Louie Anderson died Friday of complications from cancer. He was 68. This interview is from 2013, when Anderson spoke to The Star ahead of several shows at Stanford’s comedy club in The Legends.
Capitalizing on his nasal delivery and self-deprecating attitude, Louie Anderson has been connecting with audiences for three decades.
His impeccably timed material offers a comfort-food quality — apropos, considering it often deals with the comedian’s own weight.
“I was on pain pills, but I couldn’t find my way home,” he jokes. “So my friend said, ‘Why don’t you get some medical marijuana?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t need another reason to be hungry.’“
He’s also no stranger to dramatic weight, as witnessed by Anderson’s Emmy-winning “Life With Louie,” an animated TV series based on his childhood. The 60-year-old performer returned to prime-time television this year in a rather unconventional way, taking part in the celebrity competition show “Splash.” He weighed 417 pounds at the start of the series, yet managed to pull off a daunting three-story dive. This followed a much-reported near-drowning incident that necessitated a rescue by Detroit Lions player Ndamukong Suh and former Olympian Greg Louganis.
Anderson recently discussed stand-up comedy, TV and cuisine during a phone interview while visiting his home state of Minnesota.
Q. Do you still consider yourself a Midwesterner?
A. I’m a Midwesterner at heart. I don’t like the cold weather anymore. But I guess everything about me says Midwesterner. I still check the price of everything.
You first got into comedy on a dare. What else have you done on a dare?
I dove off a 33-foot diving board. It was kind of a dare to do the show. I dared myself. I was hesitant about diving because people have died from that. But then I thought, “What a way to go.”
They say drowning is the most peaceful way to die. After shooting “Splash,” do you feel that’s true?
I was terrified the one time I thought I was drowning. I did not find it peaceful. At what point does it become peaceful? I was panicking. That must not have been drowning.
Is doing live comedy for the first time scarier than jumping off a diving board?
Yeah, maybe so. I was proud of myself for deciding to give it a try. You may think you’re funny. People may tell you you’re funny. But when you decide to actually do it, you add a whole new layer of what funny means.
Do you have any strong memories of performing in Kansas City?
My first headlining gig was at Stanford and Sons. David Naster booked me. David went on right before me and juggled fire. Then I was introduced. I thought about quitting comedy after that show. I thought I was dying. It’s hard to follow juggling fire. I just had a jiggling stomach.
What’s your favorite food in KC?
Gates. Anybody who just gives you some white bread with your barbecue knows what they’re talking about. That’s probably some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. Also, it’s not over-sauced. The first time I had it, wow. People say, “Do you think that’s good for you?” I think it is. It’s better to eat that than a burger.
Americans have become more sensitive to joking about someone’s weight. How would this new outlook have affected your career path when you first started?
They may say that. But I’m not sure they act on it. I’m not sure it’s true. You could probably still get the same amount of laughs doing it. But I always try to couch all my jokes in intelligence. One of the first jokes I ever wrote was, “What’s this ‘one size fits all’ stuff?” The reason I joked about my weight originally, and the joke I did on “The Tonight Show” that is the most representative of “fat jokes,” was: People say, “Why do you do all those fat jokes, Louie?” I say, ‘Because if I didn’t, people would sit out there and go, “Do you think he knows he’s that big?” I wanted to get it out of the way.
Contrary to belief, I never had more than 10 minutes of fat material. It’s just that they resonated so much with people. The majority of my material is all about my family, my life. It’s a great question. I’m not sure I could become as successful. So that could be true. It’s a good point.
What is something most people don’t know about having a show on network television?
How lucky they are. That’s a really lucky thing. The public doesn’t know how long of a road it was for that person to get a show on TV.
Where do you keep your Emmy Awards?
In the dining room. I want you to be aware of my Emmy Awards. I’m very proud of them. I don’t have any other athletic trophies on my shelves. What I won them for was gigantic for me. Every day I get an email from someplace in the world where somebody grew up watching “Life With Louie,” and they’re thanking me for it. Got one today where somebody said, “ ‘Life With Louie’ was my childhood.”
You used to write one-liners for Henny Youngman. What was your best one?
I wrote jokes about his fat grandson. I wrote one: “My grandson was in the fat Olympics. He did the pole vault, and he drove that sucker into the ground. And he did good a thing. He straightened out the uneven parallel bars. Broad jump? Killed her.” Later Henny said, “I’m not going to use those jokes anymore. You can have them back.” I eventually did them on “The Tonight Show.” “Broad jump” was one of Johnny Carson’s very favorite jokes ever.
What’s the craziest response to a question you heard when hosting “Family Feud?”
My favorite one was a woman from Chicago. I said, “Name a way you prepare chicken.” She said, “Thaw it out.” I find that to be the funniest thing. ... What I always liked about the “Feud” was in the break, families would berate each other for being stupid. Nobody got to see that. “I hope you have a ride home because you’re not coming home with us!”
What will be your comedic legacy?
I feel like I have great timing and I weave things in well. My goal has always been to start out the show and end the show with the same line. My callbacks, my timing and the fact I was always clean in my act.