At a time when most stand-up comics are cynical or subversive, quirky or controversial, Louie Anderson is something simple but very different: a nice guy who just wants to make you laugh.
"I think people identify with me," Anderson said. "I feel very much like a friend."
The affable 60-year-old comedian, who will appear this week at Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington, has spent nearly 30 years maintaining that type of relationship. The Minnesota native made his network television debut doing a set on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson in 1984 that catapulted his career.
Stand-up specials soon followed. He appeared in some of the biggest comedies of the 1980s, including Coming to America and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. His latter-day accomplishments came on the small screen, whether he was the writer and primary voice actor in his Emmy Award-winning animated series Life With Louie or hosting the popular game show Family Feud from 1999 to 2002.
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It is appropriate that Anderson would host a game show with the word family in its title. He is one of 11 children, and his family probably has been his most influential muse. It's not only inspired some of Anderson's most iconic comedy bits, it's been the subject of two of his best-selling books: Dear Dad: Letters From an Adult Child and The F Word: How to Survive Your Family. Few comedians have been more successful at turning the family dynamic into comedy gold.
"I think I pointed out all the stuff in families that people know, were aware of, but not talking about," Anderson said.
In addition to being a stand-up comedian, actor, author and TV show creator, Anderson add something a bit unexpected to his résumé this year: celebrity diver.
ABC's reality show Splash pitted various celebrities against one another in Olympic-style diving. As a guy who has spent most of his career examining the funny side of being overweight, Anderson couldn't help but see the humor in his involvement with the show.
"I only learned to swim five years ago," he said. "Who would have thought I would be a 400-pound comedian diving off, in essence, a three-story building into a pit of despair ... I mean, water."
While he was working on his next book about his struggles with weight, he said, his experience on the show gave him even more incentive to get moving and back in shape.
It is at his stand-up shows that Anderson gets to see three decades' worth of fans under one roof, and he says he is proud to have the type of show the whole family can experience (Comedy Off Broadway's shows are for those older than 18, however). Such continued success shows that combining kindness and comedy can go a long way toward building a friendship with an audience.
"Stand-up is the true connection," Anderson said. "It's a very intimate relationship with the audience and you, and you never see them again ... until the next time."
IF YOU GO
When: 7:15 p.m. May 23; 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. May 24, 25
Where: Comedy Off Broadway, The Mall at Lexington Green, 161 Lexington Green Cir.
Tickets: $20 May 23, $25 May 24, $28 May 25. Available at (859) 271-5653 and Comedyoffbroadway.com.