SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Louie Anderson is being seen in a whole new light these days thanks to his Emmy-winning portrayal of Zach Galifianakis’ mother on the hit FX series “Baskets.” But playing a matriarch is actually nothing new to the legendary comedian. As he pointed out to the News-Record, he has been channeling his own mom — as well as the rest of his large family — for decades as part of his standup act.
Anderson’s relatives will definitely be a topic of conversation when he takes the stage at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on June 17, just as it has been throughout his career. The comedian explained that he has always felt the most comfortable finding the humor in his experiences growing up as the second-youngest of 11 children. Even though years have passed since he was a boy, he said he still feels deeply connected to that time in his life. And, once he comes up with a funny story he thinks people will like, he said it is just a matter of presenting it in a straightforward way so people can relate to it.
“I know everybody else has a family, so I try to mirror my family to their family,” Anderson said in a June 1 phone interview. “I’m saying ‘Hey, we’re all in the same boat and our dads are trying to sink it!’”
That brand of humor has certainly served Anderson well for more than 30 years. After an impressive appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1984, he transitioned into doing numerous stand-up specials and film roles. The comedian became a household name by the 1990s with the launch of his Daytime Emmy-winning cartoon “Life with Louie,” which he starred in and created, based on his own childhood. After that series ended, Anderson became the third person to host the iconic game show “Family Feud,” taking the reins from 1999 through 2003.
Through it all, Anderson said he has wanted to create comedy the whole family could enjoy — even though his own loved ones have not always appreciated his impressions of them.
“They always say ‘That’s not how I am. That’s not me. I don’t know where you got that idea.’ And I go ‘Oh, OK. I won’t argue with you. But that is you,’” Anderson said. “And then my mom would always say ‘I don’t do it like that. This is how I do it.’ She was always very funny.”
Critiques aside, Anderson said his mother would be “over the moon” about his performance of Christine Baskets, his “Baskets” character that he based largely on her. And the comedian has loved getting the chance to give an homage to his mom, who he has not stopped thinking about since her death in 1990. That is because his mother had a huge impact on his life, he said, from raising him and his siblings with love to protecting them from his father’s alcoholism. She is certainly deserving of gratitude, he said.
“She’d been through it all, but she was still a glamorous, beautiful human being who took care of us with diligence,” Anderson said. “I owe her a great deal. She helped me be a better person just by her being such a wonderful person.”
Anderson is also grateful to series creators Galifianakis and Louis C.K. for offering him the role in the first place. He said it means the world to him that the two comedic “geniuses” thought of him while creating the character. Filming the show has also been a dream for him, with Anderson describing his onscreen son Galifianakis as a “reluctant superstar” for still being down-to-Earth despite his success.
And while one would think that playing a member of the opposite gender could be challenging, Anderson has not had a problem with it. He said part of this stems from simply donning the character’s wardrobe, joking that putting lipstick on makes him look pretty good as a woman. What also helps is thinking about how his mother would behave in a given situation, he said.
Overall, Anderson said he simply tries to inhabit Christine Baskets as best as he can.
“I try to make the Louie Anderson people know disappear,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to be as real as possible. That’s what I’m really trying to be — very real. The more real I can be, the better it is for me.”
The results have been very well-received so far, with critics singling out Anderson’s performance and the comedian winning his first Emmy for the role. But despite this success, Anderson has not forgotten his first love — stand-up comedy. He said he is currently working on new material for a special he wants to film in the near future. In fact, he said he is testing out some of the routine at SOPAC, where he plans to using a lot of “F-words” — family, food, father, being fat and being over 50.
Beyond stand-up comedy, Anderson said he is in talks to revive “Life with Louie” as a movie. He is also readying to shoot the third season of “Baskets,” which he hopes will be better than the first two seasons combined. As for the future, he said he would love to try his hand at more dramatic roles than he has done in the past. He said he has always wanted to play the silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, pointing out that the two share a distinct resemblance and even the same birthday.
In general though, he said he is up for any role that does not require a dress.
“I’m available to play a man any time people want me to,” Anderson said.
To order tickets for Anderson’s SOPAC performance, call 973-313-2787 or visit http://www.sopacnow.org/louie-anderson/.