into anyone’s nephew’s saddybear eyes. However, the crowd seemed to eat this up like it was giant fluffy pieces of shortcake being thrown into their midst, and there was a lot of energy in this performance, including some tossing of the mic from hand to hand. Trench coat presented without comment.

“Weekend Update,” notably Obama-less, hit high notes with a zinger about the subway (it should be running at full capacity next week, “which would be amazing, since it never had before”) and the Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party (Strong), slurring and chatting about her Malcolm X blackface Halloween costume (Did she really? “It’s African American face and of course I did”) between checking her bedazzled phone and hollering across the room at her friend Cassidy. Sudeikis’s Romney also came by to remind America of the debates and stage a photo op with Seth and a can of Chunky soup (he took it back, because “it’s my picture can”). Social media expert Kourtney Barnes (Aidy Bryant) was mostly saddled with reading asinine political missives from Facebook and Twitter, and it was hard to tell if she wasn’t selling the goods hard enough or if the goods were just unsellable. Her outro — “the Internet is real” — made me think that there’s probably something to be done with this character, but it just wasn’t hitting the marks this time. How I miss Michaela Watkins’s Angie Tempura from BitchPleeze.com! That shit was so real!

Only slightly better than “Australian Screen Legends” was “Mountain Pass,” a sketch during which a visibly uncomfortable C.K. blew a ram’s horn to summon a person named either Zog or Zord and drew noise complaints from the ancient mystical Nords and a lone hoofed beast (Moynihan). C.K. couldn’t get the timing of the horn down, so it hooted all by its lonesome even when it was divorced from his mouth, and he wasn’t even going to bother with some of the cue cards (“perish in the something-something’s ethers of Jailan”). Even though I’m sure this rankled some people, I got a pretty decent bang out of the horn-fumbles and general reluctance of C.K. wearing a costume that looked like the love child of Jay and Silent Bob making his way through the line at the Matterhorn. It’s a tough call as a host, deciding how to handle skits like these: Do you attack them with the idea that you can somehow stay true to the joke, or do you something-something and drop the horn in self-conscious admittance that this one’s just going to fall off the snowy mountains? In this case, I think C.K.’s approach worked. The following sketch was better, with Louis as a detail-oriented hotel checkout clerk foiling a guest’s (Moynihan’s) efforts to pay and leave in under 5 zillion hours. Itemizing the bill with a $65 charge for argon (is he sure he didn’t order argon? It’s “colorless and odorless”) and 12 cents for a taxidermied bobcat, the best part may have been seeing C.K. in a suit. Before another musical performance by fun., the camera caught Louis cracking up the audience and hushing them into submission, which was a cool moment.

Fun.’s second song was “Carry On,” and that one involved Nate Ruess playing back his own vocals on a synthesizer. What fun period exclamation point. Do you love “fun.”? See what I did? I deflected.

Here is another question: Do you like watching people maul each other’s faces after sips of egg-white-and-tequila cocktails? I think I might. “Last Call” was an unlikely gem, popping up in the final-sketch dead zone and being successfully weird, which is rare in them thar parts. C.K. had great chemistry with McKinnon as the last patrons at a bar who had struck out in trying to get laid during their first 40 rounds of cocktails at Donnelly’s. Their exchange mainly consisted of desperate attempts at connection (he had baby food for lunch, she had candy corn; she’s from Annapolis by way of Guam, he hails from Northern California — well, hey, what about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?), but they found common ground in the simple fact of being two heterosexual characters with non-matching genitalia and “having limbs — all of them.” “You are the only man here, and I love that,” says McKinnon before engaging in a makeout session that defies description (from bow to stern, and inside nostrils too). “That was unworkable,” reviews C.K., and McKinnon gives it “two vaginas down,” but of course kissing isn’t required in those kinds of circumstances, so the two scramble outside to get it on against the pub window as the bartender (Thompson) mercifully sprays it with opaque cleaning solution to obscure the fornication. Ah, the social benefits of being in a densely populated walking city during a natural disaster: nothing like a little doomsday weather to get a person in the mood, when the term “last call” feels headier than ever and the (lack of) lighting is ideal for the not-so-choosy. I might be nuts, but I found this sketch to be strangely sweet: just a couple of people trying to make the best of a bleak, dark night. Maybe there’s nothing uniquely New York about that, but you’ve got to admit it — when called upon, New Yorkers do a bang-up job.

Next Week: Anne Hathaway hosts for the third time with musical guest Rihanna, who was invited back despite pissing off everyone last time she appeared on the show by skipping out on the dress rehearsal and then committing the cardinal offense of snacking on an apple before the taping. Hey, she was just trying to keep the doctor away.

Filed Under: Late Night, NBC, Saturday Night Live, SNL

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Tess Lynch is a contributing writer to Grantland.

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