All the great comedians derive most of their comedy from a strong sense of self-knowledge, and the late Louie Anderson is a great example of this. The veteran comedian, host, and actor’s career experienced some eclectic twists and turns over the years, including a later-in-life foray into prestige TV. But his humble, sly, and sharp comedy about everything, but more often than not about his weight, was a constant throughout the years.
Below are a collection of clips that hopefully highlight just what made him so memorable as a comedian and as a human being — one with a keen eye for a punchline, but who rarely punched down.
Tonight Show Debut (1984)
Johnny Carson gave so many iconic comedians their start, and Anderson was no exception. This set features a number of jokes which might be familiar to fans, and represents so much of what made his comedy great. “Broad jump? Killed her” is pretty much a perfect joke.
Hollywood Squares (1986-1988, 1998-2002)
Anderson made over two dozen appearances on two different refreshes of the classic game show (The New Hollywood Squares in 1986-1988, as well as the 1998-2002 reboot), delivering ribald asides and occasionally even getting to hang out in the iconic center square. In the clip above, he not only gets in a good one-liner, but rattles the host himself just a little bit, creating the sort of chaos that was the real fun of the show.
Life With Louie (1995-1998)
Anderson wasn’t the only comedian to have a ’90s kids cartoon based on his young life, but Life With Louie did a lot to not just introduce him to an entire generation of new fans, but it captured his gentle spirit and deeply felt love for his family (odd though they might be at times). As you can see in the episode above, as uploaded to YouTube, Anderson not only voiced both his younger self and his father, but introduced every episode in live-action segments.
Louie Makes a Splash (2013)
Reality TV shows have been making celebrities do weird things for decades now, but the ABC competition series Splash was probably the first time American audiences got to see some of their favorite athletes and TV stars participate in a high-diving competition. How Anderson got involved, who’s to say, but his complete commitment to the gig (with a knowing wink to how ridiculous it all is) is a lot of fun. You can’t say he didn’t go for it.
“My Brother the Safecracker” — This Is Not Happening (2016)
A lot of Anderson’s stand-up, as mentioned, focused on his family, as spotlighted in this extended clip from the Comedy Central series This Is Not Happening. The fact that the wildest part of this story is not Anderson’s mother offering the FBI agents her secret to a great homemade cake icing should hopefully be enough to inspire your interest.
The story goes that when Zach Galifianakis was developing the mother character for the FX comedy series Baskets, he couldn’t get Anderson’s voice out of his head, so he and co-creator Louis C.K. just decided to ask if Anderson would be open to playing the role. What’s so remarkable about Anderson’s performance is that despite literal decades of working in comedy, he never plays Christine like she’s a joke; she’s a sincere, real, believable, complicated, and still lovable woman, even while performing a mundane task like the Costco run.
Here’s FX’s statement in response to Anderson’s passing:
“We are so deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, Louie Anderson. For four wonderful seasons, Louie graced us and fans of Baskets with a bravura performance as Christine Baskets, for which he deservedly was recognized by his peers with the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. It was a risky role for him and he embraced it with a fearlessness and joy that demonstrated his brilliance as an artist. He truly cared about his craft and was a true professional in every sense. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and his Baskets family – Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel and Martha Kelly and all the cast and crew. He will be missed by us all but never forgotten and always bring a smile to our faces.”
2016 Critics Choice Award Acceptance Speech
For his work on Baskets, Anderson was Emmy-nominated three times and won once, in addition to a heap of other awards. Here, he uses his Critics Choice Awards acceptance speech to simultaneously deliver a heartfelt thanks for the honor while also finding room for a few jokes.
Anderson Appears on Bob Saget’s Here For You (2021)
Let’s end with a clip that also pays tribute to another recently lost voice. In May 2021, Anderson appeared on Bob Saget’s podcast for a nearly 80-minute-long conversation about comedy, Baskets, and life — a real gift for us to enjoy now.