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Louie Anderson

One of the funniest people on the planet talks comedy, Johnny Carson, Baskets and third acts



Louie Anderson is everything you might imagine him to be: sweet, attentive, sensitive and larger than life. Since 1984, when he burst onto the comedy scene with a now-historic appearance on The Tonight Show, Anderson created the Emmy Award-winning Saturday morning cartoon show Life With Louie, had a successful run as the host of Family Feud and performed stand-up on stages around the world. His latest achievement is winning a Primetime Emmy for his role as Christine Baskets in the FX hit comedy Baskets. Prior to his Friday, March 31, show at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Anderson talked with Boise Weekly about his 30-plus years in show business and "third act" as one of the nation's best comics.

Growing up in Minnesota, did you have comedy idols?

Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters and, of course, Johnny Carson.

Tell me about your first appearance with Johnny in November 1984.

For my generation, being on The Tonight Show was the Super Bowl ring.

You were one of the very few comics who saw Johnny wave you over to the desk.

It's like an anointment, meeting with the pope of show business.

In the world of late night television, you've appeared with them all. Can I assume Johnny was the gold standard?

I love them all for different reasons. David Letterman, like Johnny, loved comedians. Jay Leno was the hardest working stand-up in the business. Conan O'Brien was the bridge between my generation of comics and the new comedians.

And now there are the Jimmys and James.

Fallon, Kimmel and Corden. I really enjoy appearing with all of them.

Is writing comedy as hard as I imagine?

My sense is that my writing jokes is in the same fashion as the way you mine your interviewees to make them sound more interesting.

Do you keep your ideas in notebooks?

I keep them on my iPhone. Do you want to hear some of the things I'm thinking about?

Are you kidding? Of course.

Let's see. I'm sick of going to hotels, spending half of my paycheck and the bed is stacked a mile-high with pillows. I need a flat pillow. My head is so big, it has to be flat, otherwise I'm Quasimodo. I've also been thinking about that new TV show Feud. Try to imagine me as both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

Speaking of appearing in drag, let's talk about you playing Christine Baskets.

Louis C.K. [co-creator] and Zach Galifianakis [star, co-creator] called me and said they wanted me to play Zach's mother on Baskets. I said yes immediately. I've been playing my mom for years.

In your performance, where does your mom end and Christine begin?

There's a piece of my mom in there, especially the humanity. She was much nicer than Christine.

I assume Baskets will be renewed for a third season.

I need you to call FX right now and tell them that. Craig Ferguson told me the other day, "What a wonderful third act you're having."

Do you see it that way?

Well, I just turned 64 on March 24. I'd love this to be my second act, but I've already had a couple of second acts.

Do you have a goal for what audiences might take away from your performances?

Beautiful, complicated laughter.

I've had the great fortune of seeing you live three times, all amazing, but I always thought of your act as a blend of comedy and sincerity. But you say you're striving for complexity?

But I don't want to be preachy or too serious. More than anything, I want people to leave their daily grind, as if they were riding down a snowy hill on a piece of cardboard. We couldn't afford toboggans when I was a kid.

We used to steal food trays from the cafeteria for our sleds.

What a great idea. I would love that. Let's do that when I get to Idaho.

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