For decades, it appeared that the peak of Louie Anderson’s career would be cracking up Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” That’s all changed. The Minnesota native beat the odds Sunday night by opening the 68th annual Emmy Awards with a win for best supporting actor in a comedy, the capper on Hollywood’s biggest comeback of the year.

“Oh my, God, I won! I can’t believe it,” said Anderson by phone a few minutes after his name was called. “This is like a reboot for me.”

The victory for Anderson, who donned a dress for the breakthrough role in FX’s “Baskets,” was no sure thing — far from it. Most experts had predicted a third trophy for “Veep’s” Tony Hale, with Anderson and “Kimmy Schmidt’s” Titus Burgess listed as strong contenders. One prominent gambling website even rated Anderson as the longest shot in the category at 25-1.

But the Minneapolis comic, who got his start doing stand-up at Twin Cities clubs and performing at Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop, had been celebrating all weekend, starting with an Emmy nominees luncheon Friday where he got a hug from friend Lily Tomlin, and a star-studded Vanity Fair bash Saturday evening.

“I’ve never been a big party guy,” Anderson, 63, before Saturday’s soiree. “I’m the Minnesotan in the basement yelling up that we need more ice.”

Just three years ago, much was made out of Anderson’s inability to keep his head above water when he participated in a reality show, “Splash!” His fortunes are floating high now, although he did need some help stepping onto the stage from presenter Anthony Anderson.

Most of his remarks were dedicated to thanking his extensive family, most notably his late mother, who inspired his role as Zach Galifianakis’ judgmental mom.

“Mom, we did it!” he shouted, managing to hold back tears that would flow a few minutes later backstage. “I have not always been a good man but I play one hell of a woman.

“This is for my mom who I stole every nuance, shameful look, cruel look, loving look and passive-aggressive line from.”

Anderson just started filming the second season of “Baskets” last week.

The other major news from the early portion of the ceremonies was Julia Louis-Dreyfus earning her fifth Emmy in a row for starring in “Veep.” It was her sixth in the lead actress category — she also got one for “Old Christine” — more than any other actor. ). No actor has won that category more times.

The beloved actress gave an emotional shoutout to her family, honoring her father, who passed away just two days ago.

“His opinion was the one that really mattered,” she said.

“Veep” was honored as best comedy series for the second year in a row.

Another HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” won in the drama category while FX’s “The People v. OJ Simpson” took the prize for best limited TV series.

It was also a big night for diversity, thanks in large part to the wave of recognition for “The People v. OJ Simpson.” In addition to being named best limited series, acting awards went to black actors Sterling Brown and Courtney Vance as well as to Sarah Paulson, who is openly gay.

Kate McKinnon, who also is gay, became one of the few performers in “Saturday Night Live’s” 40-plus years on the air to be recognized for an individual performance.

“Transparent” director Jill Soloway and lead actor Jeffrey Tambor both repeated in their categories for Amazon’s bold dramedy about a transgender woman’s relationship with her family.

The biggest upset in the early going was PBS’s Sherlock Holmes adventure, “The Abominable Bride,” which topped “Confirmation” and “All the Way” as best TV movie. It was first time since TNT’s “Door to Door” in 2003 that HBO hasn’t won in the category.

Not as surprising: “The Voice” was named best reality-competition series for the third time and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” triumphed as best variety talk show. It was Oliver’s first nomination, but he served under the tutelage of longtime Emmy favorite Jon Stewart and the student went out of his way to thank his mentor.

A “Game of Thrones” sweep was prevented by Maggie Smith’s third win for “Downton Abbey.” As if she was staying in character, Smith once again declined to accept in person.

Host Jimmy Kimmel made light of Smith’s absence. She got off relatively easy compared to Mark Burnett, producer of “The Apprentice,” whom Kimmel blamed for the rise of Donald Trump, and the late Johnnie Cochran (“I have to believe he is somewhere smiling up at us night”). They were just a couple of targets in a snarkier-than-usual evening that by and large helped animate what can be often be a chore for viewers to get through.

Dreyfus, who plays the U.S. president on “Veep,” also took a comic shot at Trump: “I’d also like to take this opportunity to personally apologize for the current political climate. I think that ‘Veep’ has torn down the wall between comedy and politics.”

She promised to “rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

 

Njustin@startribune.com

612-673-7431 Twitter: @nealjustin