It was inching close to midnight after a long day of filming The Louie Show in front of a live audience. The crew was ready to wrap, and Paul Feig still had to reshoot a scene from earlier in the day where his character’s lines were filled with medical jargon. He was feeling the pressure to get his scene done in a single take. But Louie Anderson was there. “Don’t let them pressure you,” Anderson told him. “You’ve got to get it right. And if you have a hard time, don’t feel like the whole thing is on your shoulders.”
Feig, who later went on to create the cult-classic TV show Freaks and Geeks and served as Executive Producer for The Office, felt the pressure dissipate. For an actor with only a few shows under his belt at the time, hearing that from a comic giant was reassuring. “And so I was able to pull it off,” Feig tells Rolling Stone. “Because the pressure was gone.” Anderson was just that kind of guy.
Feig remembers Anderson — who died Friday at age 68 due to complications with blood cancer — as a generous, loving man who made sure everyone felt like part of a family. The two only worked together briefly. The Louie Show, the 1996 sitcom about a Minnesota psychologist that starred Louie, Feig and Bryan Cranston, lasted only six episodes. But despite the show’s short-lived run, Anderson knew how to make the set feel like home.
Once, while filming during the holidays, Anderson ordered hundreds of turkeys for the entire crew to take home to their families.
“There were mountains of boxes,” Feig says. “I had never seen a star of a show do something like that for the entire crew.” It was a random act of kindness that only Anderson could pull off.
“He was just a very warm, generous guy who believed in treating people well,” Feig added. “He always loved the idea of creating a family with the people he worked with.”
As a young comedian, Feig always admired Anderson’s approach to stand-up, even if it was much different than his own. “His delivery was so unique because he was low-key in a time when everything was very big and broad,” he says. “Louie was so quiet but devastatingly funny — in a way that made nobody feel bad.”
Anderson taught Feig to take his time, and to be confident in his comedic delivery. “You don’t have to go balls to the wall. You don’t have to push it so hard and it actually makes it funnier,” Feig explains. “He could pull that off, which is very hard to do.”
“It leaves you feeling sad that audiences won’t get to experience that again,” he says. But perhaps, he added, “People get to live forever — because we get to watch them.”
With Anderson, it could be watching him channel the energy of his own mother as Christine in Baskets, listening to his voice as a chubby animated version of himself in Life with Louie, seeing him cause contestants to crack as the host of Family Feud, or rewatch the thousands of video clips of his one-of-a-kind stand-up. Seeing his contagious, gapped-tooth smile and patient, yet hilarious storytelling simply “leaves the world in a better place,” Feig says.
The last time Feig and Anderson saw each other was after one of Anderson’s shows in Vegas. Feig attended with a few other comedians and hung out with the Baskets star after his routine. “There was never a bad moment with him,” Feig says. “Ever.”