IRVINE — There he was, telling the crowd at a benefit dedicated to helping dysfunctional families about his own fantasy of murdering his.
The atmosphere at the UC Irvine Bren Events Center on Saturday night changed, as if a storm invaded a sunny day. Louie Anderson, that chubby dear of a comic known for his wise but usually benign observations, veered from the buoyant and bemused to the creepy and cathartic.
"I used to think about killing my whole family. I know that sounds sick, but I used to actually plan things out," Anderson told the audience that turned out in support of the Irvine-based Community Service Programs, a nonprofit group that provides family crisis intervention and services for child-abuse victims.
"I'd like to drag it out for 20 to 30 years. . . . Families are like kryptonite; they can be deadly," he continued. Noticing a group of wildly dressed circus clowns who had entertained earlier and were seated in the front row, he said, "See those clowns? That's what my family looks like on the inside ."
Despite the shift in mood, anybody familiar with Anderson knew what he was getting at. His childhood in a St. Paul, Minn., housing project was often brutal; he detailed his suffering at the hands of an alcoholic, abusive father in his 1989 autobiography, "Dear Dad: Letters From an Adult Child."
Since then, Anderson has regularly used his reflections as a touchstone in his act, both for personal release and as a warning. These ruminations may have briefly unsettled everybody, but that was Anderson's point.
"The abuse in this country is so deep," he said, praising the work Community Services Programs and others are doing. "You just have to talk about these things, you just have to get them out, that's all."
Anderson then went on to talk about a brother who came out of the family crucible less fortunate then himself. Anderson may have grown up to be a successful comedian able to work through his problems, but his brother is a homeless schizophrenic whose primary obsession is "this remote-controlled car he thinks he invented that goes 225 miles an hour."
He then showed his comic grace by letting this personal story evolve into more general takes on the homeless, drugs and inner-city life. He's a comic with a point of view, usually centered in the realm of pain and outrage. Anderson doesn't have the furious indignation of, say, a George Carlin, but he does make his anger known.
After complaining about the homeless's plight and the Bush Administration's weak reaction to it, Anderson softened the rant with a quip: "Well, anyway, they (the homeless) get all the good shopping carts. Have you ever been in the supermarket, going around in circles with one of those carts, (muttering to yourself) 'Damn those homeless!'?"
As for ghetto kids becoming drug dealers, Anderson mused on the problem by asking what opportunities they really have. "It's either going out and selling crack or working at McDonald's for $3.35 an hour. What kind of a choice is that? It's either, money, jewelry and great cars or 'Hey, more fries!' "
Self-mockery is a centerpiece of Anderson's routine, much taking aim at his huge, undisciplined appetite. Nothing particular new there, and not much beyond the usual amusements at the Bren on Saturday night. But Anderson did create a swell of comic radiance when he combined one of his icons (doughnuts) with one of his curses (overeager cops).
Drawing from the old chestnut of officers and their love of doughnuts, he used his simple but effective characterizations to evoke a high-speed chase. Faced with pursuit, Anderson suggested throwing out a dozen or so of Winchell's finest as the best tactic. "You can see the cop yelling, 'Hey, let that guy go and put some flares around these doughnuts!' "
Another bit of Anderson advice: When stopped for speeding, it probably wouldn't hurt to hand over your driver's license with a fat, glazed cruller beneath it.
The benefit also featured strong sets by Peter Gaulke and Jerry Miner. Gaulke was especially lunatic. His style may be derivative of a young Steve Martin, but his best humor has an unexpected and heady edge that tweaks at the conventional.