Taxi (1978 - 1983)
Commentary by Steven B. Goldsmith, May 2000
Taxi is one of the funniest situation comedies ever produced. It created so many great TV moments,
but it is sad that the series had to supplement them with short person bigotry. Louie De Palma,
played by Danny DeVito, was the quintessential Type 2 short person stereotype.
In the first episode, he leers at a beautiful women from behind his high cage, only to become
belligerent when he realizes she's a new cab driver and off limits. Soon after he exits the cage
to a roar of laughter because this evil man is so much shorter than everyone else in the garage.
Yes, other shows have nasty men but it is sad that the benchmark against whom they are all measured
is this short stereotype. One wonders how many people grew up to believe that all short people really
act that way.
Twenty-one years later, TV Guide voted him the Number 1 Greatest Character ever.
Here's what they had to say about him. Short person derogatory words were added by this reviewer.
There has simply never been another character like him. Thank heavens! From A to Z, Louie wrote the book on bad: He
was the most abrasive, base,
crapulous, deceitful, embittered, fractious, galling, hard-hearted, ignoble, jaundiced, knavish, lecherous, malignant,
nasty, odious, petty, quarrelsome, rank, scuzzy, tyrannical, uncouth, vulgar, wicked, exasperating, yucky, zealous
character ever created by God, man or TV producer. Louie, played brilliantly by Danny DeVito, was what TV
had been waiting for all these years: a total original, owing to nothing and no one before. He was an antihero we
could almost identify with, yet completely distance ourselves from. He was the anti-everything. You name it, he was
the dark side of it:
Darth Vader's Mini-Me. And we loved him for it. A foulmouthed, small-minded 4-year-old
who never grew (up), he found his own level as a gleefully dictatorial taxi dispatcher, ruling by intimidation
and greed. In an era of miniaturization, when a whole music system could
be held in one hand, he was the ultimate compact creep: all the features, none of the size. Yet this
exquisitely detestable man who rained epithets on Alex, Latka and the gang like a
dark, angry cloud over the Sunshine Cab Company, could be hurt. When his girlfriend, Zena, left him, he was so
pitifully sad, you almost felt something other than revulsion for him. (After an earlier breakup, he had
said to her:
"Someday you're going to come back to me, crawling on your knees, begging me to take
you back. And when you do, you know what I'll say? I'll say, 'Thank God!' ") Such glimpses
into his soul were rare. Mostly, he was pure bile. He wasn't so much of the Me generation
as of the Mean generation.
Louie was a dwarf star, fueled by noxious resentment. But It made him burn brighter and
more boisterously than
anyone else in the TV firmament.
Louie rarely shows any sign of humanity. One touching exception happened in the fourth season, Episode 77,
titled "Louie Goes Too Far". Louie peeks through a peep hole at Elaine getting undressed, violating
her privacy, and she has him fired. He begs her to let him have his job back and she demands that he
prove that he understands why what he did was wrong. Louie then relates this story of his own violation:
Twice a year I…. I have to go get new clothes. And Uhh…. I … Uhh…
The only way that I can… The only way I can get anything to fit me is Uhh.. I have to go to
a mens store and walk straight to the boys department and ask if they have anything is a
husky sizes. [softly] Huskies, I hate 'em. I Uhh… I don't… I usually try to go when
there's nobody there . I go during school hours. But no matter when I go the place
is crawling with kids. I don't even look at what I'm getting. I just go over to the
rack, I take it off, my size, and I rush into the dressing booth. The last time one of
the mothers said "You're lucky, at least you won't out grow out of it in six months".
Elaine: Did you say anything to her?
Louie: I mooned her. But the… the worst moment is when you gotta push
open those doors, and walk out into that room, wearing your new corduroys making that noise,
choouu choouu. And then all the parents tell their kids not to stare. Is that the way I made
you feel, when I peeked?
Louie: God I'm sorry.
I was particularly touched that his example of being violated was directly related to being
a short person. This was on of the few times that Hollywood ever addressed the issue of
being short, instead of simply laughing at it. Before
I found mail-order shopping, some of the most uncomfortable moments for me were going to a mens
shop for shirts or pants or suits and being told to try the boys department. Sure, that solution would
keep me from being naked. But I was always frustrated and angry that the sales person
didn't seem to understand that I wanted and deserved style as much as a normal-statured man.