Letter-perfect Louie Anderson
‘Talks with Mom’ still inform his stand-up routine
For comedian Louie Anderson, laughter always derives from personal pain. His weight problems, a bitter and distant alcoholic father, his overwhelmingly tolerant mother — all familiar topics in his 40-year standup career — gave Anderson a moment of clarity two years ago on the set of the acclaimed FX comedy “Baskets.”
After winning an Emmy Award in 2016 for playing the show’s overprotective, Costco-adoring matriarch, Christine Baskets, a role heavily inspired by his reallife mother, Ora Zella Anderson, the comic decided to write his late mom a letter.
One letter became several, Anderson says now by phone. and the project yielded his memoir “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, but You Can Read Them Too,” released in April. Each letter celebrates his mother, who died in 1990 but raised Anderson with endless affection and a bottomless tray of grilled-cheese sandwiches. In the book, whose cover shows Anderson wearing his full Christine Baskets wig and housedress, the comedian recalls growing up in Minnesota, a drunkendriving accident with his father and the times he chastised his mom.
“When I really started putting a microscope on [my relationship with my mom], I just realized, ‘Wow, Louie, you were selfish,’” Anderson, 65, says from his home in Las Vegas. “‘You should have been a lot nicer to your mom.’”
Anderson will come bearing more family tales for a performance Saturday at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. On his way to South Florida, Anderson tells SouthFlorida.com how he landed the role of Christine Baskets, his recent comedy special “Big Underwear” (released in April on Amazon) and his current relationship with comedian Louis C.K.
Mom isn’t here, but I still talk to her all the time. “Mom, what about this?” She was always a good sounding board and hilarious to me. One day, I wrote a letter to her after I had been doing “Baskets.” I pecked it out on my phone and accidentally sent it to my producing partner and my manager. To my surprise, they said it could be a book. I said, “I don’t know, that’s a lot of work.” Then, the letters just started coming to me. I had to ask my brothers and sisters stuff, and had to do some real soul-searching, and it turned into a book where I learned so much more about my mom. I just started feeling, “Wow, my mom really sacrificed a lot for me, and I didn’t realize how much.” Moms always do it unconditionally. I have more appreciation for my mom because I’m playing a mom on TV.
Well, I wrote this one letter begging for forgiveness after I chastised her for her choice of outfit for a party at Ford’s Theater. I call myself the “regretful, careless and occasionally even cruel 10th child.” But I’d also ask tough questions. I asked her, “Mom, why did you give up one of your children to live with your sister? Was it because you couldn’t have it, or you had so much going on?” And I would ask her, “Why did you stay with our dad so long?” I feel like I know these answers, but I can’t ask her anymore. I get a phone call from [cocreator] Louis C.K., and he’s like “I’m here with Zach Galifianakis, and we want you to do a character. We want you to play the mother.” And I go, “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssss.” I was instantly excited. I always thought I’d play my father, because I was so good at that voice in standup.
I play the part on “Baskets” completely true, as a real person, not as a cartoon. I play it as someone who’s taking care of two fraternal twins [both portrayed by Galifianakis], and I’m a very maternal person, anyway. You know, something happens to me on set before I play Christine Baskets. I make sure Louie Anderson disappears completely in her character. I metaphorically leave the real Louie behind in the hair and makeup trailer, and I go out there as a character based on the experiences I watched my mother have, so that I can give her the just due she deserves. I’m letting my guard down and letting my mom’s psyche take over.
Where: Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale When: 8 p.m. Saturday Cost: Admission is $25-$45 via Ticketmaster.com Contact: 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.
I mean, both. I’m a big believer in taking the burden you’re carrying and, gently or violently, removing it from yourself, just throw it to the wind. When I go do standup now, I’m so present in the moment, I get caught up and have the time of my life. That’s my new mantra that’s I’ve adopted this year: “Let’s go. Let’s have some fun. Let’s live a little.”
[Louis’ harassment] is still a very emotional thing, as you know. I’m very, very sad about what happened to those women. I feel terrible for them. I’m thankful for the job I got from Louis, but the whole situation — I felt his apology was thoughtful and heartfelt. What I feel personally about it, I’d like to keep to myself for now.
A lot. You know, I was folding my underwear one day, and I held them up and go, “Jeeeeeesus, are these mine?” and I laughed so hard I called my special that. When you’re going through the TV, you got “Deadliest Catch” or “Naked and Afraid.” What am I gonna put on my special, “Louie Anderson Likes Butter”? I created this master list of all the best jokes from my six standup specials, so I’ll have this bit about gators in Florida and Joe’s [Stone Crab in Miami Beach]. Some jokes I haven’t done in forever.
Louie Anderson’s Christine Baskets character in the show “Baskets” is based on his mother. “Hey Mom” is a compliation of new letters to her.