Both Louis C.K.’s stand-up comedy and his television show are heavily based on the real life of Louis C.K., his co-parenting relationship with his ex-wife Alix Bailey, and the two children he takes care of for half of each week as a part of their shared custody arrangement. Louis talks so openly, honestly, and realistically about parenting, and the relationship he has with the two actresses who play his daughters on Louie feels so genuine that I often forget that those aren’t his real daughters. Louie is obviously not a documentary, but it has a very autobiographical feel.
But in reality, Louis’ daughters’ names aren’t actually Lily and Jane (their names are Mary Louise and Kitty Szekely), and they don’t look anything like the actresses who portray them on TV (in fact, they look like adorable versions of Louis). Even Louis’ name is spelled differently in the show (I don’t know how many times over the years that I’ve basically used the two spellings interchangeably). In fact, in real life, Louis’ ex-wife Alix Bailey is not black, although Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson), the character based on Bailey, is.
I never gave it much thought until this week, when during one of the episodes, there was a flashback sequence to the near break-up of Louie and his ex-wife and the conception of their first child. Funny thing: In the flashback sequence, Louie’s wife was white.
It was confusing, and even a little jarring at first, because I initially thought it was a flashback to an earlier relationship with someone before his ex-wife, but then I realized that Louis was just fucking with us. And it didn’t even occur to me until that very moment that it was strange that Louie’s ex-wife was black and the two children he has with her are white.
I don’t know if it was intentional or not, or if he was just messing with us, but the flashback opened the door to my own curiosity. Is Louis’ ex-wife black? (No). Are his children mixed race? (No) What the f*ck is going on? Then there’s the other element, which is that Louis himself is half Mexican but he passes for white, and now I don’t know what — if anything — Louis is trying to say about race in Louie.
Why did Louis cast his ex-wife in Louie with a black actress? He’s actually spoken to this, basically saying that his kids on the show are “extremely white” but that race wasn’t a factor in casting.
“If the character works for the show, I don’t care about the race,” he told Jimmy Kimmel in an appearance on his show in 2012, adding that it was all about delivery: “When a black woman tells you to get a job, it’s just more … ” he said, trailing off with a laugh.
So what is Louis doing? Is he attempting to challenge us with his casting choices, or is he not doing anything at all? is he suggesting that a black woman is a better choice to play a very vocal, very forceful ex-wife? Should we even think about race? Or is it inescapable?
I don’t know, but the whole thing reminds me of the conversation between Donald Glover and Lena Dunham’s character in a scene on Girls when he accused her of just wanting to date a black guy. “Well, the joke’s on you,” she said, “because I never thought about the fact that you are black, not once.”
“That’s insane,” he responded. “Because you should, because I am.”