REMEMBERING A KIND MAN: LOUIE ANDERSON (1953-2022)
This story of something that happened in the middle of the comedian’s stand up act reveals just exactly who Louie Anderson was — both as a performer and a person
I woke up this morning to the sad news comedian Louie Anderson died last night. He succumbed to cancer at a Las Vegas hospital. Mr. Anderson was 68.
About 15 years ago, I had the great fortune to meet him and even hang out on a few lucky occasions. If you’ve ever been around Mr. Anderson for any length of time, indeed, it was a great fortune. By everyone who worked with him and knew him, he’s being described as “a kind man.” I think that simple description fits perfectly. Louis Anderson was a kind man.
Many remember Mr. Anderson as the jolly host of the television game show, Family Feud. Known for his gapped tooth, portly presence, and witty observational humor, Mr. Anderson performed over a much lengthier career as a stand-up comedian that last for four decades. His stage act was always clean. You could take your children to his show or your grandmother — everyone had a good time. And he was just as funny as any one of his racier contemporaries.
When I worked with PokerStars, we signed Mr. Anderson to be one of the website’s ambassadors (Dan Goldman was the real brains behind the deal). He absolutely loved playing poker. Mr. Anderson attended poker events, signed autographs, told jokes, but he really just wanted to be a regular guy at the table. Of course, that was next to impossible. Everyone instantly recognized Louie Anderson as a national figure from Family Feud, which was watched daily by 10 million viewers. Despite the constant interruptions and frequently being stopped in the hallways to pose for selfies — and yes, even being made fun of for his weight to his face (really) — he was always overly gracious. He wasn’t just a great ambassador for an internet gambling company. He was an inspiration for living a good life.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Anderson didn’t have so many reasons to smile and laugher was an echo from the night before. His private life was troubled. Like so many other talented comedians, he dealt with bouts of depression. There was a quiet sadness to Mr. Anderson when the spotlight turned off and the stage went dark. Nonetheless, he was always kind to others and he helped a great many people–both financially and emotionally. Mr. Anderson had the rarest human gift of all: He made those around him feel better.
I saw Mr. Anderson’s shows here in Las Vegas on three occasions that were billed “Larger than Life: Starring Louie Anderson.” We even got to hang out with him backstage on one occasion. But something remarkable happened in the last show that has stuck with me all these years later as one of the most memorable live impromptu interruptions I’ve ever witnessed. Let me tell you about it because it reveals so much about not just the performer, but the kind of man — alas, the kind man — Mr. Anderson was.
Back then, Palace Station had a comedy club. Mr. Anderson was playing there a few nights a week. I took my wife, who had never seen him before, and we got front row seats. About 20 minutes into the routine, a fussy child was crying in the middle of his act. The kid was completely disrupting the show. Inexplicably, someone had brought a child to a comedy show. After all, it was a clean act, so anyone could enter. The kid looked to be age 6 or 7 and was totally out of control. You can imagine how this distraction killed the timing of the comedy. It was cringeworthy.
So anyway, Mr. Anderson stops cold during his act. Like a dead stop in mid-joke. He asked the screaming brat to come up onstage. Finally, the kid quiets down for the first time, and reluctantly goes up there and Mr. Anderson summons a chair to be brought onto the stage. Then, the act suddenly becomes a two-person show:
ANDERSON: You’re bored with this show, aren’t you?
KID: (nodding) Yes.
ANDERSON: Yeah, me too. You want to go outside and play, don’t you?
ANDERSON: Yeah, me too. You want to be anyplace else right now, except here, right?
ANDERSON: Yeah, ME TOO!
The audience roared. The kid was just being honest. Mr. Anderson totally defused the situation and instead of creating a problem, made it into something positive. And funny.
Then, Mr. Anderson told the child to sit there in the middle of the stage and watch the rest of the show. Best seat in the house. For the remaining 45 minutes, each time Anderson delivered a punch line, he’d look at the kid in the chair looking for a reaction. Sometimes the kid laughed. Other times, the kid just stared off into space. The kid didn’t cry or say another word for the entire show. It was fabulous.
Well, the entire audience was eating out of the stage performer’s hand like mule deer after that. It was really impressive to watch such a brilliant and artful turnaround of a bad situation.
That’s a pro. That’s human kindness. That was Mr. Louie Anderson.