Minnesota’s reputation as a source for amazing comedy talent is well earned.
Dozens of incredible comedians, comedic actors, writers and directors got their start, or developed their skills, on or behind the stages of clubs and theaters in the Twin Cities.
Creative talents like Joel Hodgson, Scott Hansen, Mitch Hedberg, Lizz Winstead, Pat Proft, Al Franken, Jackie Kashian, Dudley Riggs, Chad Daniels and others got their start or honed their skills here. There’s a fair amount of hometown pride with many of these performers – and rightly so.
However, in the opinion of many, one comedian stands above the rest in terms of overall impact: Louie Anderson.
St. Paul roots
Anderson was a St. Paul kid who grew up in a large and dysfunctional family. Like many great comics, Louie spun many of his early life’s painful and challenging moments into comedy gold.
Louie was one of the pioneers in the Twin Cities standup comedy scene during the comedy boom of the 1980s. Louie stuck to his principles when it came to stand-up comedy. Sometimes edgy but not dirty, colorful but never blue, Anderson’s comedy appealed to a wide range of people. At a time when “clean comedy” often meant corny dad jokes, Anderson’s clean style was smart, engaging and hilarious.
With the uncanny ability to be a masterful storyteller and improviser, but still cram a bunch of big laughs into a tight set, his style was unique.
In 1984, Louie made a very memorable debut on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson. After a crushing performance that garnered a huge response from the audience while earning a callback and a handshake from Johnny, Anderson’s career took off.
Known for his Emmy award-winning show “Life with Louie” and his critically acclaimed and Emmy-winning performance on the television show “Baskets,” Anderson earned the respect and admiration of many fans, especially those in Minnesota. When he passed away in 2021, the entire comedy community grieved and expressed their admiration for his body of work.
A meeting of the minds
Over the years, there have been numerous stories of Anderson’s kindness and support both inside and outside the comedy industry.
One of the people Louie impacted the most was Minnesota comedian Jason Schommer.
Schommer met Louie in 2010, and the two quickly hit it off, becoming close friends. When Anderson asked Schommer to open for him during a stand-up show in 2012, Schommer was thrilled.
He went on to perform as the opening act for Louie numerous times over the next decade, including two straight years during a residency in Las Vegas.
Prepare for impact
To say Anderson greatly impacted Schommer would be a significant understatement. Schommer even wrote a one-man show dedicated to his friend titled “Curtain Call: Letters to my Friend Louie Anderson,” which he performed during the Twin Cities Fringe Festival in 2022.
Schommer had great admiration for Anderson, not only as a performer but as a person.
“Louie was an incredibly compassionate and empathic person,” says Schommer. “He truly cared about those in his life and would do anything and everything in his power to help them. The people that were important to me were important to him. Anytime I spoke to him, he would ask how my family was doing and what was new in their lives. Louie’s compassion extended to not only his friends and family, but also to his fans and people he would meet or simply pass by on the street. Louie always gave something to a homeless person that he crossed paths with, be it food, money, or just a simple conversation where the person felt seen and valued.”
Of course, Schommer also recognized Anderson’s comedic genius.
Says Schommerz: “There were many moments where his brilliance would shine through in his routine. Louie’s jokes were excellent: smart, well-crafted and often packed an emotional punch. But the real magic was when he would either be talking to an audience member and would land in a perfect setup or bit and it would be comedic gold that stemmed from a real connection between him and the audience. Louie had an incredibly quick wit. Or when he would be on stage and simply be talking about his day and what all happened, and he would put such an unexpected and polished comedic spin on it that one would think it was a joke or story he had been telling for years, when in reality it happened just a few hours prior. I was lucky enough to spend so much time with him that I witnessed the magic of his genius many times.”
If Schommer could make Louie laugh with his own material, he knew the joke would work on a comedy audience.
“Louie would often laugh at me when I would be telling him a story about my day or about something that happened at the store or whatever,” Schommer remembers. “He would throw his head back while laughing and in his infamous gravely tone of voice say, ‘Oh Schommer, that is good. So good. You need to put that in your act!’ And then I would put it in the act, and it would kill. Louie was and still is the great North Star to use as a comedy compass. I miss him dearly.”
Anderson’s encouragement is one of the motivating factors for Schommer to reach the next level in his comedy career.
“When I visited Louie for the last time at the hospital two days before he passed away, we had an incredible conversation,” recalls Schommer. “He made me promise him that someday I will have a televised comedy special on Netflix. He told me that I am talented enough and that it is possible if I want it bad enough. I do. I want it not only for myself but also for him. So, that is a long-term goal that I am continually working towards. Fingers crossed, hopefully someday! I am also working on material for my next comedy album, which will be recorded in 2024 and working on a collection of essays to hopefully publish as well. Just keep plugging along and see what the universe has in store for me!”
Next up for Schommer: Comedy at Fat Pants
Schommer performs stand-up at comedy clubs and casinos while also producing and performing thematic comedy shows at regional theaters.
He’s headlining the next YellowBrick Comedy night at Fat Pants Brewing in Eden Prairie on Friday, Dec. 29, and promises to include at least one story about Anderson during the show. There will even be a question-and-answer session at the end of the show for people who may want to get even more insight into what it was like to perform with and witness the creative genius of one of Minnesota’s most beloved artists.
The show at Fat Pants Brewing – with a nod to Louie – will be clean enough for all ages, but the content is definitely crafted for an adult sense of humor. Supporting comedians Sherlonda Sharp and Pege Miller are both hilarious and, like Schommer, graduates of the comedy workshops Louie would occasionally hold in the Twin Cities.
Details: What: Stand-up Comedy Night at Fat Pants Brewing When: Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, 7:30 PM Where: Fat Pants Brewing, 8335 Crystal View Road, Eden Prairie Tickets: Eventbrite.com - #fatpantscomedy or yellowbrickcomedy.com
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the periodic comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic, and storyteller. Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s and, after a 30-year hiatus, returned to the stage. He now performs stand-up and storytelling shows, delivers humorous keynote presentations, produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy, and takes the stage at various theaters and clubs throughout Minnesota.
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