DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. The FX comedy series "Baskets" is back for a second season with out guest, comic Louie Anderson, again wearing a dress in the role that won him an outstanding supporting actor Emmy last fall. Anderson has had a successful career in stand-up, but much of his material comes from a dark place. He grew up in St. Paul, Minn., in a housing project with an alcoholic father and 10 siblings. Like his character on "Baskets," he's had ongoing battles with his weight and with depression. We're going to listen to the interview he recorded last year with Terry, but first, let's hear him in "Baskets," which stars Zach Galifianakis as a failed rodeo clown named Chip. Louie Anderson plays his mother, Christine. In this scene from the new season, Chip has been arrested and Christine has come to bail him out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BASKETS")
LOUIE ANDERSON: (As Christine) Oh, I can't believe it. When Dale told me...
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Dale told you.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) ...I thought, oh, my God, my son? I don't even see my Chippy (ph) in there. I just see a jail bird.
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Mom, I don't want you worrying about me anymore, OK? It's not worth it for you.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) What did you do to get in here?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Mom, it was just - it was trespassing and mischief, I think.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) Mischief?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Mischief, yeah, general mischief.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) Mischief.
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Mischief.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) Were you chasing a mouse around?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) No.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) Chip, is it because I sent your French wife away?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) No, that's not it.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) You know, Chip, I provide a house for you. I give you food. I give you money. I brought - I bought you tennis shoes. I paid for your clown college.
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) I don't know what to tell you, Mom. I'm a millennial.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) What does that even mean?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) I actually don't know.
ANDERSON: (As Christine) Well, I'm your mother. Do you know what that means? Does it mean anything to you?
GALIFIANAKIS: (As Chip Baskets) Yes, Mom.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Louie Anderson, welcome to FRESH AIR and congratulations on your performance in "Baskets."
ANDERSON: Thanks, Terry.
GROSS: Now, Zach Galifianakis told us that when he was casting the part of the mother - the part that you play - he heard a voice in his head and he did that voice for Louis C.K., who produces "Baskets." And Louis C.K. said, oh, you mean like Louie Anderson's voice. So they decided, well, why not call Louie Anderson? So they called you. Did you have any reservations about whether you could convincingly play a woman?
ANDERSON: No. Unfortunately, I did not. I grew up with a really great, strong woman in my mother of 11 children and five wonderful sisters. And so I didn't have any - and I'd been doing my mom's act, her voice, to some degree in my act for, you know, several years.
GROSS: What's the difference between your voice and your mom voice?
ANDERSON: Well, my voice is, you know, the voice I'm speaking to you in and my mom's voice is (imitating mom's voice) Terry Gross, huh? Now, what is that? Is that Irish - Gross? Is that Irish or are you - is it British?
That would be more my mom. Terry, I've always liked that name - my mom was never without a compliment.
GROSS: (Laughter) Whether she meant it or not.
ANDERSON: I think she meant it. She loved people and she loved conversation, and she loved to engage with people. She was a really fantastic person. You would've really liked her.
GROSS: What other qualities did you take from your mother to give to your character of the mother in "Baskets?"
ANDERSON: Well, she was a little passive-aggressive, you know, that little side. She just could slide stuff in and you'd go, did I just get cut by a really sharp razor? (Laughter) Mom, what did - you know, she just had that - she had that thing. She was a little competitive, but she loved to show off. She was a show-off. I really love playing this part for a big reason that my mom gets to come to life. It's the weirdest thing. When you get a wig - when that wig and the makeup comes on - you know, I work on the transformation, I think, while I'm getting dressed.
GROSS: Yeah, what about the dresses? You wear these, like, big dresses with large, bold, primary color patterns, you know, caftans, long necklaces, an Easter bonnet in one scene. How do wearing those clothes help you get into character, and who do those clothes remind you of?
ANDERSON: Well, the first day that I went in to see the clothes, it was early, early on. We were all going to meet and do a group photo I think it was. And there was a big wall of clothes, and I just went through it. And I go this would be good, this would be good, and I just thought of my mom and my sisters. I said, this'll be good. I said, that's out, nothing like that. They have to be really colorful. Make them enter the room sometimes before the - I will. You know, make them what a person who hasn't got a lot of money thinks is really fancy. Make it real American. Make her a big American woman. And I have to tell you, it was kind of - even though I never dressed up in my mom's clothes or never had any real desire to put it on, I always remember how soft her clothes were. You know, my mom always had soft, like, a lot of jersey knits and my mom was ahead of her time. She wore pantsuits, and she goes, you know what I like about a pantsuit, Louie? And I go, what, Mom? I just look so good in it.
GROSS: (Laughter) Was she a plus-sized woman?
ANDERSON: She was. She was a big girl.
GROSS: And there's a scene - after she's kind of spurned by her adopted twins, she takes to her room with, like, a tub of ice cream and a big scoop and is eating it lying on her side, eating it from the scoop. And it...
ANDERSON: Now, that would've never been my mom. I've done that. I'm a food addict. You know, I go to OA and I really work hard on trying to eat better, especially lately. I've been really working hard on it. And so I know what that's like. When you're really down, if you're any kind of an addicted person, you are not eating for flavor and you're not eating for - you're eating for some comfort that can never come from what you're doing. There's no comfort that could actually come from it. But there is a familiarity that I think comes with it. But I feel like this part gave me an opportunity to play the most real person - a really real person. That's what I was really going for here, Terry. I was really going for a really real person. I don't know if that even makes any sense...
GROSS: No, it does. That's what I love about your portrayal. It's, like - it's funny but it's also sad because she's sad a lot of the time and feels, you know, rejected and lonely. But it's never, like, pathos, you know?
ANDERSON: I think a lot of women are sad.
GROSS: Well, I think a lot of everybody is sad (laughter).
ANDERSON: Yes, but I mean - but, yes, I agree that a lot of everybody is sad. But, you know, this whole thing about raising all the kids, you know, so much - I remember my dad would work and my mom raised the kids. And it was a weird - like, it was a much - it was very lopsided in one sense, you know? And I even - I figured that out early on, you know, 'cause I think my mom, all she did was wash clothes and put them in the dryer and then fed us and then, you know, washed clothes and put them in the - you know, it was just very...
GROSS: Yeah, 11 kids.
DAVIES: Louie Anderson co-stars in the FX comedy series "Baskets," now in its second season. We'll hear more of his interview with Terry after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER'S "BLACK AND TAN FANTASY")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're listening to Terry's interview with comic Louie Anderson, who co-stars in the FX comedy series "Baskets." They spoke last year shortly after Anderson's brother had passed away.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: I was very sorry to hear about your brother Tommy, who died last week in his sleep. And this was, like, your youngest sibling. You had been the youngest of 10. Then he was born, he was the youngest.
ANDERSON: No he was - yeah. I was the youngest of 10 and he was...
GROSS: It sounds like his death was totally unexpected. You've described him as your inspiration. In what sense was he that?
ANDERSON: Well, you know, like, he was my - you know, such a good friend. And, you know, he was really smart. He was the kind of guy you could call up and go, what do you think? He'd go, ah, that's all crap; that's all bull; don't do that; that's no good. You know, like, he was just that kind of guy. He had a thing we called the truth ranger where he goes, everybody should tell the truth as long as it doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. And I just laughed, and I'd go, Tommy, you're so sweet. Of course, it's going to hurt people's feelings if you always tell them the truth. Well, you know, you just don't know how to tell them the truth, then, Louie. And I'd go, maybe not. But it broke my heart. My heart's completely broken right now.
GROSS: When you did comedy about him...
GROSS: ...Did you run it past him first? And if so, what...
ANDERSON: No, I never did. But people didn't - my family didn't get mad. I didn't even know I had to run it by him, do you know what I mean? I regret some of the books that I wrote 'cause I think I hurt people's feelings. And I forgot one thing. One thing to remember when you're successful, famous, whatever you want to call it - well-known, not that well-known - whatever you want to go. One thing to remember is your family's not famous, and they're not well-known. And even though you can handle it, that doesn't mean they can. And that's the biggest regret I have. I should never - I should have run it all by them. And yes, they all read it before I ever published anything, but still, I didn't realize - you know what I mean? Like, I'm in show business. I've always been in show business. I kind of know how it works. Well, they're not - they're my sibling, but they're not in show business.
GROSS: Well, one of the things you've joked about about your younger brother is that you used to torment him.
ANDERSON: I mean, I used to tell him he was adopted. I said, you were adopted. And I used to say they were frog-face people - pretty soon, your eyes are going to pop out.
ANDERSON: Your eyes are going to pop out.
GROSS: How old were you when you stopped tormenting him?
ANDERSON: Just before he died.
ANDERSON: (Laughter) He'd like that. I think there was always a little bit of a - like, Tommy used to get really mad at me if I interrupted him. Tommy was a very really precise person, so - and he suffered from, you know, some bipolar stuff and those kind of things and a little bit of paranoia. And he didn't have an easy life. He had a tough life. And he lived on the streets for many years. And finally - you know, I always would take care of him if I could. And finally I said, Tommy, I'm not going to - you've got to get it together. I'm not going to help you anymore. You're just being unreasonable. And that was with some advice from a good friend because I was at my wit's end. My good friend said, listen, he's got to hit bottom, and then he'll be able to deal with it. And it was really good. It was good advice because he did. And he said, Louie, I need your help. He said, when he asks for your help, then you'll be of use. He said, Louie, I need your help. And I said, Tommy, you know - you know what you should do, Tommy? Your sisters could really use your help. I think you should move back home and take care of your sisters. I think they could really use your help. And so, like, five or six years ago, he moved back to Minnesota and he really did - he took care of my sister, one sister, until she passed away - and my other sisters - and he really helped. And we had a service for him Sunday, and people talked about how much that he had done for them. And it was really - I was really touched by how many people loved Tommy. I thought I was the only one who loved him that much. But of course, my whole family loved him, and we're going to miss him.
GROSS: Does having a younger brother who died - and you're around 63, he was 60 - has that made you think a lot about your own mortality?
ANDERSON: You know, it's so funny. Like, mortality - the first time I really felt anything about mortality was in 1990 when my mom died. That's where I really went, oh, my God, I think I could die now, you know what I mean? Like, I came from my mom. She died. It was, you know, very devastating. When I lost my dad - you know, my dad was a really bad drunk but a really funny guy, and he stuck with us, and he stayed. My mom - I'll never forget. My dad quit drinking when was 69, and here was my mom's response. She turned to me and she said, I told you he'd quit drinking.
ANDERSON: And I just said that - and, you know, that's who the character Christine is, don't you think? Don't you think that in a nutshell that that's Christine?
GROSS: You know, you were saying mental illness runs in your family. And your thing, I think, was maybe depression.
ANDERSON: Yeah, I'd say depression. I definitely think that.
GROSS: So depression always seems to go hand in hand with comedy. You know, I think most comics, you know, have either some kind of, like, bipolar or depression disorder. And I'm not sure why they go together, but they do. So maybe you have some idea.
ANDERSON: Yeah, I mean, I think the reason that they go together is because, you know, if you look at that depression long enough, you have to tip it on its side and look at the other side and find some humor in it. I tried to kill myself but the rope broke, and that would be a joke that I could probably do and get a laugh out of.
GROSS: Well, well...
ANDERSON: I mean, I have to be very careful about how I do any stuff on sadness 'cause the crowd gets really sad and concerned for me. So I try to - you know, I used to do this joke, which is really - and, you know, I'm going to take a risk and tell this joke. I used to do a joke - I'd go, how about - I read a thing where this guy killed his whole family. I'd go, I'm surprised I don't read that every day. I mean, I don't think you start out where you're going to kill the whole family, but the rush of the first one must carry you right through to the end.
ANDERSON: (Laughter) But it was too dark for my audience.
GROSS: You know, it's funny you should say that...
ANDERSON: I always thought that that was really, like, a fantastic droke (ph) - joke, or droke. As you get older, the words aren't available.
GROSS: In reading your books - 'cause you have, like, at least three books that have a lot of memoir to them - and, you know, in listening to your comedy, I keep getting the impression that you have parts of your humor that are too dark for your audience and that, you know, maybe there are things you'd be saying to a different audience that you wouldn't say to yours.
ANDERSON: You know, I'm at this precipice right now that I feel like I'll be changing myself on stage just because I'm 63-ish (laughter). I don't even know how old I am. I think I'm 62. You know, in my eyes as 62, that's, like, you know, Walter Brennan.
ANDERSON: That's an old reference, but you know what I mean. It's...
GROSS: So how does being 62 or 63 relate to this perhaps turning point in your comedy? Do you feel like there's...
ANDERSON: I could be an alternative comic. I could be that really dark - I was - I was a very dark comic to begin with. I could be that guy, and the only reason I didn't is that I wanted to make money. I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to be admired. Does that make any sense?
ANDERSON: You know, and I - my mom and my family would - you know, I was trying to - that was my audience. I really - I think I've always been trying to heal families and here's why - I did a cartoon about my family, all my specials are about my family, and I wrote all that stuff with the intent that you, Terry, and your children, if you have any, and your parents could sit in a room and all get something out of the performance or the jokes or whatever. That was my goal. But I think the world's changed a little. I mean, I think I could go to another level, but I don't know - you know, what am I going to - am I going to betray my audience? Is that a betrayal, you know?
GROSS: Well, you have to allow yourself to grow as a performer if that's what you want to do to change. I think performers shouldn't let audiences hold them back from becoming the artist that they're ready to be.
ANDERSON: But, you know, you get so much criticism from it. You know that, right?
ANDERSON: I mean, you know, the press is relentless, but your fans are mad at you.
ANDERSON: But, I mean, you do have to take that chance. I mean, I'm not afraid to do it.
GROSS: Well, let's talk about something that's happened to you or that you did nearly to yourself and how that either could or could not become something that you'd use on stage. You tell a story in one of your books about how you were in your dressing room backstage before a performance. You had a gun. You put it to your head and you were very serious about pulling the trigger. You thought first about something you'd seen on TV in which an expert explained that if you shoot yourself in the wrong part of your head you might survive and then just be brain damaged, which would be worst-case scenario. So you tried to do it, you know, place it in the right spot and then you thought, oh, I don't want to leave a mess, so you got a towel. And then you decided not to pull the trigger and you went on stage, and it went really well. The audience liked it. You felt better about being alive after that. So - OK, so that's a kind of near suicide story. Has that made it on stage into one of your performances?
ANDERSON: No, no, but here's what I'll say to you. I never even thought of it as a thing. But, you know, I could do it. You're exactly right. I could do it in a second. It would be funny. That whole experience was I didn't want anyone to find me. That really was the - the thing is I didn't want that to be their last memory of me.
GROSS: Right. Either...
ANDERSON: You know, that was another big part of it, you know? So you're right. That could be - I mean, you know, I did a dark joke for a while. I go I was - I was going to kill myself, but I just thought I would just eat myself to death (laughter) but nobody ever laughed, Terry. I couldn't get people to laugh because it was too dark, don't you think? But do people think I'm too sweet, I'm too nice, there's a dark thing that should be explored and that I should lay it all out there?
GROSS: I don't know what people think. I think that there's maybe an edge in your humor that you're protecting your audience from.
ANDERSON: Don't you think they see it, Terry?
GROSS: Probably, it's probably true (laughter).
ANDERSON: You know, like, don't you think they probably think he has a knife, but I don't necessarily want to see it?
GROSS: Yeah, I get that. I get that.
DAVIES: Louie Anderson speaking with Terry Gross last year. Anderson stars in the FX comedy series "Baskets," now in its second season. After a break, David Bianculli reviews the FX miniseries "Feud" about the conflicts between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when they were making "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" David Edelstein reviews the new Marvel superhero film "Logan" and we'll hear more from Louie Anderson. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MISHA MENGELBERG TRIO'S "GARE GUILLEMANS")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We were listening to Terry's interview recorded last year with comic Louie Anderson, who won an Emmy last fall for his performance in the FX comedy series "Baskets," now in its second season. Anderson plays the mother of the character played by Zach Galifianakis. His portrayal of the mother draws from his memories of his own mom. His stand-up comedy, which he's kept family-friendly, often draws on memories of his childhood, growing up with 10 siblings and an alcoholic father.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: So one of the things I learned about your father is that when he was courting your mother, he was a trumpeter and he played in Hoagy Carmichael's band. Wow.
ANDERSON: Yeah, like, I mean - yeah. I mean, he was a great musician. My dad was a famous musician - I mean, in those standards. You know, he recorded - I mean, to work with Hoagy Carmichael, that's a - he was a hell of a trumpet and cornet player, but I never got to experience any of it.
GROSS: Did he record with him?
GROSS: So did he play music in the house? I realize you never heard him play trumpet, but what about playing records?
ANDERSON: I never - yeah, he'd play ukulele and he'd play harmonica. And when I was opening for Crosby, Stills and Nash one time at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis (unintelligible), security came back and said, there's a guy who used to take trumpet lessons from your dad. I said, send him back. I talked to him a long time. I go, well, what kind of guy was my dad? Well, you know, he was a tough - he was a tough teacher. I go, yeah, you got that right. And he gave me a poster, and it's the only poster we had, ever. And it said Louie Anderson and his orchestra, and it was a woodcut poster and it looked just like one of my posters from the '80s. And I was just like, oh, I really am a lot like my dad (laughter). I mean, I really, you know, was - I've been in lots of the same theaters that he probably played in.
GROSS: Was he alive when you started performing and when you got successful?
ANDERSON: Yeah, he saw my very first show, and the next day he had a stroke, which was really upsetting to me.
GROSS: Oh, gee.
ANDERSON: But he had lots of strokes - like, 20 or 30 strokes. My dad was a really tough guy.
ANDERSON: We finally had to kill him.
ANDERSON: That was a joke...
GROSS: Right, I - yes.
ANDERSON: ...I've done. I think I used to do my dad smoked, he drank, we finally had to kill him.
ANDERSON: The joke - the whole joke is, my mom ate every piece of butter in the Midwest, she lived till she was 90. And my dad, he smoked, he drank - we finally just had to kill him.
ANDERSON: That was the whole joke (laughter).
GROSS: Did he feel like you were fulfilling his dreams by actually having a showbiz career?
ANDERSON: I think he was the kind of guy who'd fight somebody and then we'd go to the store and he'd pick up an extra bag of groceries and we'd put them on somebody's steps 'cause they were struggling. He was two guys.
GROSS: So there's the guy who did bad and the guy who came in and apologized for it.
ANDERSON: Yeah. Alcoholism, you know, all addictions, all that stuff - you know, my dad was - when my dad was a kid, his mom and dad, you know, were very - my grandfather has 72, I think, inventions that he sold. We would've been really rich. You know, like the switch on the train tracks that switches it from one track to the other, the sliding thing that you slide your door - the big door out to the patio - he invented all that stuff and sold them. And then they would go on drunks across the country, him and his wife. And they would leave the kids, and one of the times they went, there was a murder by a Swedish gang in the house in Frazee, Minn. And the kids were taken away from my grandparents. And my dad and my dad's sister were put up for adoption. And what that means, you probably know, Terry, but people don't know it. You were put up in front of the congregation and people would pick your kids. They could pick them and take them to their farm and have another farmhand. And my dad and his sister were split up, and my dad never got over that. He never recovered from that. And then you'd live in a different part of the house in another city...
GROSS: Well, it sounded like your father was treated more like a servant than a child.
ANDERSON: Yeah, he was treated more like a servant. He took me to the house one time in Northfield, Minn. He said, you see that window? I go, yeah. He said, they used to wonder why it got rusty. He says, I used to pee out of it to get back at them. I said, good one, Dad. And then at...
GROSS: So he had a hard life, yeah.
ANDERSON: Yeah, and at 15, he made them sign a paper so he could join the first World War. And then he learned how to play the bugle, and that's how he taught himself the trumpet.
GROSS: Oh, wow.
ANDERSON: And then...
GROSS: But you didn't find out about this until later in life.
ANDERSON: After he died.
GROSS: Yeah. So you must've been shocked to find out that there was this big secret - there were so many secrets in your family. You're supposed to keep it secret that your father drank. He kept secret from you that he was put up for adoption...
ANDERSON: I don't think secrets as much as just it wasn't - and nothing was talked about like that. Do you know what I mean? I don't think they hid it away 'cause when my dad was going through radiation for his prostate cancer, I was with him and he spilled his guts to an attendant who was doing all that. He told all this stuff and I go, Jesus, I'm right here, Dad. You never told me any of this. You're telling some stranger.
GROSS: Well, that's the thing. Sometimes it's easier to tell secrets to a stranger.
ANDERSON: Much easier, yeah.
GROSS: What was the comedy scene like when were just getting started? And where did you see yourself...
GROSS: ...Fitting in it? Like, how did you find your place within it?
ANDERSON: Well, I mean, there are two comedy scenes - one in Minneapolis, where I started. So there were only, like, a handful of us. So we'd do the show and you could do as much time as you want 'cause we only had six, seven people. So it was, like, an hour and a half show. Nobody had too much material, you know? And then we were smart. We had a little club and whenever anyone famous was in town, we invited them down - Joan Rivers, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield. And that's where I became friends with Joan and Rodney. They both told me I should go to East or West Coast and become successful. They were both very nice. And I stayed friends with both of them until their deaths.
But I was on stage one night, and I was doing jokes and I go, is that your dad to a kid sitting with a guy. He goes, yeah. I go, he seems like a nice dad. Do you guys get along? He goes, yeah. And then that was the first time I did, yeah, my dad never hit us either, but he carried a gun and then I did that joke. Never shot us - he'd just go (imitating gun clicks) you know, and that got the biggest laugh of anything I'd ever done. And it got a different kind of laugh, like a, oh, and it opened something up in me. And I started mining my family stuff right then. I just started digging. And then I came off stage and a guy named Roman DeCare - God rest his soul - he was a - he was a shriner and he played a little harmonica. And he told really silly jokes. He'd hit a bad note on the little, tiny harmonica and then he'd pull out of his hand rubber pickle. He'd go, oh, that's a sour note. And then he'd do these really dumb - but we loved him. He was a very sweet guy. And I came off stage and he said (imitating Roman Decare) Louie - he'd talk like this - Louie, if you did that material about your family and you had a completely clean act, you'll become famous.
And, you know, I was listening to him. And I just said, really? You know, I was - you know, I was looking for somebody to tell me something. I didn't know. I just wanted to, you know, be successful. And then in 1981, I moved out to Los Angeles and for two years I auditioned for "The Tonight Show" and finally got it and - you know, with Howie and Robin and Roseanne...
GROSS: It was in the Johnny Carson era.
ANDERSON: Yeah, this is - this is the big time. This is the HBO babies, you know, in comedy, all those guys. We all did specials, you know, Jim Carrey and Sam Kinison, Rita Rudner. And they were all there, you know?
GROSS: So you turning difficult things into comedy will help me in my life. Does it help you in your life? I mean, when you see the joke...
GROSS: ...In something terrible that's happened, is that helpful to you?
ANDERSON: Yeah because, you know, like - I sat in my brother - I went to his apartment. It was really hard after he died. I sat where he sat, you know, and all the tragedy that I felt when I first got there - there was a peace that came over me. And I'll tell you, I was searching for Tommy's playlist because he had a really great playlist of classic rock music. And I said, Tommy, you have such good music. He goes, you know where I got it, right? And I go, no. I kept your album collection when you left. And it was all my songs. And I wanted to get them so we could play them at the service, the celebration. And I looked over to the left, and there was a little MP3 player. And I opened it up, and it said, music. And so it was just like, thanks, Tom. And so as much as I miss Tom, his life was complete in so many ways. And so when I used to be - it was such a labor when I would lose somebody, and I would agonize over it and feel guilty and did I do enough? I did as much as I could in all those situations, as much as I was able to do. And I really do encourage people. You have to not worry or doubt or punish yourself. All the worry, doubt and punishment will not add one second to your life, you know? Let it go. Let those things go, and find the humor in wherever you can. When I first became really successful, I did "The Tonight Show." And I had the biggest - a big "Tonight Show," in terms of, you know, Johnny's response, you know? And the Comedy Cellar had a party for me. And I was really in my - I was in heaven. I was in heaven. And I was really full of myself. It was really funny. It was - you know, I can even look back at it and laugh. And I was saying, hey, I am the greatest (unintelligible). And a guy comes up to me and goes, are you Louie Anderson? And I go, I am. And I put my hand out to meet him. And he goes, I don't want to meet you. Could you move your car?
ANDERSON: And it happened twice to me that night. My karma's so immediate.
GROSS: (Laughter) Louie Anderson, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
GROSS: Congratulations on your performance in "Baskets." And my sympathies. I'm so sorry about your brother, Tom.
ANDERSON: Thank you. Thank you. I'm going to send you about 50 of his flashlights that we found.
ANDERSON: We found over - we found, honestly, over a hundred flashlights just in one little area. And I go, what was he...
GROSS: Oh, gosh - was he a hoarder?
ANDERSON: You know what I always say about my family? We were packrats. We weren't hoarders because we have aisles.
DAVIES: Louie Anderson speaking and laughing with Terry Gross last year. Anderson co-stars in the FX comedy series "Baskets," now in its second season. After a break, David Bianculli reviews the FX miniseries "Feud" about the conflicts between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when they were making "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The 1962 low-budget horror movie "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" starred two once-major actresses, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, as sisters in a story of escalating and very unsettling sibling rivalry. The conflicts behind the scenes were just as intense as the one depicted on screen. Now Ryan Murphy, the creator of "American Horror Story" and "American Crime Story: The People Versus O.J. Simpson," is presenting a new miniseries on the FX Network about the making of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" Premiering this Sunday, it's called "Feud: Bette And Joan." It stars Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: As horror movies go, 1962's "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" was a B-movie in budget and, if I gave it one, a letter grade. It didn't deserve an A for its scares or its innovation as Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" did two years earlier or his movie "The Birds" would in the following year. But there was something about "Baby Jane," which is a story of two actress sisters, one confined to a wheelchair, the other obsessed by memories of her glory days as a child star, that was truly, deeply creepy. The director, Robert Aldrich, who had come up from live TV, was good but was no Hitchcock. The movie didn't belong to him. It belonged completely to Joan Crawford as the invalid Blanche and especially to Bette Davis as the sadistic Baby Jane. Why make a miniseries out of the making of this particular cult motion picture? Ryan Murphy jumpstarted the current craze of miniseries anthologies with new stories and characters being presented each season with "American Horror Story." He's had even more success with "The People Versus O.J. Simpson," the first entry in his "American Crime Story" miniseries. So he's going back to the well a third time for the same network with a new FX anthology series called "Feud," dramatising memorable, very personal conflicts in history. And rather than starting large with some political or philosophical battle, he's starting small with the eight-episode campy drama called "Bette And Joan." But as Catherine Zeta Jones notes, while in character as the role of fellow actress Olivia de Havilland, it's quite a story.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN")
CATHERINE ZETA JONES: (As Olivia de Havilland) You know, they only made one film together and how that happened and what happened afterwards, well (laughter) well, that was a story and a feud of biblical proportions.
BIANCULLI: Because it's only an eight-hour commitment, the supporting cast of "Feud" is unusually strong. Alfred Molina plays the director Robert Aldrich who has to handle both temperamental actresses at the same time. Stanley Tucci plays studio head Jack Warner, who still resents Bette Davis for suing him to shut down the old Hollywood studio system of seven-year contracts. And there are plenty of other stars, including appearances from regular Ryan Murphy rep players Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates. But the real electricity in "Feud" is generated from the same source as in "Baby Jane." It's the sight of two iconic actresses sharing the stage and crossing swords. In "Feud," it's Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. And in "Feud," the dialogue is laden with comments about Hollywood and ageism and sexism that are just as cutting and as relevant all these years later.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN")
JESSICA LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) Guess what, Bette? I have finally found the perfect project for the two of us. It's always been my dream to work with you. Do you remember how I begged Jack Warner to put us together in "Ethan Frome?"
SUSAN SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) With Mr. Gary Cooper.
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) You do remember.
SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) You wanted to play the pretty young servant girl and I was to play the old hag of a wife. Forget it.
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) But this is different. These are the parts of a lifetime.
SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) No, thanks, Lucille. I've got plenty of better offers.
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford, laughter) I know what kind of offers you've been getting - exactly none because the same is true for me. They're not making women's pictures anymore, not the kind we use to make.
SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) It's all cyclical. They'll come back in fashion.
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) But we won't. If something's going to happen, we have to make it happen. No one's looking to cast women our age, but together, they wouldn't dare say no. We need each other, Bette.
SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) So what the hell happened to her anyway, Baby Jane?
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) Read it. Find out. Oh, I'm offering you the title role.
SARANDON: (As Bette Davis) The lead.
LANGE: (As Joan Crawford) You can call it that.
BIANCULLI: "Bette and Joan" is a salute to the joys and difficulties and intricacies of filmmaking. It's also a clear salute to female empowerment. Both Sarandon and Lange are producers on this project, and Lange, playing several chameleonic parts on "American Horror Story," has demonstrated her range on TV more than she's been allowed to of late in the movies. Television increasingly is where the best and most challenging roles are and not only for women. But as portrayed here, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are wonderful roles indeed. And finally, there's the whole idea behind "Feud." With the nation as polarized as it is, watching a drama about a constant battle of wills and egos might not sound much like entertainment - let alone escapism - but it is. Sarandon and Lange are so vibrant and so into their respective roles that this first "Feud" at least is much more of a wickedly clever comedy. "Bette And Joan" has two guaranteed Emmy-nominated performances at its center, and it's a blast.
DAVIES: "Feud: Bette And Joan" begins this Sunday on the FX Network. David Bianculli teaches TV and film history at Rowan University and is the author of "The Platinum Age Of Television." Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Logan," the latest Marvel superhero film starring Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. It's been 17 years since the first "X-Men" movie in which Australian actor Hugh Jackman made his debut as Logan, also known as the Wolverine. The latest standalone Wolverine film, "Logan," is the first to receive an R rating for violence and language. Film critic David Edelstein has seen it. He says he was stunned and amazed.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: It's incredibly bleak. It's staggeringly violent. Major characters go down in showers of blood and gore. I've seen worse but never from such a wholesome, corporate enterprise like Marvel with a target audience so young. Logan is rated R, but tell me 10-year-olds won't find ways to see it. On its own terms, the movie is a crackerjack piece of work. The writing is superb; the staging, resourceful; the acting, intense. I just found it hard to reconcile its scorched-Earth aesthetic with its "X-Men" predecessors. The giddy tales of so-called mutants coming to terms with their bodies and place in society seems so far away now - like fairy tales. Now, it's about watching Hugh Jackman's Logan, aka the Wolverine, stick his talons through the throats of sundry assassins. When the movie opens, Logan is passed out in the limo he drives by day, drunk and apathetic to anything but earning money to buy a boat and sail away with Patrick Stuart's X-Men headmaster, Charles Xavier, who seems to be melting down in old age into a psychic lethal weapon. Logan is ill, too, eaten away by adamantium, the super metal that allows him to decapitate, dismember and disembowel anyone who tries to take him out. On the basis of "Logan," I'd guess director James Mangold and his co-screenwriters, Scott Frank and Michael Green, aren't sanguine about the future. In dribs and drabs, they fill in the big picture. The mutants of previous "X-Men" movies are dead or incapacitated, and the government seems to be exterminating the rest. The military has joined forces with pharmaceutical companies to do hideous experiments on Mexican women. Kids who escape those labs flee to sanctuary in Canada. Two people are dogging Logan, a Mexican woman pleading for help for a mysterious mute little girl named Laura, played by Dafne Keen, and a semi-mutant - I don't know quite what he is - played by Boyd Holbrook, who's hunting Laura and anyone trying to protect her. "Logan" is basically a long chase movie, like "Terminator 2" with a dollop of "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," the one where the supposedly hard-hearted Max ended up leading a bunch of children to safety. There are also direct invocations of the classic cornball Western "Shane," which little Laura watches on TV while she, Logan and Charles spend the night with a black family whose farm is being threatened by a colossal agrobusiness. Logan gets to do his own "Shane" showdown scene when he accompanies the farmer, Munson, played by Eriq La Salle, to the neighboring property, which the agrobusiness now owns. The company's lackeys regularly shut off the pump supplying water to Munson's house and menace him when he comes to restart it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOGAN")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Evening, Mr. Munson. You understand you're trespassing right now, right?
ERIQ LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I have an easement with the previous owner of your property.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, laughter) Previous being the operative word. Who's this?
HUGH JACKMAN: (As Logan) Just a guy telling you to get back in your nice truck. Go play somewhere else.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, Carl, looks like Mr. Munson hired some muscle.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Looks that way.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) He's a friend of mine.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Friend with a big mouth.
JACKMAN: (As Logan) I hear that a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) And you probably hear this too.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN COCKING)
JACKMAN: (As Logan) More than I'd like.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Then you know the drill. I'm going to count to three and you're going to start walking away.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I've got rights to this one.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) One.
LA SALLE: (As Will Munson) I have a lawyer now.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Two.
JACKMAN: (As Logan) Three.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You all right, boss?
JACKMAN: (As Logan) You know the drill. Get the hell out of here.
EDELSTEIN: That first crunch was the bad guy's nose breaking; the second, Logan crumbling the guy's rifle. In middle age, Hugh Jackman is still muscled up and ropey. The veins in his arms stand out alarmingly, and he brings everything - animal rage and mute despair - to what could be Logan's last stand. Patrick Stewart declaims and howls as if gearing up for his inevitable King Lear. Little Dafne Keen is terrifyingly assured as she rips people's heads off, and there's a remarkable turn by Stephen Merchant as a sun-averse albino mutant called Caliban. Despite the name out of Shakespeare, he's like a tottering little scold from Samuel Beckett's "Endgame." And this is an end game of sorts for the "X-Men" series, which is not to say there won't be prequels and reboots and parallel-time scenarios. I'm ambivalent about the level of carnage in "Logan" and the depth of its nihilism, but I can't remember the last time a superhero picture has left me so ravaged.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. On Monday's show, Terry talks with Samantha Bee, the host and co-creator of the FX satirical new show "Full Frontal," and with Joe Miller, co-creator and head writer. The show, now in its second season, takes a comedic feminist perspective on politics and has lately focused on the Trump administration. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES, BILL FRISELL AND BRIAN BLADE'S "JUST MARRIED")
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