A comedian at heart:Louie Anderson returns to his comic roots
"You're opening something - your chest cavity - that's not meant to be opened. It's not like the refrigerator door."

Louie Anderson wears his heart on his sleeve when he does stand-up comedy. Now his heart is part of the act.

Anderson always uses personal topics, ranging from frightful family struggles to his obesity. It’s funny material, but Anderson wants the wisecracks to offer wisdom, too. That’s why Anderson will incorporate his life’s most recent personal pitfall – major heart surgery – into his two shows in a Madison club Sunday night.

Last fall, Anderson’s sharp chest pains signaled heart trouble and prompted surgery. He calls the experience “hugely scary,” then finds a humorous spin.

“You’re opening something – your chest cavity – that’s not meant to be opened,” Anderson says. “It’s not like the refrigerator door.”

He laughs and adds, “You get the problem from opening the refrigerator, not the gym door.”

Anderson, 51, is on the mend. Sunday’s patrons will notice a 55-pound weight loss on the hefty former “Family Feud” host.

“I’m on the treadmill for an hour, three times a week,” he says. “I have much more stamina. I’m doing well.”

So why is Anderson, who paid his dues playing clubs 20-plus years ago, returning to perform in those spaces? It’s hardly a desperate move for a quick buck. Anderson still plays plenty of theaters, casinos and large corporate events.

His club tour allows him to work on new material for an upcoming TV special. At Sunday’s shows at Comedy Club on State Street, he says almost half of his hour to 70-minute set will be fresh.

“In clubs, there’s an immediate reaction,” he says. “The joke works or it doesn’t.”

A Minneapolis native, Anderson worked as a counselor to emotionally disturbed children before trying stand-up comedy 25 years ago. A natural comic, he received encouragement from national acts, including Joan Rivers and Rodney Dangerfield, to move to Los Angeles.

He wrote one-line jokes for Henny Youngman before his own career made a quick climb in 1984 with his appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

“I went from making $500 a week,” Anderson says, “to making $1,000 a night or more.”

The 10th of 11 children, Anderson let his difficult family background shift into his work. He wrote about his alcoholic father in the best-selling book “Dear Dad” and showcased childhood in the animated series “Life with Louie.”

And he addresses his weight woes.

“My brain likes when I eat sweet and greasy stuff. I talk about food as a drug. America’s biggest drug problem is food,” he says, then pauses for comic spin. “But it’s a good way to go, I guess.”

This fall, he will be the host of “Louie Anderson and Friends,” a show developed by the Fox network that could run on cable or broadcast TV. Anderson and other professional stand-ups will perform, then they will be shown backstage where they’ll critique a comedy newcomer’s work.

Anderson calls his tenure as “Family Feud’s” host from 1999 to 2002 as “the most fun thing I ever did.”

“You’re talking to a game-show person. I’m a sucker for game shows,” he says. “Life is hard and game shows are a way to leave the trouble of the world and watch a big wheel spin.”

He agrees “Family Feud” contestants offer some of the silliest responses among game shows.

“Two brothers were on when I said, `Name a bird that can fly,’ ” Anderson recalls. “One said, `A duck.’ The other said, `An owl.’ ” He laughs. “I said, `All right, boys, you’ve been to the zoo too long.”

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