Late to the party as ever, I am currently cultivating a minor obsession with Louis CK

The perfect film role for this daring funny man is out there somewhere - but he hasn't hit the mark just yet.

Late to the party as ever, I am currently cultivating a minor obsession with the comedian Louis CK. Even describing him as a comedian feels unfairly restricting. His stand-up specials—Chewed Up, Live at the Beacon Theatre, Oh My God—are meticulously crafted dramatic monologues that just happen to be raucously funny, not unlike the work of Stewart Lee (though in a very different register: CK plays with and subverts an Ordinary Joe persona that makes his most poisonous gags obscurely palatable).

He is the star, writer, director and editor of his own FX sitcom, Louie, which is three series old and getting ready for a fourth. His vision is absolute. And the tone of that series is also too amorphous and perplexing to fit under the catch-all heading of comedy. Two episodes I saw recently, one with Chloe Sevigny as a book-shop assistant who is creepily over-enthusiastic in her efforts to help Louie (Louis CK) track down an old flame, and a double-episode in which David Lynch plays a coach preparing Louie to be a possible replacement for talk-show host David Letterman, wandered so far into the comedy of silence, tension and general unpleasantness that it was possible at times to forget one was watching a comedy at all. There were enough skew-whiff line readings and quizzical top-notes to act as reminders of the genre to which the show nominally belonged, but only just.

Film being my primary area of interest, I am excited to see if he will make his mark cinematically. You can’t watch Louie and not feel that he has a great, dangerous movie in him. He’s dabbled: he co-wrote two screenplays with Chris Rock (Down to Earth and I Think I Love My Wife) and is credited as writer-director of another Rock comedy, Pootie Tang. He has had small roles in films, some good (Role Models), others less so (The Invention of Lying), and recently starred in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine as the man whom Jasmine’s sister (Sally Hawkins) picks up at a party.

My feeling is that no one who exerts such control over his own appearances (and works so hard at disguising the precise calibrations in his apparently off-the-cuff stand-up routines) is going to grab the first leading role that comes along. Sure enough, he was unreceptive to the idea of playing the male lead in the new (and rather wonderful) romantic comedy Enough Said, which opens today. “I wrote it with Louis CK in mind,” said the film’s writer-director, Nicole Holofcener. “CK wouldn’t give me the time of day, thank goodness.” (That “thank goodness” is to acknowledge rightly the brilliance of her second choice, the late James Gandolfini.)

Appearing in Enough Said might have been disastrous for CK. It is a rich and delicious part, but it is also entirely sympathetic. For him to play such a character would be the equivalent of Tom Hanks being cast as a cannibalistic child-killer who doesn’t believe in climate change. It would go so violently against the grain of the persona he has spent his career constructing as to amount to career suicide. Sure, we like Louis CK while we are watching him, even when he is in the flow of his most depraved and sexually taboo monologues. But if we were to cease scrutinising the disparity between his repugnant material and his prosaic persona, the comedy might lose one of its choicest elements. What I’m saying is that I love Louis CK and I like Enough Said very much, but they would not have been a happy fit. A part in David O Russell’s forthcoming crime drama American Hustle seems much more his bag. And a movie that CK crafts for himself is an even more tantalising prospect. I’ll happily kill time re-watching Louie or his stand-up routines while I wait for that.

Louis CK and fellow comedian-and-actor Will Arnett at an ice hockey game in New York. Photograph: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Man alive! Why the flaws of Inside No 9 only emphasise its brilliance

A man we’d thought destined for certain death reappeared, alive and kicking.​ ​Even as my brain raced, I was grinning.

At the risk of sounding like some awful, jargon-bound media studies lecturer – precisely the kind of person those I’m writing about might devote themselves to sending up – it seems to me that even the dissatisfactions of Inside No 9 (Tuesdays, 10pm) are, well, deeply satisfying. What I mean is that the occasional flaws in Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s cultish series, those unlooked-for moments when nothing quite makes sense, only serve to emphasise its surpassing brilliance.

At the end of the final episode of series three, for instance, there came a discombobulating twist. A man we’d thought destined for certain death reappeared, alive and kicking. How had this happened? Were the preceding 28 minutes only a dream? Even as my brain raced, I was grinning. That line about Ron Mueck! In a piece that seemed mostly to be paying topsy-turvy homage to the camp 1973 horror flick Theatre of Blood.

Pemberton and Shearsmith are all about homage: a bit of Doctor Who here, a touch of Seventies B-movie there. Inside No 9’s format of twisty one-offs is a direct descendant of ITV’s Tales of the Unexpected. And yet it is so absolutely its own thing. Only they could have written it; only they could ever do this much (stretch your arms as wide as they’ll go) in so little time (half an hour).

In the episode Private View, guests were invited to the Nine Gallery in somewhere Hoxtonish. This motley crew, handpicked to represent several of the more unedifying aspects of 21st-century Britain, comprised Carrie (Morgana Robinson), a reality-TV star; Patricia (Felicity Kendal), a smutty novelist; Kenneth (Pemberton), a health and safety nut; and Maurice (Shearsmith), an art critic. Hard on their heels came Jean (Fiona Shaw), a wittering Irishwoman with gimlet eyes. However, given that they were about to be bloodily picked off one by one, at least one of them was not what she seemed. “I’m due at Edwina Currie’s perfume launch later,” Carrie yelped, as it dawned on her that the pages of Grazia might soon be devoting a sidebar to what Towie’s Mark Wright wore to her funeral.

Private View satirised a certain kind of contemporary art, all bashed up mannequins and blindingly obvious metaphors. Admittedly, this isn’t hard to do. But at least Pemberton and Shearsmith take for granted the sophistication of their audience. “A bit derivative of Ron Mueck,” said Maurice, gazing coolly at one of the installations. “But I like the idea of a blood mirror.” The duo’s determination to transform themselves from episode to episode – new accent, new hair, new crazy mannerisms – calls Dick Emery to mind. They’re better actors than he was, of course; they’re fantastic actors. But in the context of Inside No 9, even as they disappear, they stick out like sore thumbs, just as he used to. They’re the suns around which their impressive guest stars orbit. They may not always have the biggest parts, but they nearly always get the best lines. You need to watch them. For clues. For signs. For the beady, unsettling way they reflect the world back at you.

What astonishes about this series, as with the two before it, is its ability to manage dramatic shifts in tone. Plotting is one thing, and they do that as beautifully as Roald Dahl (the third episode, The Riddle of the Sphinx, which revolved around a crossword setter, was a masterclass in structure). But to move from funny to plangent and back again is some trick, given the limitations of time and the confined spaces in which they set the stories. In Diddle Diddle Dumpling, Shearsmith’s character found a size-nine shoe in the street and became obsessed with finding its owner, which was very droll. But the real engine of the piece, slowly revealed, was grief, not madness (“Diddle-diddle-dumpling, my son John”). You felt, in the end, bad for having sniggered at him.

If you missed it, proceed immediately to iPlayer, offering a thousand thanks for the usually lumbering and risk-averse BBC, which has commissioned a fourth series. One day people will write learned papers about these shows, at which point, jargon permitting, I might discover just how Maurice managed to live to fight another day.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution