You would not believe how close Louis CK came to topping this year's sexiest man list. Yes, that Louis CK, the pasty, paunchy and wickedly bent stand-up comic whose FX show is like the bitter, angry person's "Modern Family." Never mind that central to Louis CK's act is how disgusting his 40-something body is, how dimpled the white flesh of his butt, the jiggly belly that he stares at in the mirror like a little boy poking at a jellyfish that has washed ashore. Seen from a certain angle (squinting, in candlelight) he has a flinty Irish factory man's good looks. And choosing Louis CK was a middle finger to the 21st-century culture of plastic typified by People's annual parade of predictable pretty boys. (I mean, come on: David Beckham?)
There was one problem: Nobody really found Louis CK sexy.
I mean, we all found him hilarious, and refreshingly raw, and uncompromising as the creator of a daring show plopped into a turbid sea of sitcom mediocrity. But hot and desirable? Telling staff members and friends he was our leading pick elicited a reaction somewhere between cold and openly hostile.
So the search was back on -- as it is every year, when we decide our pick isn't quite right, when some last-minute shuffle or bloody backstage drama sends our plans scattering to the floor. This year, as we've previously announced, we decided to rebrand our list of sexiest men as something a bit more singular; after some terrific, "this-close" reader suggestions, we settled on Salon's Men on Top. And what's funny about this collection of 15 men -- and partly ridiculous, and possibly galling, but also kind of endearing -- is how seriously we take this endeavor. Staff members can be outraged. Sleepless nights ensue. I will never forget Galifianakis-Gate of 2009, which pit television critic against news editor against pop culture writer in a standoff that threatened to tear the very fabric of this company apart. (Zach Galifianakis eventually landed at No. 4 on the list, but not before being called a "homunculus" in a Salon staff meeting.) There is one moment every November where I am ripped asunder with indecision, and from my panic and despair you'd think I was deciding the Man Booker Prize, not the boinkability of, say, Louis CK.
But to dismiss this pursuit as merely frivolous, as nothing but a mindless, pointless waste of space is a) kind of lame and b) to misunderstand the power these personalities have in our lives, how they reflect our own passions and beliefs. People weren't rallying for Zach Galifianakis because they thought "The Hangover" was really boss; they rallied for Zach Galifianakis because they were tired of the tyranny of sculpted abs and frosted tips, because funniness is the finest seduction, because they like the smell of chili powder and clothes pulled repeatedly from a hamper. (Those who rallied against Zach Galifianakis feel strongly about showers and hair growing from unusual orifices. This is America, people. We can agree to disagree.) What makes someone attractive is ultimately an unanswerable question. It's like arguing about the color of the sky, or whether cake or pie is superior. And frankly, there will always be a part of me that feels sad and defeated and wrong that the winner isn't Jon Stewart. (Stewart was on the first list, in 2006, and for the record, we've only repeated one winner in five years: Neil Patrick Harris.)
I know many people reading this just thought to themselves, "Pffft, Jon Stewart isn't sexy." But this is the beauty of attraction, folks, the reason People magazine's bogus list irritated us in the first place: There is no right answer. There is no sexiest man living. And if there is, he is more likely the achingly beautiful, mysterious, silent and sad-eyed janitor who works in your building and not, say, Brad Pitt.
And yet: We have a list of 15 men, in various stripes of dreamy, to unveil on Wednesday. And that means I have a long list of men who did not make the cut through some quirk of elimination, a man someone at Salon loved enough to nominate but who couldn't make it through to the finals, because, well, life is plainly unfair. Let us give them some sunlight right now.
Drake, Mark Ruffalo, Vincent Cassel -- talented men, handsome men, amazing men who didn't make the list. Joel McHale: We love you on "Community," but the bar for charismatic comedian is awfully high this year, and you did not make the list. Adam Scott: We'll miss you on "Party Down," but you did not make the list. No one from "Glee" made the list, but if they had, it absolutely would have been Mark Salling, aka Puck. Education activist Geoffrey Canada is a leader of integrity, a man more of us should aim to be like -- but he did not make the list. Sidney Crosby is an athlete of tremendous agility -- but he did not make the list. Jesse Eisenberg did not make the list, but he did appear in approximately one out of every four movies this year, so surely he'll star in the list's film adaption.
More interesting than the near misses, though, are the mini-dust-ups among the staff, proof that one person's true love is another's reason to gag. One editor finds chef Eric Ripert to be a knee-weakening vision of blue eyes and pillowy lips; another thinks he's fish-eyed and repulsive. One writer finds Ben Affleck charismatic, witty and inarguably handsome; another finds him a narcissist and a dullard. Is Eminem damaged and hot, or offensive and disgusting? It's almost endearing to see whom our staff members will fruitlessly throw down for: Al Franken, Kevin Smith, Joe Biden. Our e-mail threads grow long and combative and strange.
Which brings us back to Louis CK -- the great, the amazing almost sexiest man of 2010. Really, if you haven't seen the first season of "Louie," you should DVR it. The man is a sage for our times. To show how close he was to the brass ring, we even had a write-up by the remarkable Heather Havrilesky, who explained: "In these dreadful, depressing times, you know what's hot? Guys who know how dreadful and depressing these times are. These days, instead of swooning over arrogant, well-groomed winners, our hearts are captured by those guys who are willing to admit that they feel defeated, that their kids exhaust them, and that all they want is to eat a huge bowl of ice cream and go to bed. When the end of the world feels nigh, resignation -- and realism -- is sexy. Plus, there's just nothing false about this man. He can't fake it, so he doesn't even try. And unlike almost every other man alive, Louis CK knows that he's self-pitying and simple-minded and has a big gut. Imagine how relaxing it would be if all men were so self-aware."
On second thought, maybe he is kinda hot. Well, Louis CK: There's always next year.