Louie Anderson, who learned Thursday that he'll be vying for his second prime-time Emmy in a row, could be celebrating his comeback by popping bonbons in a Beverly Hills hotel cabana. Instead, last week he was nibbling on raw vegetables and hummus backstage at the Joke Joint, a Lilydale venue that rarely plays host to red-hot celebrities.
"I feel like I should be calling bingo numbers right now," he had said an hour earlier from a stage smaller than Jerry Seinfeld's shoe closet.
Anderson's off-the-radar tour of his home state, which continued this week with shows in Shakopee and Maple Grove, is partly out of gratitude to bookers who supported him during the lean years, before his role as a passive-aggressive mother in FX's "Baskets" put him back on the A List.
It's also an opportunity to try out new material, which Anderson hopes to use for a one-hour TV special, his first since 2012's "Big Baby Boomer."
"This is the best terrarium a comic can work in," he said. "It's the right temperature. It's like a living room, a Polish-American hall, a community center. It's like church to me."
Although he looks healthier than he has in years, the 64-year-old comedian was breathing heavily when he retreated to his dressing room after the 80-minute set.
For the casual fan expecting Anderson's usual fine-tuned act, such performances can be frustrating. He frequently paused to check his note cards and make certain that the act was being properly recorded on his cellphone so he could analyze it the following afternoon.
But for serious aficionados of stand-up comedy, these suburban engagements are not to be missed, a rare opportunity to see an artist shape his act without a safety net.
"The list is a hundred times longer than this," he said, referring to the scrawled-out notes sitting next to the veggie tray, material he came up with over the past three months. "I'm making a puzzle. I need to see what fits."
Anderson is also leaving room for discovery.
Those in attendance last week, which included one of his 10 siblings, saw him make up a routine on the fly inspired by his health-centered dinner, as he acted out the roles of carrots and celery competing for his taste buds' favor. In a bit about his childhood craving for fried chicken, he wondered aloud who came up with the idea of broasting.
"I was broasted several times," he said — an ad-lib that drew a long laugh from the sellout audience. Anderson, who had retreated to a chair a half-hour into his performance, leaned back against the wall and made a notation on one of his cards.
"I have a new joke," he muttered while chuckling to himself.
The most fascinating thread involves his late father, whom he channels as a professional musician turned professional drunk. If "Baskets" is a tribute to Anderson's mother, the new act veers toward his less sympathetic parent, one who could make a young boy shiver just by clearing his throat.
In one of the best bits, the youngster gives his mom a birthday coupon in which he offers to end her misery by killing Dad. After being ratted out by his brother, Anderson gets relentlessly tormented by his father, who introduces him to strangers as "Hit Man Louie."
Anderson said he's just getting started. He plans to delve deeper into memories of his father. He's even considering adding swearwords to his act this weekend, a first in his 40-year career.
"I might be able to pull it off," Anderson said. "I feel like I'm transforming right now into another kind of comic. The swearing and all that stuff. I'm on the verge of realizing that it's OK as long as it's all in context.
"I use Richard Pryor as an example. He never felt dirty. He always felt real. This feels grittier and gutsier than the stuff I would normally do. The secret to doing comedy is you have to be able to do as much as possible, no matter if you feel like it or not, no matter if you're at home or in Reno."
Anderson's time in Minnesota, which he calls his "cocoon," ends next week with higher-profile gigs in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Honolulu. He'll return to shoot the third season of "Baskets" in the fall around the time of the Emmy Awards ceremonies, where Anderson's chances of a repeat win as best supporting actor could be thwarted by Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump impersonation on "Saturday Night Live."
Anderson is more than grateful for the bounce that the TV series has provided him. He even hawks Christine Baskets stained-glass nightlights in the lobby of his shows.
But his focus remains stand-up, even if it means going back to the basics.
"I could do jokes that people love, but I want something new; I want to go somewhere with this special, but I'm not there yet," he said.
"I will be. I feel like I'm better than ever."
Louie Anderson on stage
Turtles Bar and Grill: 8 p.m. Thu. 132 1st Av. E., Shakopee. $30-$50. 952-445-9668, brownpaperticket.com.
Maple Tavern: 8 p.m. Fri., 7 & 9:30 p.m. Sat. 9375 Deerwood Lane N., Maple Grove. $30-$50. 763-425-2700, brownpaperticket.com.