I had the opportunity to talk with Louie Anderson on the phone prior to the release of Episode 1, Season 3 of his television show starring Zach Galifianakis. Anderson portrays Galifianakis’s characters mother in a “role of a lifetime” as the weight obsessed, Costco loving suburban widow. The show is fantastic, and earned Anderson an Emmy (his third, 2016) as an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedic Series.
L: Before we start Chris, I have a question for you. Why do you have a magazine? That sounds interesting to me.
C: Well, I worked at the school newspaper at our University and was set up to be the Editor after I graduated but chose to go on a trip to New Zealand instead. Blah Blah Blah… I have grown the paper over two-and-a-half years now.
Great, I am looking forward to seeing it. I came up from Minnesota and you know the guy who drew the map, you know, I could be Canadian. What if he would have coughed right at Minnesota?
I read that you’re a big fan, are you enjoying this years Vikings season?
Oh my God, no kidding right!? Oh man, I am standing back stage with Zack Galifianakis, Martha Kelly and Jonathan Krisel at Sketchfest and the director of the show is giving me the play-by-play as we are getting ready to go on. I go, “Are they still…” He goes, “It’s 23-17.” Or whatever it was, I think twenty three to twenty one and Drew Brees kicks a field goal with ten or twenty seconds left. So I am yelling at everyone, not in a mean way but like, “We are done for, this is what I was afraid of!” We are just about ready to be introduced for our panel and my friend says, “We won! We won!.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy.
I opened with “Vikings won!” I wore the goofy hat and everything. Two years ago a fan and his wife knitted me booties that were Viking colours for me to wear on the road. Then this year they brought me this goofy hat at New Years. It’s so funny; it’s such a goofball hat. It’s up on my Instagram. So I wore it all day for good luck on that Sunday and they won. I will wear it everyday until we win the Superbowl. Don’t I sound Canadian?
Obviously you have been to Canada a bunch, have you ever been to Niagara?
I have been to the Casinos there. Every time I go it’s winter. I love it, it’s so beautiful. Nobody is nicer than Canadians. If you are lost they will have you follow their car to your destination just to make sure you get there. That’s how nice they are in Canada. A lot of my favourite comedy people, you know from SCTV, came out of Canada. Joe Flaherty, who played my brother in this sitcom that didn’t get picked up but it was such a dream to get to work with him. They were all so great.
Which sitcom was this, did you just just film a pilot?
I think it was just called “Louie.” I didn’t really know who I was and you end up having a lot of people telling you who the character is. Not everyone can be nice and I think they needed someone who was not nice in there.
Was this before Life with Louie or was this after?
This was before. Oh, Life with Louie. I wish I would have done that character for the sitcom.
I actually grew up on “Life with Louie” as a child. ‘ALL RIGHT!!! What’s you last name? Illy, Illich? What is that, Polish?’ I can’t resist doing the dad. I love it.
That must have been a fun experience, that was one of your first main gigs. You ended up received a lot of attention and awards for that show.
That was a great experience. You know what was amazing about that, I did three voices, the narration, lil’ Louie and the Dad. So when I would go to record it, I would have to do the Dad character last because it took so much energy and I felt like my dad was channeling through me. I was completely exhausted after I did the Dad character.
That must be weird to look back and see that you were acting as your Dad then and now you are portraying your Mom character.
Amazing isn’t it? If you know Life with Louie, when you hear Christine talk I am sure you can hear my mom. It’s funny how my family had such a profound effect on me and how it resonated with people. I love that cartoon. It was the funnest thing ever.
How did working with Life with Louie compare to what you are doing now?
With Life with Louie we would work on the stories together and they would do the drawings, then I would come in and do the voice over; I was very involved in the process. In Baskets I have the opportunity of going in and working with the tremendous director, Jonathan Krisel, and a true big time talent, Zach Galifiniakis. I mean come on, that guy is a genius comedy wise and is a true dramatic actor. I have this family that I can go and be the mother to and I don’t have to worry about who wrote what and who did this. We have a lot of freedom with the lines; I don’t have to worry. I have no concerns. I throw in my ideas here and there. I get to go in and be a real actor and make Louie Anderson disappear in that part.
I was actually really excited to talk to you and I rewatched all of season two of Baskets over the weekend.
I have to ask, what was your high point in season two?
I think the most emotional part was when the ring leader Morpheus gets hit by the tractor while they are all on the train. Also, when you walked out into the water, that was a really heavy moment. Can You give any teasers about the next season?
Yeah, I’ll tell you some stuff. First of all, there are really four journeys going on, which is unusual. Usually it is just one or two arches but everybody has a lot this season. Of course, I am running Basket’s Family Rodeo and that turns into unbelievable stuff. I mean I can’t give away any major plot details but let me tell you it is the most exciting, fun season yet.
It seems like nothing really works out for the Baskets Family until the end where it all comes together.
Well, isn’t that their thing. Like, we broke the lamp and you can tell it is broke but it doesn’t look that bad.
There are a couple great moments in the show where you wonder how they pulled off having Chip and Dale (Zach Galifiniakis) there.
You know what is funny? I have had fans ask me who plays Dale. Isn’t that funny? Jonathan is a genius and Zach too. Zach will tape and tape and tape. He will do a take when he knows Dale is going to be there and will create that space for when Dale shows up. It is just beautiful stuff. I am amazed. He works twice as hard as I do. He will go change and we will have to shoot the scene again. There is a lot of hard work that goes into each season. In the second season when they had that fight that was unbelievable. I was afraid they were going to get hurt. Look at me talking like they are two different people. I relate completely differently to Dale as I do to Chip and I never break character on set.
I read your trailer even just says “Christine.”
You know what? I feel like I am creating something that no one knows but eventually they will discover. Does that make sense? Not everyone will discover because it is an acquired taste but once they get a taste of it, they will want more, I feel.
Both you and Jeffrey Tambor, from Transparent have found success portraying a women in a dramatic television show. Do you think that will be a growing trend in the industry? Men playing women and women playing men in more serious roles.
I do think that people will be playing characters that fit the part. I feel like I do fit the part of Christine Basket. I don’t feel like you think it is a man ever. Unless you knew my work you would not know it is me. At least that is how I feel.
Switching gears to finish up – you first started performing comedy in 1978, which would make this year forty years in the industry. How does it feel to look back on your career as a professional artist for that long?
Well, I look back on all of that fondly. The unfortunate thing when you look back is that you think, ‘I would have done that differently.’ The thing I do realize is, I am looking forward more than I am looking back. I just finished my new special, which is called Big Underwear, which is all new material. As well, I finished a book called Hey Mom (louiebook.com). It is me telling my mom about my life since she has been gone because I had started writing her letters. The same with Dear Dad, which was the same; writing him letters after he passed. I am probably as active and busy and excited about my life as I have ever been. When I look back at my career I am proud of everything I have done.
I am sixty-four but I don’t feel it. I love what I am doing and I love just making people feel good. That’s who I am. I mean, I always say, “Do you need a hug.” Even if they don’t laugh they know I have no mean intent.
Don’t you feel like people are to worried in general and if you live inside all of the regret and all the sadness in the world it can’t extend you life by one second? The journey is the best. How did I know putting on a dress and lipstick would lead to this character. That is the best part.
Louie Anderson performs at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on Feb. 17. Ticket information can be found at firstontariopac.ca You can watch Baskets on FX on Tuesday nights.