Louie Anderson, a life-size, wisecracking Pillsbury Doughboy of a comic, is conducting a tour of Joan Rivers’ former Late Show digs. Behind its bulletproof door, the suite is decked out with buckets of champagne, arrays of soda and mineral water, trays piled with cheese, fresh raspberries, five types of cookies, flower arrangements and six different brands of cigarettes. “They say it’s toned down,” says Louie, heading for the fully mirrored wardrobe room before hosting the show for the third time since Rivers’ departure. “I got here around 12:30 to go over the guests. That took half an hour. Then I spent the next three hours looking at myself in the mirrors.”
Maybe he wanted to be sure the man looking back at him was the same one who left Minneapolis five years ago with no money and no connections, and who is now one of the most ubiquitous comedians in creation. Besides his Late Show stints, Anderson, 34, has guested on The Tonight Show seven times and is starring in his own Showtime special, Louie Anderson at the Guthrie.
Or maybe he was checking out his reflection because there’s so much of it. Anderson’s size—a 6’2″ frame with a tonnage that’s ranged from 300 to 240 pounds in the past year—is central to his act. “I’m on a rotation diet,” he says. “When I eat, I spin.”
The key to Anderson’s success is also outsize—a large talent coupled with good old unbridled, restless, anxiety-driven Horatio Alger ambition. “I do things compulsively,” he admits. “Things were chaotic in my childhood, and I got that unsafe, unsure, shameful feeling.” Anderson grew up in St. Paul’s Roosevelt housing project, one of 11 children of an alcoholic father. His mother held the family together, “but there was a lot of fighting in my house,” says Louie. “Eating was my escape.”
Comedy was his deliverance. Following high school, he worked as a counsellor in a home for emotionally disturbed children, and it was there that he discovered comedy’s disarming power. “When a kid was saying he was going to kill someone or burn the building, I’d try to diffuse the thing and get him laughing,” says Anderson. After five years of this, he developed the confidence he lacked before. At age 23, on a dare, he won a gig at Mickey Finn’s, a then-prominent Twin Cities comedy club, and sharpened his craft there for four years until heading for L.A. Six months later Louie debuted at the Comedy Store, where he built his rep before making his first Tonight Show appearance nearly three years ago.
His personal life hasn’t been as triumphant. A 1985 marriage to his high school sweetheart lasted only four weeks. Says Louie: “It was a mistake.’ Anderson rarely dates these days, claiming to be too busy, but his social life could improve if his plans to lose “about 200” pounds succeeds. “My weight thing is directly tied to my father and his drinking, and I’m ready to shed that part of me,” says Louie. Of course if the fat goes, so will the fat jokes, but Anderson is confident that his humor will still be big.