Comedian Louie Anderson has been performing stand-up for more than 30 years, in addition to multiple television and film roles including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Coming to America, The Tonight Show, Scrubs and Family Feud. He's currently playing Christine Baskets, the mother of Zach Galifianakis's characters on the FX show Baskets. Anderson will be performing at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre June 17 and 18.
How did you get started in comedy?
I did it one night on a dare from a friend. I was doing social work. I think people always laughed when I talked. And then I'd say, "I'm being serious," and they'd laugh more.
Did your siblings think you were funny growing up?
No, not at all. The boys just want to hit you and the girls want to dress you up like a girl.
Who influenced you as a comedian?
Oh, lots of people. Jack Benny, Jonathan Winters, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope. Jackie Vernon was a giant influence.
How did you develop your stand-up routine?
I wrote down fat jokes, jokes about my family. I'd say things like, “I can’t stay long, I’m in between meals.”
I stumbled on to my family stuff. One night I was talking to a guy in the front row; he was there with his father. I said, “He looks nice. My dad wasn’t nice. He never hit us; he carried a gun. He never shouted; he would just [sound of gun being cocked]." People today still do that clicking noise at me in airports and stuff. That really resonated. My dad was a pretty rough alcoholic. I figured out how to, if you can, soften something like that. I try to do that with jokes.
How do you turn such dark topics into comedy?
I think you just put butter on them. I guess I can show you the whole picture in a single joke. I wish I had some grand thing I could use, some process that was able to transform it. But it's more it just came to me.
I think comedy is a funny thing—comics go up with the right amount of simmer. They're like a pot of good soup that sat on the stove all day and simmered. They sit in their family for 18 years and they simmer, and what comes out of it is a rich, edible soup that's been cooked down from some really sour ingredients.
Have you enjoyed working on Baskets?
I've had so much fun. I’ve been playing my mom in my act for 30 years, and with this I had a chance to use my five sisters and my mom as an inspiration. And then I added a little bit of my mean dad in it. [The production staff] did a great job with the makeup and the costumes, and then I tried to play it with my real voice. Sometimes things just fit you. It's as if someone walked up to you and said, "I didn’t know you were a water skier." "Yeah, it’s just something I can do."
I was at Gary Shandling's life celebration, and all these great producers kept coming up, and they said to me, "You’re so great in Baskets," kind of like, “I had no idea you could do that.”
Do you have more sympathy for your mother because of this experience?
I guess I do, just from putting the clothes and the wig on, getting ready. I didn’t realize it was that much of a rigmarole.
You've talked recently about trying to adopt healthier eating habits. How is that going?
I had a banana this morning. It's just about desire and saying no. I’ve said no 100 times already this morning. You are constantly denying yourself.
But I’m worried because I’ve gotten to a really high weight and also I’m traveling and they want me to be really healthy. The director [of Baskets] said, "You’re gonna shoot a lot more this year than last year." So I'm making an extra effort to make their lives easier so they don’t have to worry about me and my health.
But it’s a lifelong thing. I’ve got to look for as much support as I can get. I have to say to people, "Can you help me?" Because me on my own is a disaster. Luckily I have people who are concerned and they are trying to help me. It's an hour-by-hour thing, or really minute-by-minute thing. Addiction to food is a terrible thing, because you need to eat food.
What's the difference between performing solo on stage and working with co-stars in front of a camera?
One is rowing with both oars and one is depending on other people to row you. [In film] you have to rely on the lighting and the sound and your costar—they have to get all that right, and all that affects me. You have to trust them. Stand-ups have a low level of trust, otherwise why would we go into such a diabolical [career]?