To some fans of his not-exactly-a-sitcom Louie, Louis C.K. simply appeared a few years ago, fully formed and acclaimed by his peers as perhaps the most skilled, dedicated comedic craftsmen working today. But he does have a past, stretching back well beyond his voice role on the animated series Home Movies and his direction of the film Pootie Tang, and he has offered up entertaining fragments of it online. Above you’ll find his earliest known short film, Ice Cream. Begin watching this black-and-white meditation on the vagaries of disaffected twentysomething love in the nineties — one which opens in a convenient store, no less — and you’ll immediately think of Kevin Smith’s Clerks. But C.K. made Ice Cream in 1993, the year before Clerks came out, and it tilts in directions even Smith wouldn’t dare predict, ultimately arriving at a mariachi band-scored finale.
Just above, we have 1998’s Hello There. In four minutes, the film follows a catatonic-looking fellow (played by comedian Ron Lynch) wearing a poorly fitting suit and a cassette recorder around his neck as he makes his way through town. “Excuse me,” his machine says when he presses its play button, “do you have the correct time?” A bystander nervously answers. “Hello there,” his speaker blares to a bum dozing in a cardboard box, “is that a new hat? You are a good guy.” As the morning continues, we come to understand that this eccentric is not the only one of his kind. Below you can watch that same year’s Brunch, which throws the verbally NSFW comedian Rick Shapiro into a sharply observed mid-morning huddle of pontificating senior citizens. These all come from Louis C.K.s official Youtube channel, and indeed, C.K. presciently made them in a form neatly suited to the Youtube era, just as Louie has proven an ideal artistic, intellectual, and financial fit for the modern cable television landscape.
Louis C.K.’s short films: Ice Cream (1993), The Letter V (1998), The Legend of Willie Brown (1998), Ugly Revenge, Hijacker (1998), Hello There (1998), Brunch (1998), Persona Ne’ll Aqua (1999),Searching for Nixon
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.