Another great has passed, and though we will always have his body of work to enjoy, there is nothing like seeing a master comedian at work. If you never had the chance to see Louis Anderson weave comedy gossamer live on a stage, you really missed something.
Comedy can be many things, but in my forty-nine years as a comedian I have never seen anyone do comedy the way Louis did. He gently, unhurriedly, delivered the most poignant, incisive, empathetic, hilarious, honest comedy I’ve ever seen. He was so gentle the harsh truths of his and all our lives didn’t sting. But they certainly hit their mark. He took his time onstage, as if spontaneously thinking of what to say next, yet the show was so beautifully written, so well reasoned, it surprised and delighted at every turn.
Louis could play anywhere, because his act was so human, so humane. He could probably do the same show at a retirement home he’d do to Hell’s Angels and get a standing ovation in both places (okay, maybe not a full standing ovation at a retirement home). We worked outdoor, out of control, wide open county fairs together back in the day. Open air stages in the bright sunlight of late afternoon. Motorcycles speeding by right in front of us, laughter, eating, running, shouting, music; I don’t remember but I think the money must have been great for us to venture into that comedy hell. And yet there was Louis, as quiet as ever onstage, having faith that they’d come around, lean in, start to listen, always triumphing in the end. He emanated vulnerability, the seeming opposite of much comedy, but it made people love him.
I loved the show “Baskets”, where Louie played Christine, a character based on his mother. Not a moment’s hesitation for the audience to suspend disbelief. His Christine was so real, so believable as a put upon woman dealing with two sons and romance and life, and never once gave us a distorted parody of what someone who had no idea of women’s lives thought a woman should be. What a heart he had! There was a scene at the end of one of the episodes where Louis as Christine puts on her black bathing suit and all alone, walks into the water, finally enjoying the relief of it, looking at the lights, breathing out, and I cried my eyes out. I wished she was my mother.
He was so full of love, onstage and off. He never walked by a panhandler without giving, he never left a waiting fan without an autograph or photo no matter how many he’d already done. He kept in touch with friends and went above and beyond. The last time I saw Louie was right before the pandemic when our mutual friend Doug Kleiman took me to New York’s Cutting Room to see Louie’s act. That show blew me away. To have been in comedy that long and still come up with a show as strong and stunning as in the beginning is no easy thing. I was floored. He was fantastic.
Please don’t say to me “Sorry for your loss”. We weren’t close friends, but part of the comedy family where we all seem to keep tabs on each other. With his voice silenced, I would say to you rather, “Sorry for our loss”.
When I started performing at The Comedy Store in 1976, Paul Mooney was already a star there, leaving audiences exhausted from laughter. I remember so many of his great bits. They were always funny first, but also always packed with cultural awareness and justifiable anger. Paul was a justice crusader his entire life. He was funny, smart and fierce; scary if you didn’t know him and sometimes scary even if you did.
One day I ran into Mooney down my street at Ralph’s grocery store (comics are always amazed to see each other in daylight). I invited him up the block to my house for coffee.
“I don’t drink coffee.” (And remember, he really liked me.)
“Well how about a cup of tea?”
“Oh, you wanna bring a black man up to a fancy white neighborhood to see a fancy white people’s house you think he’s never seen before?” That was Mooney’s first response to everything and anything you might say to him.
“Paul, let’s go to the movies.”
“Oh, you think a black man never saw a movie before? He needs a white lady to get him into the movies?”
He agrees to come over for tea. In those days, I drank only one kind of tea. I thought it was the most special delicious tea I’d ever had. So Paul’s sitting at the kitchen table and we’re talking, and I’m boiling the kettle and putting the cups on the table. And he’s talking and I put the box of tea on the table and go back to the sink, and I realize I don’t hear him talking any more.
“Paul? Paul?” He’s nowhere to be found. I hear his car pull out of the driveway. I don’t know what happened. Then I see it. There on the table is the box of tea: “Plantation Mint”.
At least twenty years ago, while I was walking along Fifty Seventh St. in Manhattan, stopping at Fifth Avenue to wait for the light so I could cross, I saw the most amazing thing. Across Fifth, a limo pulled to a quick stop. A beautiful man in a gorgeous suit jumped out and stood, looking around him. Within ten seconds, like dropping a huge dollop of honey in the middle of an ant colony, people on the street immediately started crowding Muhammad Ali. I saw paper and pens and pencils go high up in the air (no cell phones then), all shoved in his direction. He was smiling to the shouts of “Ali! Ali! Champ! Champ!”, and just started signing away. No announcement, no bodyguards. Cars stopped, traffic jammed. A police officer made his way to the center of the crowd to shake Ali’s hand. After five minutes he waved, jumped back in his limo, and was gone.
What a great time to be The Greatest. He might have just invented the Flash Mob. He didn’t have to check twitter to see how he was doing. He didn’t have to check Wiki, or IMDB, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or his Facebook fan page, or be isolated by virtual reality. His reality check was to check reality. He went headlong into it, saw he was definitely still trending, and with a big smile, The Greatest went about the rest of his day.
What a gorgeous spring day. Muriel and I had agreed to meet in the park, as usual. I was late, as usual. I had been held up by an hour of phone calls back and forth to lawyers, dealing with a horrible woman who was threatening to sue me, based on nothing. One great thing about America, anybody can sue anybody for anything or nothing, and you have to deal with it. I was pretty worked up by this point, mulling it over and over on my twenty block walk to our spot in the park. By the time I got there, steam was coming off the top of my head.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Argh!! This c**t is driving me crazy!!”
“NO! No no no no no no no. Never never ever say that word. Ever!”
“Muriel, I never use that word. But she really is a c**t.”
“Stop it! Don’t say it again.”
“I know the difference between a bitch and a c**t, and in this case this is the right word.”
“I don’t care what she did to you, there’s no place on earth for that word. Don’t ever say it in my presence again. I’m not kidding.”
“I’m a writer. You don’t think I chose that word carefully?”
“You’re not funny.” She starts to scooter away, angry. I run alongside.
“Okay. I’m sorry. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.”
“Never. Do you want a tissue?”
“A hard candy?”
“Well, that’s all I have.”
What a gorgeous fall day. I go up to Muriel’s apartment, because she can’t come to the park. Her scooter has been dying in the street for months. She’s been dangerously stranded more than once, definitely relying on the kindness of strangers to get her home. She needs a new scooter. Medicare has been stalling her all summer. She has been a virtual prisoner, under house arrest, missing the most gorgeous weather in New York City history. It’s unconscionable that a system set up to serve the elderly literally leaves them trapped in their apartments months on end for no reason except bureaucracy. Or maybe stupidity. They don’t know or care if she has a support system. For all they know she could be down to eating cat food. Or kale. It’s not right.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“Argh! I still can’t get my scooter.”
“This is still going on? I can’t believe it.”
“They’re waiting for me to die. They look at my age, and they keep stalling. They think if they can avoid paying for a new scooter long enough I’ll drop dead.”
“What can you do?”
“I just spent SIX HOURS on the phone with a woman at Medicare. I decided I was not going to hang up until I had a DATE for that SCOOTER to be delivered here. SIX HOURS!!!”
I had never seen her so angry.
“My God. Six hours for real? How? What did she say for six hours?”
“Nothing!! She kept putting me on hold!! I was on hold for four out of the six hours!!!!! But I wouldn’t go away!!!! And she kept STALLING me, and coming up with all kinds of EXCUSES, and leaving me on hold again and again AND AGAIN!!!!!!!…….
(Though animal rescue is the jumping off point here, my Tails of Joy website is for being uplifting and rescue-y, and this post is more put-downing and comed-y).
We received this email on our Tails of Joy contact page today:
To: Tails of Joy
From: (Oh Peeps, I wish I could)
I moved out of CA. I’m in AZ now. I wanted to let you know that I had to remove myself from your Tails of Joy group and also you in general, which deeply broke my heart. I realize you are a public figure but you aligned yourself with Hillary Clinton a few months ago. That’s cool and your choice to do so. But I am a deeply political person and my roots lie elsewhere. I cannot trust you nor your organization or anyone that does this, either side, your organization is supposed to be for the betterment of dogs and I wanted to trust your organization to take care of my babies when I pass and also give money. Since it is so deeply opposing to me in many ways, I do not trust you, nor your organization and therefore felt unsafe leaving my most precious assets, the only thing I have been given to by Jesus here on earth, my dogs, to take care of.
I still think you are a funny comedian but moved on and got out of watching comics. They tend to only support Dems and slam and massacre Republicans or Trump fans and that is so beyond insulting it’s shameless on all of your parts.
Take care and good luck with Hillary and Bernie and all of the other things you hold dear and therefore so does your organization.
I have my babies in trust with organizations that will take care of them and there is no political bullshit.
NAME (If only I could)
And (pets names) – Marley, Abby and Jasper
(I sincerely believe her pets did not give her permission to use their names on that.) Okay, so..
Dear (OH how I wish I could)
We were so happy when you contacted us months ago about including Tails of Joy in your estate planning. To that end we spent lots of time on the phone with you, answering all your questions, educating you about rescue, helping you explore all the different ways you could truly make a difference in the lives of desperate animals about to die. Then today we received your email. This will be my only answer to you, now and in future.
Intelligent grownups learn to work together for the greater good of their callings despite any private ideological or political differences, which never come up in, or affect the life saving work of, the world of animal rescue. Congress can’t do it, but rescuers can. I wouldn’t vote for Sarah Palin, but I’d save her cat.
By example, there are several rescue groups I have spent years working closely with, saving lives, helping each other, and socializing. One night our work went long, so I made some dinner and we started watching the 6 o’ clock news together. My greatest ally and dear friend from one of the rescue groups made a comment during the newscast, which led me to say, “Wait a minute, you’re a born again Christian? Anti-choice and everything?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “What a great tribute to us that in all these years of saving animals it never came up!!” And we fell down laughing. As I am a public figure, she certainly knew my views, but we accepted each other totally as dedicated fellow rescuers, spending our lives and our money doing something much bigger than nurturing a small-minded, selfish world view; thinking only of “me” and “mine” and trying to control others. We continue to work together in a spirit of friendship, love, and charity. THAT is what honest, decent people who are dedicated to a cause do. It’s called walking the walk. Animals about to die in the pound don’t care who you vote for, they just need rescue, medical help, love and kindness, and that’s what we give them, every day. What have you done for Jesus lately?
For twenty years, Tails of Joy has supported and given out “Little Guy Grants” to small rescue organizations across America. That includes Arizona, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Georgia, and dozens of cities all throughout the republican strongholds of the south and midwest. I never stopped to ask the rescuers I was giving checks to there who they were voting for, what their religion was, or if they thought poor women who already had six children should be forced to carry a seventh after being raped. It didn’t matter to the sick and desperate dogs and cats about to be killed due to lack of space, or crawling bloody in the road after being shot with pellet guns, or who had their jaws blown off after firecrackers were taped into their mouths and exploded. In Ohio, it’s legal to shoot a dog if he is chasing a sheep or another dog. He doesn’t even have to reach him. If you want to follow him home and kill him, though he did nothing, that is legal too. You are allowed to “pursue a dog for a reasonable time“. I don’t like that law or the state government that made it, or the people who voted that government in. According to you then, I should turn my back on homeless animals in Ohio. But I don’t, because the rescuers there are saving lives, and that is what matters. I have no personal litmus test for helping rescuers rescue. I am a true rescuer, and nothing else about me has any bearing on the amount of lives Tails of Joy has saved for decades. Animals are non-partisan. By law, non-profit organizations are also non-partisan, though somebody ought to tell that to the church.
How ironic that the word “spiritual” is part of your chosen email name. I will chalk that up to your clearly great sense of humor. Yes, I am a public figure. You knew exactly who I was as my views have been open and public for forty three years. If I have suddenly “broken your heart” because you “just noticed” my favoring some political party (a party which also “rescues”; the poor, the under-served, desperate women, ailing seniors, hungry children, newly-arrived-to-America human beings, etc. etc.), I call bullshit.
When someone tells us he/she is considering a bequest to Tails of Joy, we listen. Until you, every donor I spent hours on the phone educating and working with did indeed kindly leave Tails of Joy money to continue our fantastic work. After one conversation with you I said to my treasurer, “There’s nothing here”. But because every rescue organization is always in such great financial need, he convinced me to continue phone calls with you, though I knew better. How many animals died while I listened to you prattle on? The only animals you care about are your own. We have re-homed the orphaned pets of hundreds of people who died having made no arrangements for their future, left no money to care for them, and probably never donated a cent to a rescue group during their lifetimes. We don’t punish the animals for that, even if their previous owners watched Fox News. And I never, ever made any one of those dogs or cats vote for a Democrat. That’s their business. I’ve spent endless hours and dollars trying to help save elephants, despite their links to the GOP. I hope it’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio you have left your dogs to so they can continue living in the bubble to which they have become accustomed.
Tails of Joy does not vote. Tails of Joy does not campaign or endorse. There is not one whiff of politics or partisanship on the scores of pages on Tails of Joy. But here is the difference between rescuers and dilettantes. I won’t be voting for Donald Trump. But if he is elected, I would do everything in my power to help him make his time in office successful for the betterment of our country. You seriously need to make an immediate, sizable donation to Tails of Joy to get right with your maker for wasting so much of our time that would have been spent doing the Lord’s life saving work. It’s what Jesus would want, as you so well know in your generous, intelligent, open heart. You are a miracle.
Anyone who has ever seen me perform knows I love Peeps. In my “Live Nude Girls” special, I pledge my eternal love to the delicious bringers of sweetened smiles. That special aired on various networks for many years, and for years, fans brought Peeps to my shows; in their original form, in hilarious “art” pieces, even in the form of home made Peeps jewelry. And then one amazing day, cruel fate gave me everything I could have ever dreamed of Peeps-wise, and I couldn’t accept.
I was playing a college in snow covered, freezing, okay, kinda dreary, Elmira NY. It was one stop on an extended tour, on which I travelled with only carry-on luggage, as the shows were fly- and -perform -same -day. Waiting for luggage after each flight was not an option. Delayed bags could mean a missed show. Luckily, I have my packing needs down to the point where I could vacation in Europe bringing only a manila envelope. I walked into the college dressing room and Oh Joy of Joys!! I could not believe my eyes. The “Just Born” company, makers of Peeps, headquartered nearby, had filled every square inch of the room with boxes of Peeps for me! Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, inch by inch, step by step, quickly I turned..
What to do? I didn’t have enough time to make them into an edible wardrobe to bring along (believe me I thought about it). But I couldn’t walk out on the mother lode of all Peeps. I had promised to visit a retirement/medical rehab facility the next day on my way to the airport, a cheery visit for the residents. Wait. Wouldn’t it be great to show up with a colorful truckload of their favorite childhood candy to brighten up their snow bound, age bound last rest stop on their highway of life in Elmira? Yes. Yes it would.
I hired a truck and got to the home the next day with plenty of time before my flight. I had the orderlies help me bring in carton after carton of Peeps. The residents’ eyes lit up. Restricted diets don’t often leave much room for days like this. These elderly, frail people looked as happy as little kids, watching this glorious Peeps feast unfold. They couldn’t wait for the boxes to be opened. And open them we did, pink and yellow bunnies and chickies flying in a fireworks of color, sugary powder, thick marshmallow. Box after box being passed to eager elderly people with dry constricted throats. Such anticipation! And then, the choking began.