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But Seriously, Folks . . .

Comedy: Louie Anderson mixes his humor with messages on issues such as homelessness. He opens at the Irvine Improv tonight.


Louie Anderson grew up dysfunctional, the 10th of 11 kids raised by an alcoholic father. The effects were not lost on him.

Fat jokes ("My first words were 'Seconds, please' ") may have launched the portly young man into comedy, but family material ("my dad never hit us when I was a kid--he carried a gun") took him to the next level, and his concern for others keeps him looking for humor in all the wrong places. More and more, Anderson finds himself looking at life's serious side.

"I continue to grow as a human being, and as I continue to grow, I have this need inside of me to make an imprint on the world. I'd like to see that pain reduced out there because it was very tough for me to survive," said Anderson, who opens a four-night run at the Improv in Irvine tonight. "If I hadn't had good friends and therapy along the way, I'm not sure I would've made it."

But made it he has. Anderson, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, is one of the country's funniest and most sought-after stand-ups. He has filmed four cable specials, appears regularly on late-night talk shows, has published two books about his life, boasts several TV and film roles, produces the Saturday morning animated series "Life With Louie" and plays extended Las Vegas gigs twice a year.

He grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and the sense of community and caring that Anderson, 43, felt there was not lost on him.

"When I was growing up," said Anderson, "you just didn't let someone lie in the road. It's not a very original message, folks, but it's how you treat each that's really important. It's not what you have or what you've done, but how you treat each other.

"I think people want the world to be better. We're just not taught to care, not to get involved, [that] you can't do anything about it anyway. I just don't believe that. Our real responsibility is to ourselves and others. Problems don't go away. They just get worse."

One problem that has attracted Anderson's attention is homelessness. "It's a national disaster. When a homeless person comes up and asks me for change, I don't get mad, but it does make me mad that he has no job and hasn't been taken care of. If these people continue to grow and raise homeless families, we're going to have a Third World on our hands. The only ones who can fix it are the ones in that community."

Two years ago in Flint, Mich., Anderson and his manager's sister started HERO (Homeless Empowerment Relations Organization), which links a homeless person to someone with a home. Run much like a Big Brother or Big Sister program, HERO offers goal-setting, view-sharing and reaching out 90 minutes a week.

"Our goal is to go out of business," said Anderson, noting that 18 of the 20 original clients have found homes. "The theory is that the humanity in us is where the answers lie. I use my humor and see what I can do, but we all have the power to do something for ourselves and others."

It's unfortunate, he said, that it takes an Oklahoma City bombing or a plane crash to bring out compassion. "When there's a crisis, the real human beings come forward. I'm just sorry we need a crisis to spur that.

"We need to get back to the idea of caring for each other. I know it sounds silly and almost maudlin, but it comes from the heart. Talking like this doesn't benefit my career, but I do know what is important to me--understanding, love and compassion. And when they give you 14 doughnuts instead of a dozen."


Anderson also worries that isolation is becoming a way of life. "The Freemen and the Unabomber isolated themselves. That's never a solution. Pretty soon we're going to be gated communities just trying to survive rather than really living. We can't allow the government to encourage us to lock ourselves in more. I know we have to protect ourselves, but we must realize how much is lost. What good is life if you're not living it? There's no way to isolate yourself from 6 billion people.

"I have to make all that funny," he added. "That's the dilemma for a comic. He thinks serious, and he thinks funny. I think all great stand-ups are really just serious-thinking people who have a gift for making people laugh. You can't lecture people, because they get turned off by it, but when they're opened up and vulnerable, you can throw little ideas in there. There's nothing people love more than when they've been completely entertained and made to think too."

* Louie Anderson performs tonight through Saturday at the Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. $15-$20. (714) 854-5455.

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