Growing up in a family of 11 kids with a grumpy, curmudgeon dad in St. Paul, Minnesota, comedian Louie Anderson has lots of family stories to tell to make you laugh out loud.
While some comedians talk about seeing a therapist for counseling, Anderson actually was a counselor, working with troubled kids.
“Because I come from an abusive household, they related to me,” Anderson said. “I knew what to say,” and sometimes he used humor to break the tension. If a kid told him he wanted to harm someone, Anderson might respond, “Let’s finish eating first.”
“I didn’t become alarmed by their raw emotions,” he said.
For 36 years (and counting), Louie has been making people laugh through his live shows, in movies, guest appearances on TV sitcoms, as a host of the game show “Family Feud,” late-night talk shows and through his books.
“I do therapy in my comedy. It’s a lot cheaper per hour,” he said.
Louie kicks off the Hollywood Comedy Club at 9 p.m. Friday, March 27, at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, West Virginia. Tickets are $30 to $40 and are available through ticketmaster.com.
I chatted by phone with Louie on the eve of his birthday earlier this week, from Las Vegas where he is wrapping up a regular show.
“How are you going to celebrate your birthday?” I asked.
“I’ll treat myself a hundred different ways and make them healthy,” he said. After making platform dive in the reality show “Splash ” and not being able to get himself out of the pool, Louie made a commitment to lose weight and get in shape.
“Ohhh, it’s a constant struggle,” said Louie. “It’s a lifelong battle.” And it’s the subject of one of his current projects — another book, this one on his health and wellness journey.
“I’m being really honest in it. I’m not sugarcoating anything,” he said. “That’s a big part of my focus. Why is it I have such a hard time with food? Why do I want to hold on to it? It’s a control thing.”
Writing comes easy to him, he said, and he’s documenting his weight loss experience. “I write what I’m feeling,” and that, with some editing and rewriting (and his wit), will be the basis of the book. He has no target publish date.
He’s also considering and being considered for a part in a TV show, but nothing’s been signed and “I can’t talk about anything yet,” he said.
He’s wrapping a regular show in Las Vegas and travels about once a month to do stand-up comedy shows. For a comedian, who doesn’t have an entourage like musicians do, travel can be lonely, he said. “As you get older (he’s 62), it’s so nice just to relax and chill out after the show,” he said, adding he sometimes spends time with friends he’s made through the years of being on the road.
“When you’re 10th of 11 children, you’re happy to have your own life, your own time, your own bathroom, your own bedroom and privacy in general,” he said. Growing up, there were six boys and five girls and two bathrooms. Though the age span between oldest and youngest is 20 years, Louie said he and his surviving five siblings remain close.
“I come from a funny family. I was a smart aleck” and a people pleaser, he said. Ironically, he learned he could make people laugh by being serious. And he was just crazy enough to give comedy a try.
His big break came in 1984 when he won the approval of Johnny Carson as a guest on “The Tonight Show.” Carson was one of several comedians who influenced Louie’s style, he said.
“Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Jonathan Winters, Jackie Vernon, these were all the people I watched on TV,” he said. “Jack Benny, timing wise; Jonathan Winters in my silliness; Bob Hope and Johnny Carson in timing and how I perform my jokes. And Richard Pryor on laying it out and how to open your heart” to the audience.
Louie bills his comedy as clean — one you can bring the whole family to, but not at The Event Center, you have to be 21 or older for this show at the casino. The only F words in his show are “family, food, over fifty, food, food …”
“That’s my style,” he said. “That’s who I am.”
He said there is a subtle resurgence of “clean comics,” because that’s what you need to do if you want a corporate gig and, he added, “a lot of people were raised like you and I were. I tell it as if my mom could be in the audience. You can be clean and boring or clean and still killer. I want you to laugh as hard at me. Funny’s funny.”
Louie also hosts a series of podcasts where he interviews other comedians about their journey to success. “The journey is the joy of life,” Louie said. “They should be enjoying it. Once you get there, when you arrive or become famous or popular, everything will change. In the journey is where the beauty is, so don’t be so worried about getting somewhere fast. Getting there is the beautiful part. That’s where you’re going to learn abut yourself. I ask all the questions you asked me. What’s your biggest joy or regret?”
He hopes the tips and stories of successful comedians will help those up-and-coming.
The Hollywood Comedy Club debuts with Louie Anderson March 27. Next month, its Tom Arnold on April 24, Bobby Collins on May 29 and Jon Reep on June 26. All show start at 9 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com. For other events (including concerts) at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, visit www.hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com. Upcoming concerts include Trace Adkins on April 4, comedian Ron White on April 17, Old Dominionon April 25, The Doobie Brothers on May 22, Merle Haggard on June 5, The Four Tops June 12, Boyz II Men July 17 and LeAnn Rimes on July 31.
You can read more of my interview with Louie Anderson in the March 26 edition of 72 Hours, online and inside The Frederick News-Post.