“I used to pooh-pooh when people would say, ‘At least I woke up,’ and I would go, ‘What the hell are they talking about?’ ’’ said Louie Anderson, calling from L.A. “And then you realize, ‘Aw, wait a minute, that’s what they are talking about — I’m just happy to be alive.’ ”
We eventually shared some laughs after a lengthy chat about death before we moved on to this new book he wrote to his late mother, Ora Zella Anderson.
Anderson is scheduled to autograph “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too,” at the Mall of America April 14 at 2 p.m. It’s the book his fans have been waiting for since “Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child,” because he’s basically playing his mom on “Baskets.” The show earned Anderson a 2016 Emmy that he accepted with the words “Mom, we did it!”
Q: You’re bringing back the epistolary novel?
A: You know, that’s my second book like that. This started not as a novel but in my notes section of my iPhone. I talk to my mom all the time. “Mom, what about this?” She was always a good sounding board and funny. I kept getting these ideas like, “Hey Mom, what did you see in Dad? What made you fall for that big lug?”
Q: So these questions didn’t occur to you when your parents were alive?
A: No. Do you think anyone asks their parents those things? Maybe some people do, but I didn’t ask enough of those questions.
Q: This is a comfortable way to ask those questions?
A: At first they were just fun things. One of the letters I sent to my producing partner and manager and they loved it. They said this could be a book. And I went, “Uh-oh. That’s work. Why do you have to ruin the whole event?” Anyway, I got to ask a lot of questions. I think it has turned out to be a book that might help people. That’s valuable to me. Maybe I’m just a Minnesotan. Minnesotans will get in people’s business for absolutely no reason.
Q: But they do it in a sly way. They pretend not to be interested.
A: They are sneaky about it. They are passive aggressive, in a good way. They want people to feel better, to love themselves more. That’s why, and maybe it’s self-serving on my part, maybe I want to stick my big nose in people’s business.
Q: I want to know why the cover of your book doesn’t warn readers that a box of Kleenex is required.
A: Oh, that’s so sweet. If Kleenex doesn’t pay me an endorsement fee, I’m not mentioning that. [Laughs] You know, you’re right. It [crept] up on me, C.J.
Q: Did you cry more writing the book to your Dad or to your Mom?
A: I cried differently. The one to my Dad I cried as a young boy in search of my father’s love. In my Mom’s book I cried as a son and a friend saying I wish I had done better, done more.
Q: You wrote about treating your mom in a mean fashion when you took her to the White House.
A: Oh, that was so horrible.
Q: You said she never held it against you. Do you now understand why?
A: I was a little embarrassed because I dragged all my poorness into the White House, my insecurities about not being good enough, growing up in the projects of St. Paul. I’m ashamed and mad at myself. I know I made my Mom feel bad. She had style and grace and she looked fine, she looked beautiful. I was just being a brat. A spoiled, entitled semi-celebrity brat. I put it in there so I could do that public apology. Just to say to people, “Hey, be nice to your mom. She did a lot more for you than you realized.” Playing this part on TV ...
Q: ... Has been more helpful than therapy?
A: Yeah. When you start playing a mom you go, “Oh my God.” I’ve started to feel all the responsibility for these kids even though they are not my kids, they are actors.
Q: Were you ever able to tell your Mom how much you wanted to get away from your alcoholic Dad?
A: I was too afraid. Where would I go? I felt in some ways I could not leave my Mom there.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.