Hollywood is mourning Louie Anderson following his death on Friday. The actor and stand-up comedian rose to fame as a comic before co-creating the animated series Life With Louie, hosting a revival of Family Feud and making an Emmy-winning turn as Christine Baskets on the FX series Baskets. Anderson had been undergoing cancer treatment after being diagnosed with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Here, writer and comedian Travon Free, an Emmy winner for his work on The Daily Show and Oscar winner for directing the short film Two Distant Strangers, remembers his mentor and friend.
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When I started my stand-up comedy career in college in 2007, there were a number of big-name comics I’d admired greatly and even dreamed of making rooms laugh the way they did. Along the way to where I find myself in my career today, I’d met and worked with many of them, and some even became friends. One of them was Louie Anderson.
I consider myself lucky to be friends with Louie. We were introduced in 2011 by another comic friend, Halli Borgfjord, and soon after, it became immediately apparent to me why everyone loved Louie. He remains one of the kindest, warmest and funniest people I not only had the pleasure of working with but getting to just be around and learn from in everyday life.
Anyone starting out in stand-up comedy knows it’s a long, hellacious road to making a living on stage. You get by on a lot of favors and comedy club chicken fingers. And if you’re good enough, a headliner will take you on the road with them so that you can keep paying your portion of the rent with your three roommates back in L.A. For myself, the people who took me under their wings were Russell Peters and Louie Anderson.
To say I was broke in 2012 would be a massive understatement. According to Bank of America, I had negative money. So, over the course of the year, when I was on the verge of selling a kidney or two, I could call up Louie, and with no hesitation, he’d put a group of us young guys up at the Palace Station Casino where he performed every night and let us open for him.
He was that kind of guy. The kind of guy who would talk to my mom on the phone like they were old friends. The kind of guy who would make you feel great about every set you performed and was waiting for you in the wings with punchline suggestions you couldn’t believe you didn’t see right in front of your face. Louie cared about comedy so much, but above that, he cared more about people.
In September of 2012, after we’d finished a weekend with him, he’d offered to co-sign a comedy tour for myself and some of the other comics he would have open for him like Eli Braden and Pauly Casillas. We were going to get big, splashy posters with our names and faces, and the giant “Louie Anderson Presents” printed above our heads. But four days after that weekend with Louie, I was offered a writing job on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and I had to put my touring dreams aside. I would next see Louie at the Emmys, the same place he’d said he’d see my mom in the inscription of the book he signed to her, and I got to give him a big hug and play a little catch-up.
These are some of the memories I’ll cherish most.
We saw it mentioned a lot during the outpouring of love when Bob Saget recently passed, and you will hear it a lot when people talk about Louie Anderson: kindness. In everything he did, he did it with kindness, and I wish there were more people like him in this business and the world. I’ll miss hearing him say my name in his iconic voice, but more than that, I’ll miss you, Louie.
Rest in paradise, my friend.