To borrow a phrase from Pootie Tang himself, what's the Dabble Dee with Louis C.K.'s new-old movie?
First of all, in case you had forgotten (or never knew), Louis C.K. was the director of "Pootie Tang," the 2001 comedy about a smooth ladies man/urban hero/recording artist with a vocabulary all his own that should've received a lot more love. Sure, it was a mess, but it was a lovable mess. Wa Da Tah.
But even before "Pootie Tang," Louis directed another feature film: "Tomorrow Night," a self-funded absurdist comedy shot on black-and-white 16mm reversal stock and featuring such future celebs as Steve Carell, J.B. Smoove, Wanda Sykes and Conan O'Brien.
Back in 1998 — long before the success of his stand-up concert films and FX's "Louie" — Louis C.K. was a struggling TV writer and comedian who funded this film on his own savings and loans from the likes of Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Denis Leary, Spike Feresten and Brett Butler, according to Deadline. The project was a labor of love for C.K., who discusses the film and its cast — which includes Chuck Sklar, Robert Smigel, Rick Shapiro, Heather Morgan, Nick Diapolo, Martha Greenhouse, Greg Hahn, Carey Prusa and Joseph Dolphin — on his official site:
"All these people are comedians and actors I had been working with and around back in the '90s and I wrote all of their parts for them specifically. To me, that's what this movie was for, to create performance opportunities for all my favorite funny people. And to photograph them with prime lenses on Black and White reversal film."
This "bizarre little indie film" centers on a photo shop owner (Sklar) obsessed with ice cream and his relationship with a lonely old woman pining for her long-lost son, though the trailer suggests it's mostly a collection of surreal exchanges with strange characters — a sort of low-budget hipster version of C.K.'s current television series on FX. There are hints of the made-up words that would make up a good chunk of the screenplay of "Pootie Tang" ("Skin all flabby-dee" exclaims future "Pootie Tang" star J.B. Smoove at one point), as well as uncomfortable and humiliating sexual encounters.
However, one thing that's probably missing from the film is Louis C.K.'s current fascination with aging and its unwelcome toll on the body — after all, he was only 30 back in '98.
C.K. himself admits that the movie, which premiered in January 1998 at Sundance, "isn't for everyone," though it managed to score some pretty good reviews during its festival run, which included screenings at South by Southwest and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Dennis Harvey of Variety called it "uneven but charmingly silly" and said it could become "a cult favorite if given the chance." Sarah Hepola of Austin Chronicle praised the "delightfulness of the performances," admiring how "vivid, unforgettable characters leap into the story at every turn." And David Schwartz wrote that it's filled with "touching yet eccentric performances" and is "directed with surprising elegance and understatement."
Despite the good notices, the black-and-white film failed to score a distribution deal ... until now.
Well, sort of.
The popular comedian claims that "Tomorrow Night" is "exactly the movie I wanted to make" ... and now he's distributing it exactly the way he wants, via his website. As of today, the film is available for download for a mere 5 bucks, with a disclaimer saying "Please don't torrent or otherwise steal this so I can keep doing things this way."
C.K. hopes to use the profits to "pay back some of the people who helped me finance the film" and "use the proceeds to make a new movie and release that on my website as well." Self-distribution has certainly proved lucrative for the comedian in the past — he posted his 2011 concert film "Live at the Beacon Theater" on his site for $5 a download and earned over $1 million.
Ultimately, "Tomorrow Night" is pretty much a must-see in our book, as both a lost chapter in Louis C.K.'s career and as a unique chronicle of the NYC comedy scene of the late '90s. Cole me down on the panny sty — Sa Da Tay.