This morning, the Internet lit up as everyone was talking about last night’s episode of Louie: “So Did The Fat Lady.”
Funny, because I was just talking about it four months ago, when I auditioned for the role of Vanessa, the fat lady in question. But after I read for the role, I didn’t run through the streets shouting, “Guess for which brave, revelatory episode of which awesomely hip and funny popular comedy I just auditioned?”
No, it was more like, “Guess for which clichéd, overwrought episode of which awesomely hip and funny comedy I just auditioned?”
The call came in from my agent that I had an audition for Louie. Holy crap. I mean, I am a comedic character actress, and the opportunity to guest star on the hit comedy of the decade with the most popular sitcom star on television right now… Well, I repeat, Holy crap. I was going to bust my chops to nail the hell out of this and not only get to meet Louis C.K., whose stand up and shows I have loved for years, but be directed by him on a script he had written. That’s a big deal. That’s a very big deal.
I am a very lucky woman. I have been blessed to have acted in commercials, television and movies without necessarily being cast as someone whose weight is the central theme. I have played EMT’s, attorneys, teachers, cops, dirty hookers… all of whom could be fat or thin. I get the sides usually the day before and have time to study the lines; perfect my take and read on the character and all that actorly b.s. that actors do.
I didn’t get the sides this time, though. Sides were going to be provided at the casting office, I was told. Usually, that means that the episode needs to be kept under wraps because a) it’s an explosive, daring, magic episode or b) it’s Louie, which has been off the air for a year and everyone’s dying to know what’s coming and will blow off their left nut to get a glimpse of the script. This episode, it seems they felt, was both.
Just like any other actor, I am a “type.” I don’t just consider myself typed to be “heavyset female.” Because I am also “funny, brassy, pretty and witty.” The breakdown of this role said, the character was “Vanessa,” a woman “comfortable in her own skin.” Yes, I thought, YES! This is going to be a strong, sexy, full-figured female who isn’t a computer geek (see Criminal Minds) or being used by a good looking guy for her connections or inside info who gets shot in the head by a guy in a white tank top (see any Law and Order: SVU episode involving a fat girl).
Just like with any audition, I wore a flattering color, I styled my hair and I made sure to feel confident and alive.
I was a woman comfortable in her own skin! Perfect!
This is usually how I feel when I go on an audition: beautiful, talented and ready to present my best self. I walked into the casting office and saw a lot of the usual suspects: a group of women that I see on the same auditions. Some were older, some were younger, some were fatter, and some were thinner. Some busted out their best Eileen Fisher twin sets, others in their Dress Barn best. The truth is, you never know what they’re looking for; it’s totally subjective. One man’s “Vanessa” is another man’s “Mom” in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. One man’s slightly overweight girl could very well be Louis C.K.’s “fat girl” Vanessa.
I’ve learned to let all that go as the door closes behind me.
Or so I thought.
I picked up my script and began looking at the sides. The first scene was in the Comedy Cellar, when Louie first meets Vanessa, the waitress, and she basically hits on him. Well, hells yes. This is right up my alley using the pretty and the funny to get some! But then reading on, Louie is physically uncomfortable with the exchange; he is squirming, trying not to make eye contact and crossing his arms in a defensive, protective manner… which made me feel oddly uncomfortable.
I was confused. WTF? Why is he so uncomfortable? Why is schlubby, super non-supermodel Louie uncomfortable being hit on by a fat girl? Is it because he is attracted to the fat girl? Is it because he is confused by his attraction to the fat girl? No, that definitely wasn’t it. Because it was painfully obvious in this scene that he was not attracted to the fat girl, or that he felt it was wrong to be attracted to the fat girl.
I felt like a caveman trying to figure out the wheel.
Me sexy, pretty lady… why he no want to go out with me?
I also couldn’t understand why Vanessa wasn’t just walking away from him and cutting her losses.
Me no want to go out with superficial, potbelly man with less hair than baby mammoth. Why me character return with hockey tickets to entice potbelly man?
The final scene was the Big One: the speech where Vanessa gets to, at last, at long (well, 20 minutes) last extoll her virtues to Louie, telling him, “Look, muddafudda, I deserve better and I can get better. I’m Vanessa, goddamnit, and I am all the things you should be looking for in a woman: my breasts defy gravity, I don’t have cellulite, I can read at an eighth grade level… plus I can cook and I am in Mensa, bla bla bla—”
But, wait, that’s not what it says here in the script.
I scanned page after page of her explaining to him how painful it was to be her. She suddenly drops her confident façade, because, Lord knows, we fat girls only carry confidence as a façade, and she begins actually begging him to tell her “Why do you hate us?” and all she wants is to “hold someone’s hand”… and—
I’m sorry, WHAT?
WTF just happened? Is this girl bipolar? Is she a liar? Oh no… she’s just a another attempt to make Louis C.K. look perplexed and caught off guard while showing empathy and care in his eyes as his eyebrows come together in confusion and pain while his heart is torn as to whether he should take the chance and encircle her outstretched hand with his own; sacrificing his own misconceptions about the world of the pathetic fat lady and delving into a significant relationship with someone who may just be his equal… emotionally and physically and—
I’m sorry. I just barfed while writing that.
In the world of this episode of Louie, fat women get laid, as the character points out at the end of the episode, but they don’t get loved.
Here’s the reality.
My husband, a very handsome and in-shape man, holds my hand in public all the time, without pulling his cap down low or donning a fake mustache so as not to be recognized. In fact, I have seen plenty of women over a size 12 holding hands with guys who are under a 34-inch waist all over the city of New York.
Oh yes, that’s definitely fiction.
And as I sat there, perplexed and nauseated with the script in my hand, all I could think about was what life was really like for me as a fat girl. My husband kisses me on the subway platform during rush hour without scanning the crowd to see who is disapproving. My husband makes love to me with his eyes open. My husband is attracted to me. He likes me. He loves me. Simple enough, I guess.
Am I just one of the rare, lucky ones?
I wanted to leave the casting office after I read the script.
But, of course, I didn’t. I went in, and I tried as hard as I could. I had a good audition. It wasn’t great, though, because I couldn’t, for the life of me, find that unhappy fat girl inside of me. I didn’t have an inner Vanessa, who needed so badly to have someone love her, even if she loved herself the way that she was — which she didn’t because she says that it sucks so hard to be fat (which, may I point out, the actress, herself, really wasn’t that fat).
Here I have always thought Louis C.K. was the master of truth-telling. He exposed what life is really, really, reeeeeally like. I was confused. Maybe a little pissed.
I still am.
From the breakdown, I was so jazzed to read for this role. It wasn’t just the opportunity to work with a brilliant comedic mind; it was the chance to show those jack rags that a woman who is carrying an extra 30 or 40 pounds is happy, content and confident and capable of hooking a man she finds attractive, or not hooking him and walking away with her shoulders squarely forward. It was perfect for me.
Except it wasn’t. This part wasn’t right for me by a stretch. I knew that the second I hit that speech.
They specifically asked for a woman who was “comfortable in their own skin.”
When what they really wanted — was a woman who hated it.