The Best Comedic Debuts on 'The Tonight Show'

Legendary sets that made careers of Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Roseanne and more

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Louie Anderson

The turning point of Louie Anderson's first Tonight Show set lies in this self-referential joke: "People say, Louie, why do you do those fat jokes? Because if I didn't, you guys would sit out there and go, ‘You think he knows he's that big?'" Yes, Anderson is big, and if he'd rather make an audience laugh at him ("I can't stay long, I'm in between meals, so bear with me.") than have them quietly sniggering to themselves. For that reason, he designed his set to tackle the obvious before relaxing into a bit more slice-of-life storytelling about his childhood and his rifle-toting father, with plenty of remembered detail. Anderson's dad, a recurring character in his stand-up, "would say things that made no sense when you were a kid. He'd be driving, the traffic would get rough, ‘You know, if I was the last person on earth, some moron would turn left in front of me.'" Throughout, Anderson's calm, cool demeanor lets the audience sympathize regardless of the context. Some of the careful, physical gestures of this set from November 20th, 1984, such as his dad's incredulous glances, help contextualize future roles such as his strangely gentle portrayal of Zach Galifianakis' mom in Baskets.

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