When I read the sad news that St. Paul native Louie Anderson died today at the age of 68, I asked our own Susan Vass (a/k/a Ammo Grrlll) if she could provide a personal remembrance. Susan writes:
My heart is heavy today. My husband Joe and I were just recovering from learning that Oregon Muse, a co-blogger on Ace of Spades, had died of COVID. We did not know him personally, but he did the Book Thread and was always very kind to promote our various books. It seemed that he had recovered and then, suddenly, he was gone.
Then just yesterday I learned that Louie Anderson was in hospital being treated for a blood cancer and today he is gone.
Louie, in a very real sense, was responsible for my being, first a comedian, and then a columnist, which flowed from being a comedian.
Back in the early ’80s, Louie was hitting his stride in Minnesota comedy. He had had a very good set on Johnny Carson (video below) and was preparing to go to Los Angeles to see if he could take it to the next level. To raise money for the move, he had at least a dozen “Last Chances to See Louie” weekends at several different comedy clubs in the Twin Cities. I went to the one at the Comedy Gallery and laughed so hard that the proprietor had to get me a paper bag to breathe into because I was hyperventilating!
When I got home that night, I could not even sleep. I came up with what I thought were several pretty funny lines for Louie. I knew his home base was the Dudley Riggs Theatre on Seven Corners and I went down there and “stalked” him. He graciously took my little handwritten notes and the next night when I saw him, he said, “This is pretty funny stuff, but it isn’t my ‘voice.’ You should do it yourself.”
Oh, my. That had never occurred to me before. I thought of myself as a writer, not a performer. I practiced on my late-shift job for a couple of months and went up on the Open Stage one night for the longest five minutes of my life and it went quite well. Dudley Riggs, himself, the proprietor of that club, was in the house and told me not to do any other clubs and he would hire me! Yikes!
Louie was one of 11 children in a very poor home on the East Side of St. Paul. They actually lived in government welfare housing. He was also a large and unathletic kid. He probably honed his comedy skills as a survival tool. When he first hit it big, and would come back from L.A., he had kind of “gone Hollywood,” telling us young comics that in L.A. if you were a star you should “never open a door for yourself and never carry anything.” But, eventually, he got over that.
The last time I saw him was perhaps 10 years ago when I opened for him at the Mayo Clinic’s shindig for employees with over 25 years of service. Again, I gave him a piece of material. He tried it out that night and it went well. We both had very good sets and went out for dinner afterwards with the agent on the job. I was impressed with how much Louie was loved by all who approached him. He patiently posed for pictures with all and sundry, signed autographs and chatted with whoever approached him. He had gotten over his “Hollywood” period and could not have been sweeter either to me or his audience.
He was a rare talent, not just as a brilliant writer, but his real forte was in what comics call “crowd rap” – just chatting with the audience and coming up with jokes on the spot. I never saw anyone who was better at it. He had a Minnesota Everyman quality that made people love him almost instantly. He worked 100 percent clean and was particularly hilarious channeling his mother’s voice. May he Rest In Peace. Gone way too young and will be much missed.
PS: The five-minute video below perfectly illustrates Susan’s last point about Louie coming up with jokes on the spot.