Who Is Bart Folding From 'Louie'? Was the Struggling Standup a Lesson, Cautionary Tale, Or Just a Joke?
Despite aspiring for more laughs, Louie Season 5 can still be just as inscrutable as its predecessors. The latest episode, "A La Carte," is no exception as it left most of us wondering, "Seriously, who is this comedian named Bart Folding?" And more importantly, what was Louie trying to say with Bart Folding? For starters, the amateur comedian is not a real dude; Bart Folding is played by comedian Nate Fernald, whose performance style is decidedly different than the character he plays. But real life identity aside, what was Bart trying to tell us?
It's possible the whole fifteen minute encounter with Bart was just designed as a cosmic joke at Louie's expense: The elder statesman of comedy, totally mistaken about what makes a good comedian, accidentally creates a superstar. But it's also possible that this was Louis CK's chance to throw in a comment about how disconnected different comedy generations or even different comedic styles can be, and that the next genius of standup could be as different from Louis' confessional style as possible. Plus, there's always Louie's general disconnection from everyone, from his ex-wife to Jerry Seinfeld.
But even though the entire show is about Louie, perhaps we can learn more about what Bart, the true weirdo, means by focusing on, well, Bart.
He's a mess, and has been, seemingly from birth. His emotionally traumatic childhood has led him to form an obsessive-seeming fixation on comedy and comedians (notably Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton, ironic considering his affectless, stiff performing style), but where most comedians would typically turn their version of Folding's pain into either a deep, self-and-everyone-else loathing cynicism or a completely dismissive, anything-is-funny absurdism, Folding simply detaches from his bad memories, reciting them awkwardly without any emotion whatsoever. Of course, his act is unwatchable, largely because it's impossible to laugh with someone who doesn't seem to be capable of laughing.
Yet, Bart bypasses paying his dues in the final scene of the episode, where Louie watches him absolutely kill on Jimmy Fallon with the same horrible material, now delivered with the funny voice Louie recommended as an offhand comment to get Bart out of his hair.
Unfortunately, I'm still not sure what the point of this character is. It can't be that Louie's fed up with random youngsters becoming comedy superstars out of nowhere. If anything, increased focus and popularity of standup comedy has made people realize that most of the "fresh new talent" they're worshipping is comprised of folks who have been on the road for nine years and given up everything in the hope of landing that Tonight Show spot.
It also can't be that the silly voice represents cheap comedy tricks, because I can't think of a single mega successful comedian who gets by using a strange or distinct voice or cadence to make their jokes funnier — and don't you dare claim that Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait, or even Gilbert Gottfried only have their eccentric voices going for them.
So, in lieu of any real answers about the meaning of the Bart Folding bit, I've done you one better. I've got five possibilities:
1. Pain isn't the only prerequisite for good comedy.
2. Success in comedy is literally unpredictable, and often defies even the most basic expectations.
3. Up is down, everything bad happens to Louie, and he'll always be behind in either his personal and professional life.
4. People love dumb gimmicks, but dumb gimmicks can also sincerely change a bad joke.
5. It's just a great punchline that aspires to the heights of Curb Your Enthusiasm or other shows that always come full circle.