In the world of comedy it takes a lot to stay relevant, especially if your career spans over three decades. But Louie Anderson has figured out a way to stay on the radar screen with his work on the stage, screen and in print.
He’s a respected comedian, Emmy Award-winning actor and best-selling author. In stand-up specials, movie and TV roles or on the written page, Anderson boldly puts everything he’s got into his art. That effort won him a 2016 Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for the FX series “Baskets,” in which he plays the matriarchal role of Christine Baskets.
“It’s a wonderful third act,” Anderson said in a mid-March phone interview. “I think it was something that I was meant to do. I’m having the most fun time doing it. It’s meant everything to me. It’s definitely been a gift. It’s hard to explain.
“Even when I see the pictures of myself I go, ‘Wow, is this me?’ I really disconnect Louie Anderson from the part in that sense. It’s kind of a surreal event, to be honest with you. I kind of become the character. I don’t know how much I have to do with it or how much it just happens. I try not to analyze it because I think that’s the worst thing to do to something you’re doing so well.”
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A major influence on the character of Christine is Anderson’s own mother, who he says he channels to do the part.
“I feel like she got together and had this part commandeered for me,” he said.
Anderson always felt his mother belonged in show business.
“She was smart, interesting and funny,” Anderson said. “She had a lot of friends. She could hold court, not in the way of somebody telling jokes, but in the way of entertaining. She was a giant personality and a really unique human being. She loved people and knew how hard their lives could be. She had a light about her that shined brightly.”
“Baskets” has broadened Anderson’s fan base.
“Here, there and everywhere, people are watching ‘Baskets,’ ” Anderson said. “When I do a show I see new people and new faces in the audience. I have such a wide range of demographics from the cartoon, ‘Family Feud,’ all that stuff.”
While Anderson says that he’s “really, really enjoying” his life right now and that he’s “having a blast doing stand-up,” there were times in his 30-plus-year career he didn’t feel that way.
“There were a couple of years there that I really didn’t want to do it,” he said. “But like every stand-up, there’s a curse that we live with that you have to do it. You don’t think you’re going to do it, and then you’ll go, ‘This could be a good routine. Maybe I’ll work on that a little bit.’
“The last 11 years I’ve been doing stand-up pretty steady,” he continued. “I’m a stand-up first and everything else is second. I did get tired of it for a while, but I’m not sure it had anything to do with the stand-up, maybe just more me.”
Anderson, 64, is becoming more interested in the darker material he did early on in his career.
“I think there’s a lot more in stand-up that I haven’t done and would like to explore,” Anderson said. “Maybe my fans would bristle at some of the material. It certainly isn’t where I’m going to become Dirty Louie. When I started out I did a lot more of the darker stuff. I got away from it because of TV and because I wanted to make money. I wanted to be an opening act for all of these people that were asking me to open their shows, like Smokey Robinson, the Pointer Sisters, Glen Campbell, Ray Charles. In those days you couldn’t do that kind of stuff in front of them.
“I’m raising the register of my stuff, trying to take it here and there,” he said. “I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but … I’m funnier than I’ve ever been. That’s how I grade myself. If I’m really funny and people are dying out there in the audience and standing up at the end, then I’m doing my job.”
Anderson knows that his comedy has made an impact. He says his biggest contribution has been “making people feel less alone and feel better.” And since comedy is a two-way street, his fans return the favor.
“I feel very loved by my fans,” he said.