Letters to a dead relative make for a morbid Mother’s Day gift — unless the pen pal is Louie Anderson. “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them Too” is the fourth book from the Emmy-winning comic, one that serves as a tribute both to his Minnesota childhood and to the late Ora Zella Anderson, the parent who raised him with a bottomless supply of affection and grilled-cheese sandwiches.
This isn’t new territory for Anderson. But it took him a while to transform into comedy’s self-proclaimed Momma’s Boy.
He first became a familiar figure on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in the mid-’80s with routines that centered around his obesity, a decision he now acknowledges as either his greatest discovery or his biggest blunder.
“They thought I was funny because I was fat,” he writes in one of the book’s short chapters, all addressed directly to his mom, who passed away in 1990. “Maybe that’s all I am, to some people: a fat comic. I just knew that if I believed that, I’d be dead by now. I believe I’m a comic who happens to be fat.”
Anderson went about altering his act, most notably with his 1995-98 animated series on Fox, “Life With Louie,” and more recently with FX’s “Baskets,” in which he plays an overprotective mother who has more than a little in common with Anderson’s real-life mom.
He dedicated his 2016 Emmy win to her and is clearly hoping to lure “Baskets” fans to this book, even plastering the cover with a photo of himself in full costume from the sitcom.
Those who have adored Anderson long before his comeback won’t need the bait. All the familiar traits are present: bitterness toward his distant, alcoholic dad; unabashed affection for his beloved Minnesota home, and, most of all, gratitude toward his extremely tolerant mom.
In one of the book’s most moving sections, he begs for forgiveness over the way he chastised his mom for her choice of wardrobe for a party at Ford’s Theater. He signs off the apology by referring to himself as her “regretful, careless and occasionally even cruel tenth child.”
Many of the stories work better on stage than in print. A story about being in a drunken-driving accident with his father was a carefully crafted routine during his performances last year in the Twin Cities and was also woven into an episode of “Baskets.” It’s not quite as effective in print.
Anderson may be meticulous as a standup and actor, but as a writer he’s much more casual with material that reads like notes jotted down between sets over his new diet of carrots and hummus.
That change in eating habits is among the fresh insights in “Hey Mom,” as are his glimpses behind the scenes of his FX series. He also pens a tear-stained tribute to brother Tommy, who passed away in 2016.
But for the most part, this is classic Anderson, who will seemingly never grow tired of honoring the parent who raised him.
It may not win him any literary awards to place beside his Emmy, but it should earn him plenty of sales come Mother’s Day.
By: Louie Anderson, with Andrew Postman.
Publisher: Touchstone, 269 pages, $26.
Event: Rescheduled (due to blizzard). Will now be at noon April 21st at the Mall of America, Bloomington.