Louie Anderson brings the funny, gets the healing
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13
Where: Stargazers Theatre and Event Center, 10 S. Parkside Dr.
Tickets: $35, $50 with meet and greet; 476-2200, stargazerstheatre.com
Louie Anderson sounds tired.
He's a busy man. In addition to regular appearances at the Louie Anderson Theatre in Las Vegas, he's touring, putting together a deal for a new game show, working on a new book (it's his fourth) and squirreling away new material for his ever-changing act.
Anderson plays the Stargazers Theatre and Event Center Tuesday.
"Comics are really multi-taskers," he says. "Actually, though, I'm quite lazy. My house is really dirty right now. I need you to know that."
He doesn't laugh and you get the feeling that he's serious, that he really does need you to know that he's not perfect, a notion that's the bedrock of Anderson's long career as a the stand-up comedian, on TV ("Life with Louie") and as a writer ("Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child.")
Here he talks candidly about the power of "The Tonight Show," his relationship with his audience and his latest joke.
The Gazette: Beyond being funny, what makes a successful comic?
Louie Anderson: I think, you know, usually there's a really nice mom and a grumpy, mean dad or a grumpy, mean mom and a nice dad. I think those two things are always there. It's the disconnect from one of the parents there, which causes one part of you to try to connect, to be heard and to seek appreciation. I think it's a disconnect that causes you try to connect with an audience.
I think it's also a person who sees things at an angle -- kind of like you have life going on and you see the funny part, the ironic part of it. I think comics can see the ironic parts of stuff. There are a couple of different kinds of comics: The ones that tell funny stories and the ones that say funny jokes.
Gazette: Which are you?
Anderson: I think I am a comic who, even when he's serious, sometimes makes people laugh. I think the character of who I am is kind of the catalyst for all the comedy. Sometimes a big sigh from me will get a big laugh. It's just who I am. I didn't do that on purpose.
Gazette: So you're not really playing a character when you're on stage?
Anderson: No, I'm not playing a character. It's really me. It's is a performance so I know all the things that make it funny, but it's me.
Gazette: I remember that one of your early career coups was writing for the great comic Henny Youngman. Do you see him in your own work?
Anderson: I think even more than the writing, it was the proximity (to Youngman) and the fact that he thought that much of me. I think that's always what it is. Let's say you're a really good baseball player but then, when a professional baseball manager comes in and says, "Man, you're really good," that means a lot more. Anytime somebody like that verifies your talent, it matters more. When Rodney Dangerfield said I was really talented, it meant a lot more to me than other people saying I was talented.
Gazette: Tell me about making your TV debut on "The Tonight Show" in 1981. Carson was still around then, right?
Anderson: He was. That was beyond belief because that was the show I watched with my parents, that was a show I grew up on, everybody grew up on. That was like being on the local news nationally. ... That was a really big thing for the time: You're sitting on the living room couch, Dad's in the chair and Mom in the kitchen. And here I am about to be introduced by man whose been in my living room every night of my whole life.
Gazette: Where you nervous?
Anderson: I was excited. I was real prepared for it. That was my dream. And the audience that I was going for was Johnny, not the studio audience.
Gazette: I think I read somewhere that getting on "The Tonight Show" was quite an ordeal of hoops to jump through. Was it that way for you?
Anderson: I remember if you brought somebody on "The Tonight Show" that Johnny didn't like, you were in trouble. ... It took me two years. The talent coordinator didn't really like me. He didn't like my comedy. He just didn't like me until my big score with Johnny. Then he liked me. He did that to a lot of people, by the way.
Gazette: So what did Johnny say to you when you sat down? Or did you get to sit down that first time?
Anderson: I didn't. He just went over to the edge of the stage and shook my hand. Actually, I was on the way to dressing room when they called me back out to take another bow because I got such a response from the audience.
I have that picture of me and him shaking hands. That was pretty unbelievable. It was surreal. And then he came back and peeked his head into dressing room and said, "Good shot." The next day I opened in Vegas at The Comedy Store. The next week after that I became an opener at Bally's (Atlantic City) for The Commodores. Then I did at least 10 years or 5-10 year of Vegas work. The Pointer Sisters to Ray Charles to Glen Campbell to Kenny Rogers to Natalie Cole to just ... everybody. I attribute that to ... having a really good agent. And "The Tonight Show." I went from $100 a night to $5,000 after that.
Gazette: One appearance did all that?
Anderson: Absolutely. And to have a name on the giant sign on the strip in Vegas was unbelievable.
I got to make a pilot. ... I got to perform at the White House with Reagan. I got to do a cartoon in my likeness. I got to write a book that was the best seller.
Gazette: That was "Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child?"
Anderson: Yes. Writing that book did change my life. It was just unbelievable.
Gazette: Was it a therapeutic thing?
Anderson: It was cathartic. I'd say that book is one of my top moments in my career. I got 10,000 letters from people. The letters were so positive. It made me think how easy my life was compared to other people. People would come up to me and say, "Hey, I read your book. Thanks. It was like you were writing about me and my dad."
That book is about not connecting. I wrote letter 10 years after he died.
That was probably -- and still is -- the highpoint of my life.
Gazette: That's kind of amazing.
Anderson: It was kind of a fluke. I was writing different book. I had been writing letters to my dad, writing them on the road. They kind of took over and they made me feel better.
I'd like to do that book as a stage production. ... I'd like to do it, read some of it and put the comedy in. That book is all about reaching people. I'm always healing that part of me. You know, I miss my dad. I forgave him.
Gazette: Your weight is often a fodder for your act. I've battled with weight all my life and I can't help but wonder if it doesn't hurt to turn something so painful into something funny.
Anderson: There's a hurtful part of it in a little sense. But there's an irony in it. I think you have to laugh about part of it. Like my newest joke. "I bought a new shirt today at the big and tall store. If I get one more X on my clothing, I'm going to become next year's Superbowl." (Laughs.) That's such a funny joke. I see the irony of it.
I am really fat and I would like to take the weight off. It's not been a possibility. ... I have a new book I'm working on: a diary of a fat man. ... People are really going to like it. It's helping me figure out stuff like "Dear Dad" did. I don't know if it will change me. I hope it will.
Gazette: With your theater in Vegas, are you touring as much these days?
Anderson: I live here and have a regular show here and then I go out about once a month, twice a month. It depends. Sometimes I don't go out hardly at all. I like to work. I'm working on new material all the time. I enjoy getting out. I write a lot of it on the road. Plane time is the freeest time in the world. No one can get a hold of you.
I'm so self-involved. It's all about me. (Laughs.) I don't know if it's about me or how I am. All comics are self-centered. You have to be. Why would you want to get up and take the chance to make your audience laugh? It's so hit or miss.
Gazette: What are you working on now?
Anderson: I wrote a game show and sold it to a production company. We're finishing the deal. So that could be a lot of fun. I'm working on project with Criss Angel. A reality type thing. He has a big studio here. I have a shirt line, Louie Big and Easy. We'll launch it in the Spring hopefully. I'm really looking forward to that.
It's important to do what I love.
Gazette: Sounds like you have your fingers in a lot of pies right now.
Anderson: Comics are really multi-taskers. They can really do a lot of stuff. I was given a lot of abilities. Actually, though, I'm quite lazy. My house is really dirty right now. I need you to know that.
These are all projects I'm trying to work on. ... My main engine is stand up and that relationship with people heals me. Does it bother me about being fat? I have to say no. I expose myself about eating, about how had I feel -- and they embrace me. They don't reject me, they embrace me. They all have these kinds of things. I think people embrace it. I love having people laugh so hard they don't think of problems for a hour. Also, there's the gratitude I feel for them.
(Laughs). It's the best relationship you'll ever have and you'll never see them again. You know, what I mean? It's such a fun thing. All the people love you and you get close as you possibly can and then they leave.