Louie Anderson talks to Reverb before his Boulder and Denver shows - Reverb

Why So Serious, Louie Anderson?

Comedian Louie Anderson credits his decades-long career with comedy that "means something." (Photo provided by Eve Sadof)

Comedian Louie Anderson credits his decades-long career with comedy that “means something.” (Photo provided by Eve Sadof)

Louie Anderson is an inherently visual comic, which presents serious problems when performing an audio-only set.

“When I say, ‘I can’t stay long, I’m in-between meals,’ that plays differently on the radio than it does in person,” said Anderson, who’s known for jokes about his 400-plus pound weight despite having lost 40 of it recently. “So I have to pick material that works because the words are funny, not just because of the images.”

Anderson is gearing his latest comedy set toward radio listeners to help kick off a new series for Boulder’s nationally syndicated eTown radio show, which plans to showcase a different comedian each month from its home at eTown Hall.

There are no plans to broadcast the shows just yet. But comedy has been a long time coming for eTown, according to co-founder Nick Forster.

“Interspersed with all of the amazing live music, we’ve been talking about climate change and sustainability in its many forms on eTown for 23 years,” Forster said via e-mail. “Even though we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we all need to lighten up a little every now and then.”

Forster’s nonprofit organization and radio show have welcomed dozens of big-name folk, rock, indie and bluegrass acts over the years, including James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Guy, Neko Case and Jack Johnson. But not until a “wildly successful” May 1 comedy show, which featured Denver comics Josh Blue and Sam Tallent, did Forster see the possibilities of live comedy at the venue.

Anderson’s June 12 eTown show, which is presented in conjunction with Denver’s Comedy Works (where Anderson will perform at their South location in the Landmark development June 13-15), will be followed by a July 29 eTown set by national headliner Jay Mohr.

We talked to Anderson about his upcoming Colorado visit, his weight and why eating pizza on a stationary bike is better than nothing at all.

So you’ve got a regular Vegas show, which is a pretty sweet gig for a comedian. How’s that been going?

It’s going great. I work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and I love it. My fans come here and they just are terrific. There’s something cool about just having a gig where you can get dressed and go to work. I don’t have to travel or go to an airport or make sure I have my passport or ID or too many liquids, you know. That’s a whole different world when you travel, because when you do a gig where you have to go somewhere, you have to GO somewhere. There’s that whole production and then you have to get into the mode to work and do comedy, because what we do [as comedians] should be completely joyful. If your head’s somewhere else you have a hard time being joyful.

Do you despise constant traveling as much as the next comedian?

What I always say is, “Lower your expectations around the time you’re going to get there, what you’re going to do, how the weather’s going to be, and how the venue’s going to be.” I like it when I call someone after getting to [a new city] and I say, “Hey, where’s the person who’s supposed to pick me up?” And then they say, “Who is this?!”

So while you’re here you’re also doing a show at eTown Hall, which is kicking off their comedy series, in addition to your Comedy Works South sets. Do you do much of that — stand-up on stage for an audience that ends up being audio-only?

No, you know, I haven’t. This is all new to me and I don’t think I’ve done that. I’ve done morning drive-time radio shows that are live, but this is different. This is a concert. I’ll have to work on my material for it because I’m such a visual comic. Because of this conversation I’ll probably choose material that’s a little different now for sure. I don’t want to be saying, “The reason this didn’t work is because the people who didn’t SEE me didn’t get it, and the people who only HEAR me don’t know what I’m doing.”

You’re also doing an all-ages family show at Comedy Work South. Without rehashing a lot of tired points about quote “clean comedy,” how do you find children respond to stand-up? Why do an all-ages set?

I’ve been adding this show to all my shows wherever I go because a lot of people raised their kids on my stand-up [Anderson's Emmy-winning Saturday morning cartoon "Life With Louie" ran on Fox from 1994-1998] and a lot of people will bring their teenagers. You can’t introduce your kids to stand-up that’s not clean. But I find two things: kids either laugh because of the way I say something or the physical stuff I do — you know, that giggling you do because something’s automatically funny — and then the other way is when kids actually get the bit and the joke.

Can you think of an example?

If I go, “My dad says ‘Louie, don’t flood the car!’ because I have a heavy gas-pedal foot,” the kids laugh at that because of that voice. Whenever it’s dad saying stuff or mom saying stuff, a lot of times they point to their moms and dads and when I do something. Like, “That’s what you guys do!” I wrote my cartoon for that purpose so that families would watch it together. And I wrote a lot of my comedy that way because I want you to be able to bring your parents and bring your kids. I didn’t have the happiest, easiest family life, but I always wanted to try to remedy that by providing a comedy show that, even if everybody didn’t get along, they could at least enjoy my comedy. And sometimes comedy is a way to enlighten parents to their absurdities and also let kids know they’re not alone. I think that good comedy illuminates the circumstances that you’re in, and a good comic sheds light where light is shone but not always illuminated.

The reality show “Splash” seems to have had a lasting effect on you in terms of losing some weight. How’s your Off the Couch program going? There are so many comics doing material about getting sober these days, we might as well have something about getting healthy, right?

I’ve been doing it since I left “Splash,” which is about a year now. So yeah I’ve been doing it ever since then and people have been sharing their stories and I’ve been swimming and continuing to eat better and take care of myself. There’s a whole bunch of people, like millions, who are obese who aren’t even thinking about going to the gym, who don’t even know what to do. And what happens is that creates anxiety and stress. But they can just walk around their coffee table and they don’t even realize it.

Gyms can be pretty intimidating, and they certainly seem to promote that idea that only through a gym can you lose weight.

I always thought a good bike would be pedal, pedal, pedal, pizza! But at least they would be building muscle. What happens with being [sedentary] is the atrophy and the muscles don’t get used and the body doesn’t burn up the fat and you use the muscle first. So I’m just trying to get [obese] people to think how friendly the pool is to them at their weight. They can walk and do squats, or resistance with paddles and fans.

How much weight have you lost in the past year or so?

I quit weighing myself after about 40 pounds because I became obsessive, but I notice it more and more in my clothes, so that’s a really good sign. I think people are overall getting healthier, but I think it’s a sliver of a trend. I see families traveling together, these giant families, and they’re just like a herd of buffalo.

One of my favorite episodes of Adult Swim’s “Tom Goes to the Mayor” features you pretty prominently, and it’s just so bizarre. Did [show creators] Tim and Eric reach out to you about that?

They did reach out to me. They have some real hardcore fans, don’t they? We even shot a pilot called “Living With Louie” I’m going to say… six years ago? We all worked on it together, just shot a concept and it was really fun. But then they got super-busy and got their own show ["Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!"] and just didn’t have time to do both. But it was really nice of them to recognize me that way.

Do you find that you have fans in totally random places?

I was lucky enough to make “Life With Louie,” which I think spurred a lot of fans that are just coming of age now, or are just kind of in college now. You know I have 100,000 fans in Turkey on my Facebook page from “Life With Louie”? They want me to come to Istanbul to celebrate “The Life With Louie,” as they call it. And it’s amazing, because sometimes they come to my Vegas shows and talk to me afterwards.

Why do you think they relate to you so much?

I think everybody’s a fat kid in some way. Everybody feels picked on. Even if it isn’t fat it’s something else where they just feel picked on, and the character in “Louie” tried to endure that being picked on and then also had a father who was a know-it-all. And Louie would just roll his eyes, but he loved him. The letters I get, even when they’re in broken English, make perfect sense. “You helped me through my life as a child. The stories you tell good.” It meant something to someone. I think my comedy means something. That’s why I’ve been able to do it so long. It means something to me, it means something to them. It just means something. And I think that’s why people come back to see me. I don’t think I try to be hip or cool. I just try to be me, and occasionally I’m cool.

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John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and critic for The Denver Post. Follow him @johnwenzel.