Woody Allen likes Louis C.K.. A lot. Not only was he enough of a fan of the standup comic’s slice-of-life FX series Louie to cast him in Blue Jasmine (out July 26) Allen came to appreciate C.K.’s gifts so much while making the movie that he’s determined to act opposite him in a future film. “He’s clearly such a sweet guy,” Allen told The New York Times. “I’d love to do a movie with him and me, a comedy. I’m looking for some idea that would work, for the two of us to do.” Even more remarkable, he’s also considering a return to standup, which he hasn’t actively been involved in since the Jack Paar ’60s.
Those who think of Woody Allen’s latter-day efforts as primarily nostalgia pieces — crammed with moth-eaten euphemisms like “making love” to describe any sexual encounter and scored by his personal collection of crinkly jazz LPs — may be surprised that he’d find such a kindred spirit in Louis. Sure, there’s a generation gap there. Allen is 77, and C.K. is 45. But Allen’s shown an admirable openness when it comes to casting his recent films. Who would have thought that Owen Wilson would prove his jittery avatar in Midnight in Paris? Or that Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz would become his recurring, post-millennial muses? In the Times piece, Allen even says that his next project is “the perfect movie for Colin Firth and Emma Stone.” If you stop to think on it, C.K. is really the perfect partner to complement Allen’s vision. Certainly much more so than Larry David, whose neo-Borscht Belt attitude hearkens back to Allen’s “earlier, funnier movies” but felt out of place amidst the existential musings of down-and-dirty Big Apple character study Whatever Works.
Louie is, at heart, a study of futility, which is also Allen’s primary theme. Much of what C.K.’s FX alter ego experiences could be described as “Anhedonia,” the original title of Annie Hall — a movie also about a standup comic dealing with a parade of exes and relationships that go nowhere. C.K. doesn’t have many of Allen’s iconic nebbish-isms, but the slice-of-New-York-life structure and sensibility of Louie makes each 20-minute episode feel like a mini Annie Hall. Whether dealing with rude fans or shallow showbiz types, Louie’s trying to keep his head above the muck in a city he simultaneously loves and finds sullied and discover somewhere in it a lick of truth. Louie’s failed sitcom pilot from Season 1 — complete with much younger, overly hot wife — feels like the lazy sketch show Woody works on in Manhattan. The Matthew Broderick-starring Godfather remake he’s cast in could have been made by Alan Alda’s “if it bends, it’s funny!” producer in Crimes and Misdemeanors. You could argue there’s no comedian today who bottles literacy and raunch the way Allen always has as effectively as Louis C.K..
Allen even went so far as to say that he’s considering a return to standup. That’s something he hasn’t actively done in decades, though he does continue to perform live as a clarinetist with his jazz band. In the Times he said that he was inspired to give standup another try after seeing the 85-year-old Mort Sahl do it. “Since I saw him, I’ve just been toying with the idea,” Allen said. “I would love to see if I could. Just getting together an hour of stuff to talk about would be a lot of work.” It’s hard not to think, though, that his working friendship with C.K., arguably the finest practioner of the form today, also encouraged this idea. Far from being a stodgy, talky filmmaker for old folks, Allen’s always shown his capacity for synthesizing the new. But if he does return to standup, if he does star in a film opposite C.K., it’ll show something else: that at 77 he’s still a risktaker too. And we’ll be the ones to share in the reward.