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November 21, 2014

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Life with Louie

Who: Louie Anderson.

When: 9 p.m. today through Wednesday.

Where: MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre.

Cost: $35.

Information: Call 891-7777.

There are many reasons why people achieve and maintain fame.

There are those in possession of the pouty, sultry lips or granite jaws so desired by a culture obsessed with beauty.

There are those in possession of a natural talent or gift so marvelous, it leaves mere mortals slack-jawed in awe.

There are those in possession of such a generous, kind spirit, you simply wish nothing but the best for them.

Such is the case of comedian Louie Anderson.

Perhaps an extension of his 300-plus-pound appearance, the performer is congenial during a cellular phone interview from an In & Out Burger parking lot. At times he's downright contrite, repeatedly apologizing for having rescheduled the interview. It soon becomes readily apparent that this is not an act for the media; this is simply Anderson being Anderson.

It should come as no surprise then that the comic's generosity spills over to his fans. He appreciates them, and they respond in kind. Anderson still recalls what it's like to be on the opposing side of fame; to stare at larger-than-life figures whose mere presence somehow enriches us all.

And during the course of the interview, as if on cue from some hidden film director, a fan who recognized the comedian walked up to the car Anderson was in to say hello.

Anderson excused himself momentarily from the myriad of questions hurled in his direction to exchange pleasantries. Then a few minutes later the fan returned to see if he could have his photo taken with the comedian. Anderson happily obliged.

"I remember I was with a famous comedian when a young fan walked up and asked for an autograph," said Anderson, who is appearing at the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre through Wednesday. "The (comedian) blew him off. I'll never forget the look on the young boy's face. He was devastated."

Remembering is a habit Anderson has made a career out of. From his painful experiences as an overweight boy growing up in his native Minnesota to his father's alcoholism and the dysfunction it caused for his family -- Anderson is the second youngest of 10 siblings -- the comic has always mined the seemingly bleak for laughs.

Although it might seem odd for Anderson to find humor in his pain, he sees it as "cathartic." It's also helpful, he said, for some people in the audience who may hear his stories and better learn to handle their own misfortunes.

That certainly was the case in 1989 when he wrote "Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child," a series of personal essays of things he never said to his father, who had recently died. The book was a magnet to those who grew up in the same circumstances, and was a best-seller.

And now it's playing an increasingly bigger role in his show, with Anderson for the first time playing a character in his act -- his father.

"It's sort of my dad's response to my letters," he said. "It's a way for people to see him."

Perhaps because this portion of the act is new and used on a limited basis -- Anderson won't be performing the character every night -- the comedian was still unsure of how the routine would go over with audiences.

One thing he's not worried about, though, are the responses from his family.

Before Anderson raids the familial archives for laughs, he checks with members of his family for approval. For example, before "Dear Dad" was published, his family read it over, with the right to veto anything deemed too personal or inappropriate to be included, which is something they almost never do, he said.

Then there's Anderson's soon-to-be-released documentary that he's worked on for 10 years. The film chronicles his life off stage, and includes interviews with the Anderson clan. This allowed them the freedom to express themselves in their own words.

Overall, Anderson said, the family enjoys the humor he finds in their familiar stories and memories -- such as one of the comedian's brothers who served time in prison. Not only did the brother approve of the inclusion of his incarceration, he laughed about it as well.

Of course, Anderson has other sources of humor besides his comedic nepotism -- his weight being the most notable. Heavy most of his life, the rotund one has become a sort of spokesman for the weight-challenged.

For example, when Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura made some derogatory comments about the obese in his now-infamous Playboy interview, Anderson took him to task.

Among the governor's quips: "Every fat person says it's not their fault, that they have gland trouble. You know which gland? The saliva gland. They can't push away from the table."

So the comedian, who serves as host of the syndicated "Family Feud" game show, offered a challenge to the former wrestler-turned-actor-turned politician in October: Come on the show and participate in a match of five overweight celebs and five thin celebs, with the still-beefy Ventura serving on the svelte side.

The idea was that if the fat team lost, Anderson would donate $100,000 to Ventura's favorite charity, and shed 100 pounds in a year. If the thin team lost, the governor would have to start a program for young people who are overweight.

Although Ventura ultimately nixed the offer -- "I guess he didn't need the publicity," Anderson conceded -- the comedian harbors no ill feelings toward him. Rather, Anderson views Ventura as helping perpetuate a stereotype about overweight people eating too much because they can't say no.

"It's a glanduar thing, as well as an emotional thing," he said.

But it's not something to ignore, as evidenced by the deaths of overweight comedians John Candy and Chris Farley. Although Candy's family had a history of heart problems -- his father died in his mid-30s -- and Farley's death was due to an overdose, Anderson still has taken notice.

He exercises more now -- usually with a game of golf or walking -- and, other than the caloric intake, leads a pretty healthy life. In fact, the comedian said that his family has a history of long lives -- into their late 70s, early 80s -- which he expects to emulate.

If he does, it will simply be further proof that nice guys do finish last.

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