Interview: Louie Anderson, Having a blast

Under Louie Anderson’s belt you’ll find 6 one hour specials, an award winning self-titled animated series, 3 authored books, a legacy as host of The Family Feud, and numerous charity events.
Louie Anderson is aware that he isn’t on the radar of comedy hipsters. He certainly wasn’t on mine when I listened to his new album “Louie Anderson: LIVE” - the first time, I’ll admit, that I had heard Anderson’s stand-up since my childhood. With absolute minimal skipping ahead, I enjoyed the long familiar cadence of this seasoned comedy - yes, I’ll use the moniker - legend.

I had a long afternoon chat with Louie recently wherein we discussed the pros and cons of a standing Vegas run, the desire to release an album without pandering to a devoted fan base, and (of course) eating.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
You’re welcome. I was really busy earlier. All this one night traveling gets really tiresome when you’re in your 40’s like I am. (sarcastic laughing.) I wish I were in my 40’s. I wish I were. Don’t you wonder what happened to your - how old are you Chaz?

I’m 31.
Alright, I gotta hang up now. 31. . . 31, that’s fantastic. You’re so lucky. take advantage of those 30’s.

Just start binge eating? Or take advantage of staying healthy?
Both. Binge, and then get healthy.

Spend the first half binging and then the next half getting healthy.
I have friend that eats really healthy all week and then anything he wants on Sunday. I don’t know how he does it.

I don’t know if I could do that.
That’s for people with some sort of self will or something.

I would just obsess over Sunday the whole week. ‘If I just have a little a bit, I can deduct it from my Sunday binge.
Ha! You’ve already figured out how to break the code.

Louie, I just listened to your live album this morning, actually and I really enjoyed it.
Thank you.

I don’t want to make this seem like a back handed compliment. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. Growing up, I watched “Life with Louie” as a child and loved that show, I watched comedy a lot as a kid on cable and saw you on TV all the time. I always thought you were hilarious. As my comedy taste grew and got to today, I hadn’t kept up with you as much and didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and really happy with what I heard.
Well thank you. I think honestly, I know this will sound weird - but I think people forget how funny I am. And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way but people say it to me all the time after my shows. “I forgot how funny you were.” That’s a good name for my next show. Honest to God, I think people have some pre-conceived notion about what I might represent to them or you know. Will there be any depth to it, or will he be really funny? I feel like I can do one thing really great. And that’s stand-up comedy. I think I can tell jokes really good. Or at least my kind of humor really well.

One of the moment on the CD,  you meant to say “search” and just completely botched saying this word but went on anyways just discussing your age and this internal struggle with your brain. It was off the cuff, but sounded polished right out of the gate.
I’m not always picked on the list of the hippest comics but I think that people paint a scenario of me that is unfair because I don’t think anybody has listened or done their homework. I mean, I don’t get mad about it. It just is, you know?

That’s a fair assessment. I’m going on record here that they should listen to this record. You were honest about yourself as far as it served your material. You didn’t go into great depth about using drugs or getting older, but you did touch on them as things that are in your past or on your mind. It wouldn’t be true to your point of view as a comic to dwell on the dark aspect of things.
I think that there’s two kinds of comedy out there. There are people who want to have a pallet of dread and the darker hues of the colors. They want to paint with those. I have lived with those colors and don’t want to paint with them. It doesn’t suit my audience, they’re not interested in it and it doesn’t suite me. I don’t get funnier when I get darker. I’m exactly as funny as I can be letting out and giving you as much depth as I think you can handle. Otherwise I think I’d go from being a stand-up comic to doing satire. And I’m not doing satire. You know, I’d like to do - and have been planning on doing- a completely blue set one night.

Would you tell people beforehand?
I would do it first with a very select group of audience members and half of them who didn’t know what they were going to get. So you get a really honest reaction. I just want to do that once before I die. Wouldn’t it be good to hear me completely unleashed?

I would enjoy hearing that.
Yeah, and I would talk about everything that people want everyone to talk about. I would just be myself in the sense of “here’s the other side of where all this comedy comes from.” All comics , I don’t care who they are - there’s that whole dark side thing comes in. It’s really not dark side. They’ve changed it into dark side because it means it’s not as marketable but it’s not necessarily a dark side. It's just the other side of us. All the sides of us are fascinating. The way I explore my comedy is - this would be a really good joke. When I explore that stuff about me in the hospital, that’s really serious stuff. I can give you a glimpse of it but I do not put you in the dark side of it because I would have a harder time getting you out of there for the comedy. My goal in is really to entertain. Who’s your favorite musician just off hand?

Oh, gosh.
You know, just some band that you have all there stuff.

I’m a huge nerd for They Might Be Giants.
(awkward silence) Let’s just say Neil Young is your favorite musician.

When I go to a Neil Young concert. I want to hear a bunch of different songs that I want to hear because I’m such a huge fan, ok? I appreciate Neil wanting to do new stuff but the selfish fan, the person that was moved by the music that really meant something to me, I want to hear those. I want to hear those greatest hits on some level. I want to at least hear three or four of them, ok? Does that make sense.

This is how I do my comedy. I make sure you hear those things you want to hear in my show. I will give you stuff that is new but I will give you what you want to hear. You want to hear vintage Louie? I want you to hear that. When I work on new stuff, I do it intermittently with my old stuff.

People are enjoying that. When I make a transition, I try to make it slowly and into a whole new batch of stuff. When you go to see somebody, you go to see their essence, don’t you?

I suppose so.
I mean, you don’t want to go to a comic’s show and see the whole special you just watched on TV on one level, but on another level, you’d like to hear a couple bits that just make you happy. It’s really a fine line to please a comedy fan that’s true blue. You have to give them what they want and give what they expect as far as new stuff. You mostly have to give them the essence. You’ve been to comedy shows where you don’t get the essence right? The comic just phones it in? It’s not as good as they could’ve been.  With comedy shows, it’s important to light them up. Like when I go out, it’s important that you and I had a similar experience. If we didn’t, somebody’s going to be disappointed.

What are you hoping to get from the experience?
I’m hoping they’re open to me giving them everything that I expect I’ll be able to accomplish. I’m working on a brand new hour right now. It’s really good. It’s really some of my best stuff. It will be a while before it’s really done. It’s just so much fun - in the middle of the stuff I’m already doing - to do that new ten or 15 minutes. It started with a word. One little bit. That’s all it started with. When I can make that new stuff lay alongside - seamlessly - with my classic great stuff, that’s when it’s ready to be its own. I learned that from Richard Pryor.

Richard Pryor taught me something really important. I was in the back of the Comedy Store and Richard Pryor was working on one of his specials. I think it could have been Live on the Sunset Strip or the one after, but he would come in, the word would get out and the place would be packed. I was just like, “Richard Pryor’s coming in, ha!” I’d be getting to see him and standing very near to where he would be standing, you know that sort of thing. He would come in, he’d blow in. He’d go up and everyone would stand and cheer for five minutes minimum. They wouldn’t sit down for five minutes. It was an amazing thing. It was like seeing the King of Comedy. Then he would start his show. He would have one thing. One thing and it would be terrible. There wouldn’t be anything funny about it. I mean, you know, you kind of chuckle because it was Richard Pryor but there was nothing there. Then he would mention another thing and he’d work for 15-20 minutes - maybe a half hour - just one or two things. Then he’d do a little character stuff, then the mother fucker stuff. But he wouldn’t be getting really big laughs, but he’d just be working it and then he would leave. Then the next night he would come and he had found the laugh. What he needed. Then the next night he’d start again. Same spot. 5 minute ovation, blah blah blah. Then there would be more laughs and he would just do this over and over and after two weeks he’d have a whole hour. Two weeks, night after night. He would come every night. I don’t if he’d go somewhere else afterwards, but he would do it. After that two weeks, he would have a special.

After just two weeks of working it out?
Every night until it was there. It was just beautiful to watch. I thought ‘that’s how you write comedy material on stage.’ That’s how you find out the timing of it. It was just fascinating to watch. Ever since then I vowed to do new stuff every night no matter what. Some new joke or some new thing. I credit him for encouraging me in that area.

That sounds like really good advice for aspiring comics.
That’s why I have 6 one hour specials. Because of Richard Pryor. You would think that wouldn’t work but it does work. When he went home, I’m sure he sat and talked to people and they had their ideas and I think he was just a genius and a tremendous craftsman.

No argument from me.
Comedy is the only thing that you can really get better at while you’re doing it. Yes you can with music and that, but you can practice music but you really can’t practice comedy in that same sense. Comedy is not a solitary thing. It’s incomplete without the audience.

How did you know you were ready to put out a new album.
You know, I had not really put out any album. I had one album I put out in the very beginning but that was my first. We went from albums into videos and I never was approached or thought about it. Of course, now I’m going to put all specials onto iTunes. But I never had done a live album except a long time ago. “Food for Thought” was my very first thing. It’s on vinyl. That was the very first thing I ever did and there’s just a few of those floating around.

I’ve heard two things about comics who have a longs standing gig in Vegas. One is how difficult it is almost the exact opposite that you could do the same show to a different audience over and over and therefore becomes a little hack.
It’s true, you could do the same show over and over.

So are both ideas true? You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who has a regular show in Vegas and I’d love to hear what it’s like first hand.
Well it’s very difficult to maintain spontaneity. You have this group of people coming in and what they really want is a show and you want to make it work. So you create this show that will always work because if the doesn’t work, people will say that show is no good. Right? So what I think is that you have to work your butt off to do the kind of show I do. You have to work your butt off to be sure you don’t become that kind of show. I can’t have it not be alive and well. You’ve got to be able to come to my show and not just fold your hands in your lap and go “Well, that was nice.” I want you saying, “Oh my God, that was the most fun I’ve had ever.” My thing I want is, I want people to leave that show going “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.” That’s what I want. If they haven’t, I haven’t done anything up there. I want to be able to feel the presence of their loss of burden. I want to be able to feel the fact that we are one. I want to be one with the audience. It sounds corny and cliched but I want you to let go as much as I’m letting go up there. I want you to just open up your heart and let go and have a blast. Have a blast, have a fun time.

I like the image of the audience losing their burdens.
Listen, I can feel it when we’ve gone to the place where we’re all connected. When you really break it down, it’s the essence of what comedy is. What I want you to feel each night is what we were put on Earth to feel - and that’s joy.

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