Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

The Night-In: One large pizza from Proletariat Pizza (half Two Meats, half Potato) to be eaten in front of FX's Louie


Proletariat Pizza and Louie: Heavy, but Unpretentious

Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

The Night-In: One large pizza from Proletariat Pizza (half Two Meats, half Potato) to be eaten in front of FX's Louie.

The Cuisine: FX's sleeper hit comedy Louie has one of the most straightforward opening titles I've ever seen while still being meaningful. Titular comedian Louis C.K. exits a New York subway station, gets a piece of pizza from a local restaurant, eats half of it, then enters a comedy club. That's really all the framing Louie needs. Like this intro, the White Center pizza sleeper hit keeps their appearance simple, honest, and utilitarian (but unlike Louie, family-friendly).

Whether its fine Neapolitan-style joints like Tutta Bella or Via Tribunali or enterprising restaurateurs like Tom Douglas reinventing the crusty wheel, a truly impressive slice of pizza has come a long way from requiring either "New York Style" or "Chicago Style" somewhere on its producer's storefront. Proletariat Pizza doesn't do much to advertise its influences or philosophies; their appropriately populist slogan "Pizza we can believe in" makes up the bulk of their self-promotion. The delicious pies do the rest.

An ingenious crust that runs thin with just the right amount of crunch on the bottom, while pillowing out into carbohydrate heaven around the edges. Signature prefab pies include pizzeria classics like the Margherita, more contemporary flavors like coppa and soft egg (spring for the extra arugula; if arugula has a place anywhere on your non-vegan plate, it's probably going to be on a soft-egg pizza), and the honor of being one of the few Seattle pizza places that actually cuts that Canadian-bacon revisionist crap by putting Spam on their "Real Hawaiian."

Anyone worried about being overwhelmed by the volume of Proletariat's tempting signature pies can take solace in the fact that any of them can be split down the middle. I chose the Two Meats, featuring the local(ish) and unambiguously sumptuous Zoe's Pepperoni and Mondo's Italian Sausage, as well as the Potato Pizza, a vegetarian treasure which was decked out in creamy globs of gorgonzola and red potato pieces sliced thinly enough to not mess up the pie's gratifying texture.

Ultimately, Proletariat just makes an awesome pizza that tries to dazzle through taste and innovation rather than through some haughty pedigree or a rigid commitment to tradition. To top things off, they do a damn respectable tiramisu, but it's a short walk to Full Tilt Ice Cream if you're looking for something more conventionally indulgent.

The Entertainment: Tomorrow, FX will begin airing the second season of Louie, actor/comedian Louis C.K.'s hilarious yet often morose look at his life as a stand-up comedian, single father, and American man. C.K. isn't afraid to straddle incendiary issues, most recently taking a bit of flak for defending what some spectators call a virulently homophobic rant by 30 Rock's Tracy Morgan. The defense of one of the mainstream media's favorite new punching bags turned a lot of heads, particularly because Louie's first season took the casual use of the word "f----t" to task in a poignant discussion among friends set amid a testosterone-fueled poker game.

Louis C.K. is someone who seems fully aware of the inherent ugliness and imperfection of stand-up comedy, an art form that many find irrelevant or even naive in the ever-expanding world of safe, prerecorded material. With increased access to film, television, and of course the Internet, humorists can daintily cut the inherent biases and bigotry out of their performances. Only after the prejudices inevitably ingrained in every American mind are whitewashed and left undiscussed is the product free to be unleashed blemish-free upon the world, all to sidestep aspiring bloggers scouring for fallen celebrity to step on in their quest for an even more ephemeral popularity.

However, C.K. realizes the primal power of the stand-up performance, a damn-near heroic act of vulnerability in front of an often-blackout-drunk audience that's usually controlled only by underpaid bouncers who might hate your material just as much as the cackling asshole intent on liberalizing your attitude towards audience participation.

Historically, most stand-up comedians adapt their material of these harrowing performances into some sort of family-oriented, paint-by-numbers sitcom. Indeed, HBO's ill-fated Lucky Louie could have been said to fit this bill (with a healthy addition of full-frontal male nudity), but when it came down to it, the show's unimaginative, strict form often had an awkward disconnect with C.K.'s darker, sometimes incoherent content.

Much like Seinfeld, Louie's main action is narrated by bits and pieces of the comedian's routine. Where Louie differs is its denial of a self-contained 30-minute plot wrack with pithy misunderstandings and catchphrases, favoring shorter, thematically-linked scenes instead. That isn't to say that Louie is best classified as sketch comedy, as the show often probes deep into the human condition for somber, substantial portions of most every episode. Louie is better described more like a series of mostly comedic short films loosely inspired by his material, probably cribbing its form from surrealist, non-linear comedies like Stella or Dog Bites Man more than anything else.

Louis C.K. uses this jarring, unfamiliar format to get a lot of mileage out of his stand-up routine's tendency to dig under the skin of American society's perceptions of touchy issues like masculinity and entitlement. In a particularly painful short, we see a fully grown Louie's blind date ruined by utter emasculation at the hand of a high-school bully, only for Louie to awkwardly stalk the kid back to his parents' house. Here, the scene erratically wafts back and forth between the pitch-black angst of the father physically abusing his son and the continued impotence of Louie trying to explain the obvious vicious cycle at hand. It's not an easy topic to broach, and the situation has been flubbed all too often by uncharacteristic paroxysms of self-righteousness or just plain melodrama by countless "very special episodes" of shows whose unrepentant sentimentality never stood a chance against the bleakness of domestic abuse.

After Louie is screamed out of the house by the boy's mother for insulting their family, the father comes out for a cigarette, and it would appear that it was time for the aggressive patriarch to explain his actions. There are a few lines of forced small talk, but it's really all secondary to the line the father opens with.

"That's what I know." It's a simple but penetrating moment that doesn't allow its audience to hang this very relatable tragedy on scapegoat stock characters stripped of benevolence and humanity. With this sort of rapid-fire production of humiliation and redemption, you actually get more emotional depth from short, scantily connected segments than you do with long-form television dramas that prize procedure and empty banter over spontaneity and empathy.

The Pairing: Louie and Proletariat Pizza both have the substance and affect that snobs crave while also being relatable and charming enough to be accepted into the mainstream. They are both properties that take you off-guard with their unassuming, ordinary appearances hiding some truly inspired content. Both will tweak your preconceptions and prejudices, though Proletariat likely stops the latter with converting White Centerphobics. Most importantly, both fall almost perfectly into the line between junk (food or media) and high culture, helping to bridge the all-important gap between sophistication and prevailing taste.

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