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Louie Anderson was comedy's eternal kid

  • As New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman points out, Anderson, who died Friday at age 68, and Bob Saget, who died early last week, appeared on the same HBO Young Comedians Special in 1985. And last May, Saget interviewed Anderson for his Bob Saget's Here For You podcast, "reminiscing and laughing, and gingerly approaching topics with the sensitivity and warmth of intimates catching up during the long, isolating pandemic," says Zinoman. "It’s funny and now, considering the loss of both men, terribly heartbreaking. Both still prolific in their 60s, they sounded joyful about the current moment and were looking to the future." Zinoman adds: "The outpouring of love for Bob Saget took some by surprise and was in part a testament to his good-natured, filthy humor and personal generosity. But it was also because of a vast audience that saw him as the friendly paternal face on Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos. That comedy fans also knew him as one of the dirtiest joke tellers around burnished and deepened his reputation. But if Saget became one of the few cultural figures who could be described as America’s Dad (does any current star get described in such sweeping terms these days?), Anderson fit seamlessly into an equally idealized role as our culture’s eternal kid. There was a boyish innocence and sweetness to Anderson that never left him, even when he was playing a mother on Baskets, a remarkable and sincere performance that marked the start of his acclaimed second act (which included his turn in Search Party). Like Saget, Anderson had a broad résumé as an actor, author and television host, but he was a stand-up at heart who never stopped touring. I saw him do a 90-minute set in 2018, and he had the low-key improvisational, searching energy of someone still obsessed with finding an incredible new bit...More prominently, his great topic was family, particularly his ever-optimistic mother and irate father. (As soft-spoken as he could be, Anderson could also yell as much as Sam Kinison.) While his early comedy featured plenty of punch lines, Anderson’s great gift was acting out stories, brilliantly evoking moments with quick-change characterizations, displaying the depth and technique of a seasoned actor."


    • Louie Anderson made vulnerability funny: "Louie Anderson was, by far, the funniest stand-up comic I have ever seen perform live," says Robyn Bahr. "About a decade ago, when I was an unemployed and depressed recent post-grad who had no sense of my future, I visited my cousins in Las Vegas, who were able to score some discounted matinee tickets to see Anderson at a resort club. Although I was vaguely familiar with the comic because he had produced and starred in a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood, Life With Louie, I had zero expectations for the event. I certainly had nothing better to do. About an hour later, however, I was guffawing so hard at Anderson’s everyday observations, endearing familial impressions and lithe, in-the-moment wit, that he started heckling me for being too enamored with the show. 'Do you need some help over there? Yikes.' Of course, his derision only made me laugh harder. For Anderson, it was probably just another Thursday afternoon. For me, it became a flashbulb memory, a reminder that art has the power to not only divert people from their dispirited ruminations but also help them reframe their despairing mindsets. And quite honestly, the comedian wasn’t too peppy that day. If anything, I appreciated the underlying pathos in his dry (famously nasal) deadpan delivery. Anderson, who died Friday at the age of 68 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had a gift for entwining humor with vulnerability. He was a raconteur who could allude to hard truths about the human condition but without ever disheartening the audience."
    • The through line in all of Anderson's work was "family": "Anderson’s comedy was defined by his own family, and the ups and downs of his experience growing up with a father he described as alcoholic," says Michael Schneider. "Almost everyone escapes childhood with some sort of trauma, but the scale varies — and Anderson was on the extreme end of that. But the comedian was able to channel his pain into his work, and his tales of surviving a dysfunctional family and a sometimes cruel world with a laugh were supremely relatable to his millions of stand-up fans." As Anderson told Schneider in 2018:  “I take little things from everybody. All the real things is all the stuff that matters. I always tell comics, ‘If this material that you’re doing means nothing to you, why should it mean anything to me? Why would you think I’m going to give you two seconds of my time if you’re doing stuff that’s just fodder?’”
    • What Anderson did with the character of Christine Baskets was incredible: "A cis man playing one of the most layered, complex women on TV, where you completely forget the actor and just fall for the woman and her eccentricities and how real to life she feels," says April Wolfe of Anderson's Emmy-winning Baskets character. "So good! Like damn he was so good in that role that I feel like I am simultaneously mourning the loss of that character like she’s real."
    • Anderson playing Christine Baskets never felt like a stunt: "Anderson made Christine into a character of subtle complexity, exactly the sort of quiet, spotlight-shy work you wouldn’t expect from a former game show host who put himself and his autobiography at the center of much of his material," says Daniel Fienberg. "Anderson’s investment was always in honoring Christine as a person, not in getting attention for oddball casting."
    • Paul Rodriguez chokes up recalling Anderson: "He used to laugh it off and joke about it. He said that his cholesterol was higher than the economy and inflation," Rodriguez recalls of his Quicksilver co-star. "He would make jokes and I would tell him, 'You know, Louie, take care of yourself,' and you know, I think he knew there was a problem, but his size was so much a part of his persona, his character, you know? I think maybe he might have been a little intimidated to work on losing weight. He wanted to live life on his own terms."
    • Twenties star Jojo T. Gibbs recalls acting with Louie Anderson in what turned out to be his final role, airing last November: "Rest in Peace Louis!" Gibbs wrote on Instagram. "Thank you so much for your positive energy and your kind and wise words of advice and affirmation! Im so grateful I had the opportunity to meet you and to share the screen with you! A gift! Rest easy my friend!"
    • Lena Waithe also thanked Anderson for his two episodes on Twenties: "Thank you for gracing us with your wonderful presence, Louie. You were so kind and funny," she wrote on Instagram. "After your first table read with us you sweetly said, 'Beautiful writing' and I’ll never forget it - because your opinion meant so much to me."
    • Search Party writer Craig Rowin recalls Anderson's stint on his show in 2020: "I was lucky enough to be on set when Louie Anderson performed this scene on Search Party," Rowin tweeted. "His takes were not only hilarious, but all the extras in the courtroom would literally burst out laughing and clapping when they would yell 'cut' because he was so hilarious. RIP."
    • Watch Anderson recall how his parents inspired Life with Louie in 1995 on Late Night with Conan O'Brien
    • Watch Anderson's visits with David Letterman

    TOPICS: Louie Anderson, Baskets, Search Party, Twenties, Bob Saget, Craig Rowin, Jojo T. Gibbs, Lena Waithe, Paul Rodriguez, Standup Comedy