Just For Laughs: In conversation with Louie Anderson
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
I remember when comedian Louie Anderson made his Just For Laughs debut exactly 30 years ago. He was the closing act for the festival’s opening gala – which was hosted by Andrea Martin – at the St. Denis Theatre. Anderson’s routine that dealt with his family, especially his grumpy father and mild-mannered, overfeeding mother, won over the audience very easily.
However, Anderson’s killer set wasn’t the only thing the audience remembered that night in July of 1986. They also remembered when the theatre’s air conditioning system was deliberately shut down for a visual act: a Spanish performer named Pep Bou, who did an act with soap bubbles; and the air conditioning was turned off, so that it wouldn’t interfere with his bubble act. As a result, everyone in the theatre sweltered in the heat, to say the least.
“I remembered that show. Everybody in the theatre was hot, but in the end, it was a good show,” recalled Anderson during a recent phone interview. “That was a special moment in time for me; it was something that you just can’t explain to anyone. It reminded me of the time when I performed in Las Vegas, and the power went out in the venue, so I did the entire show with a flashlight. Situations like these bring audiences together, and they really support you when that happens.”
Since that “hot” performance at the 1986 festival, Anderson has toured consistently, appeared in a number of movies such as “Coming To America”, has written three best selling books such as “Dear Dad” and “Goodbye Jumbo, Hello Cruel World”, created and starred in his own animated TV series during the 90s called “Life with Louie”, and is now up for an Emmy nomination for supporting actor in a comedy series for his role in the offbeat FX series “Buckets”.
And now, exactly 30 years since his festival debut, Anderson returns to Just For Laughs with three solo shows as part of the OFF-JFL series, and as part of the line-up of the David Cross gala.
A native of Minnesota, and one of 11 children, Anderson originally worked as a social worker, and decided to embark upon stand-up comedy on a dare. “I was at a club with a friend of mine and he dared me to go onstage. I felt I had to, because the comics who performed there that night weren’t quite funny. I liked it, and as I continued to do more stand-up, and everyone I knew came to see me perform. Shortly after that, I got signed up with an agent and 37 years later, I’m still performing,” he said.
Anderson mined his comedy material from growing up in Minnesota with his large family, which included his mother who liked to pile on the sweet potatoes every dinner time, and his loud, impatient, gruff father. “When you’re one of 11 children, the comedy sort of comes naturally,” he said. “I took all those elements from my upbringing – and believe me, it was not an easy life – and put a little razzle dazzle to it so it can be more palatable.”
He also enjoys the fact that his family-related material has found so much common ground with his audiences; it even goes as far as the widespread popularity of “Life with Louie”, which is even broadcast in Turkey, Romania and Poland. “People tell me that when they see me perform on stage, or watched my cartoon series, they say that the mother and father characters resemble their parents,” he said. “It’s like you hit the middle ground, where the majority of people can agree upon, and that’s a great thing for me.”
And that family element has played into his Emmy-nominated role of Christine Buckets (and he does wear a dress, wig and make-up for it) in “Buckets”. “My mom was the prototype for Christine Buckets. That role was a great opportunity for me, and I give my mom a lot of credit for the performance I deliver in that role,” he said. “She was a funny person, and I got my sense of humour from her. I’m sure she would be proud of the role and my very first Emmy nomination as a result of it.”
With a career that has risen like the temperature inside the St. Denis Theatre during that gala 30 years go, Anderson has also been grateful to Just For Laughs for accelerating that career. “Just For Laughs has always been good to me, and Andy (Nulman) always made sure I came back to perform at the festival numerous times,” he said. “Right now, there are comedy festivals all over the world, but it was Just For Laughs in Montreal that started the trend of the comedy festival that we know now; before 1986, it was something that many people didn’t know about before. It’s a fun festival to be at.”
For more information – or to purchase tickets for any Just For Laughs show – go to www.hahaha.com