“I think showbusiness is for talent — that’s who should be in it. But let’s keep it in its hierarchy. I like being at the top of the pyramid.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Though seemingly standing in direct contrast to Seinfeld’s admirably transparent enjoyment of being at the top of the pyramid, Louis C.K.’s playful aversion to his own place in the comedy pantheon is just as earnest.
In season three, we were blessed with the gravitas of David Lynch as Late Show trainer Jack Dall — a suitably Lynchian character who viewed both Louie and his art from the advantaged point of view only intellectual detachment can provide. Throughout the grueling training process, Louie repeatedly proved himself to be a genuine outsider to the machine of commerce surrounding comedy on that level (the top of the pyramid). We are reminded of this again in season four when Seinfeld asks Louie to perform at a Hamptons benefit to which Louie shows up patently underdressed and then proceeds to bomb monstrously.
In “A La Carte,” Louis C.K. spends the first and ultimately more compelling half of the episode revisiting these themes with a flipped perspective which is beginning to seem like a defining characteristic of this season. After begrudgingly accepting a $400 incentive to do so, Louie agrees to fill in as the host for an Open Mic event. Inevitably, one of the younger comics approaches Louie regarding a critique of his set, which he politely but firmly declines.
The young comedian – whose set consists mainly of dead-serious bedwetting and child abuse admissions – approaches Louie again at the end of the night, and the two relocate to a diner for the verdict. Though reluctant at first, Louie unleashes such a heavy dose of reality on the young comic that I, as a mere viewer, started to recount the steps I’ve taken toward my own dreams of creative fulfillment. In one brief scene, Louis C.K. brilliantly allows Louie, the character, to embody his own position in the hierarchy — his own little space near but never quite at the top of that aforementioned pyramid. When Louie sees the young comic on TV later in the episode, we get the sense that Louie is proud in his own bewildered way.
This exploration of the realities of hierarchy bleeds nicely into the second half of “A La Carte,” where a reluctant Pamela repeatedly reminds Louie of their past failed attempts at love in the traditional sense. “I love you right now,” says Pamela, and we can feel Louie’s realization that this might be one hierarchy — i.e. the happily-ever-after, tidy-family set — into which Louie may never find his way.