New Year’s Eve can be rough for comics, says Minnesota native and well-known comedian Louie Anderson. “People get so drunk. It’s like a free for all,” he said. “People aren’t really going there to celebrate the comedy. They’re going there to celebrate New Year’s and to get really slammed.”
And so, years ago, he started doing yearly shows at the Northrop Auditorium to ring in the coming year. “It had started out to be a kind of non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve,” Anderson said. “My dad was an alcoholic, so I started it as a place where families could come and really have a good time and the emphasis wouldn’t be on drinking.”
In recent years, the show moved to the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, where Anderson performs two shows this New Year’s at 7 and 10 p.m.
He calls the show a tribute to his mom and a chance “to say thank you to the Minnesota fans who have always supported me.”
Anderson grew up in St. Paul and first performed in 1978 “on a dare” at Mickey Finn’s in northeast Minneapolis. He started performing regularly, until an appearance on the Johnny Carson show changed everything.
“I was famous overnight,” Anderson said. “Literally, I went from nobody knowing who I was outside of Minnesota to the whole country stopping me on the street and saying what a great thing I did on ‘The Tonight Show.’ It’s like being made a cardinal by the pope of the business. … That’s what Johnny Carson used to do in one night.”
Other late-night shows started calling, and he was asked to be in movies including “Coming to America” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He went on to write several books, host “Family Feud,” and — a favorite — write a television show called “Life with Louie” in the 1990s.
“I got to recreate my family in a fun, crazy way that people could really enjoy,” he said.
Those childhood experiences provide much of the fodder for his stand-up material, and during Minnesota shows, he likes to do bits about his dad’s Bonneville and jumper cables, potlucks and lime green Jell-O, and women named Shirley. “There’s always somebody named Shirley that your mom knows,” he said.
Currently, along with regular touring and manning his Vegas showroom, Anderson is at work on a new book chronicling his “lifelong struggle with food.” His recent time competing on the ABC reality diving show “Splash,” he said, motivated him to start “Off the Couch,” a program that organizes weekend walks in downtown Vegas.
“We do a walk and a talk,” he said. “We walk, and then we come back and talk about how miserable the walk was. We talk honestly about the struggles we have, but we mostly laugh.”
As advice for people going into the holidays, Anderson offered thoughts from his 1989 book “The F-word: How to Survive Your Family”: “Get to the event late, leave early.” “Fill up your emotional gas tank before you get there.”
“And,” he said, “for God’s sake, don’t take any of it personally. It’s not meant personally … Get that big hug in for your mom, and get that uncomfortable big hug in for your dad, and enjoy those hugs because, even though I had difficulty with my dad, I would give anything to be able to hug him or give my mom a big hug over the holidays.”
“You’ll really miss those people when they’re gone,” he said. “I think that’s how I keep my mom and dad alive over the holidays, that I work, and I do these bits that are about them.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.