After a Duke Nukem Forever-esque amount of time, Louis C.K.’s first film, Tomorrow Night (1998), has finally seen the light of day. The film was released to the general public once and for all last week, as a five dollar download from Louis’s official website – just another chapter in Louis C.K.’s War on Corporate Middlemen.
What’s surprising is that the material bears next-to-no resemblance to the Louis C.K. we know today. It’s not particularly accessible, witty, brutally honest, or based in our reality. Other than some Weird Sex Stuff, it isn’t particularly controversial. If you’re looking for a precursor to Louie, Lucky Louie, or any of his stand up, you’re not going to find it here.
Keep in mind, though, that in 1998, Louis was married and had no children – far from the Divorced Dad persona we most associate him with today. This film is Louie’s equivalent of the Beastie Boys’ punk career, Ronnie James Dio’s roots as a pop singer, and George Carlin’s clean cut early years – it is the obscure before-he-was-famous material that predates the fully developed persona we know, love, and pity today.
Louis C.K. made the film Tomorrow Night in 1998. He shot it in black in white on 16mm film. He wrote each part specifically for each actor to create performance opportunities for his friends, and says it is how he learned to direct. Louis got funding for the film by a number of notable comedians, some of who were already famous and some of whom would go on to be famous – including Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, David Cross, and Denis Leary. This may be the biggest before-they-were-famous film of the current crop of comedians. J.B. Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Steve Carell, Robert Smigel, Nick DiPaolo, and Todd Barry all have various speaking roles. Conan O’Brien appears as himself and Amy Poehler and Louis both have blink-and-you-miss-it cameos.Tomorrow Night made its way around in various film festivals – including Sundance – but was never able to find a distributor. It sat on a shelf for about fifteen years and there was no footage of it available anywhere.
At this point in his career, Louis was more known as a writer than an actor or stand-up. He was a staff writer on the critically-acclaimed-but-short-lived Dana Carvey Show (of which Carell, Smigel, and several other cast members are alum) and was a writer for The Chris Rock Show at the time of Tomorrow Night‘s filming. While half the cast are comedians who would go on to great things, the other half of the cast were either writers or bit sketch players on TV shows. The main character is played by Chuck Sklar, who has seemingly produced and written for every show involving Chris Rock and Louis C.K. over the past fifteen years. Spike Feresten, who wrote for some of the most notable TV shows during the 90s, appears as an NBC page. As for bit players, there’s Rick Shapiro (who appears in drag with a five o’clock shadow) – you might remember him as either Jerry from Lucky Louie or the bum on the bench from the Sukkot episode of The League.
Now, no beating around the bush here: this film is kind of weird. Student film weird. Film you saw midway through the junior year of college in your Film History II class weird. In between the plot, various completely random things happen and no one questions them. A waiter gets a Baked Alaska smashed into his face and he’s perfectly fine with it. There is a character named Nick Vagina, and that’s his actual name. At one point a man sprays water on people walking by his store and nobody seems to notice or care. The main plot of the film alone is a man sort-of-kind-of falling in love with an married old woman. All of this may seem like a dream sequence from a David Lynch film, but it’s more-or-less played for laughs the entire time.
Despite the weirdness, or perhaps because of it, there’s something about it – something intangible – that’s compelling. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s shot in an archaic way, maybe it’s the solid performances, maybe it’s just the quirky and decently paced storyline. It could just be the continued absurdity of the situations. Whatever the reason, it should keep you scratching your head in a way that will keep your eyes on the screen.
Here’s the first nine minutes of the film: Charles is a cleanliness-obsessed curmudgeon who operates a camera store. He turns away a man who came into the store to escape the rain, refuses to work on a woman’s camera because he deems it too cheap to bother with, and shutters the store. He then goes home, puts some ice cream in a bowl, puts the bowl on the chair, and basically has sex with the ice cream while listening to old timey music on vinyl.
See what I mean by Film History II weird?
There is a plot, though, in fact there are several: Charles refuses to develop any more pictures until his backlog has been claimed by his lazy customers. An old woman named Florence is in a relationship with a batty old man who controls her life and spending, and wants out. Florence’s naive son, Willie, has spent the last twenty years as a Private in the Army, but hasn’t had any contact with his mother the entire time – largely because two jerkface mailroom clerks keep throwing out his letters home as a joke. In the middle of all of this, a promiscuous woman named Lola Vagina flirts with Charles, and Charles becomes friends with his energetic mailman. As the film goes on, all of these threads intertwine.
Louis states that the film was a labor of love, and it shows. It may be weird, but it’s unique and somehow compelling. If nothing else, Tomorrow Night is an interesting curio in comedy history. It’s worth the five bucks – it even comes with a sleeve and art for a DVD itself if you choose to watch it that way. Plus, it’s Louis C.K. – you’d feel guilty if you didn’t help him out somehow. Nick DiPaolo’s pathetic description of how to have sex is almost worth the price of admission alone. Besides, aren’t you curious to see some of the most bankable comedians in the world right now in their younger years?
Tomorrow Night is available for purchase direct from louisck.net.