Louie Anderson is our fattest and gentlest comedian. He's not a comedy commando, he doesn't stage frenetic kinetic assaults and he doesn't appear to have a mean bone in his body. In fact, he's so fat, he doesn't appear to have a bone in his body, period.
But "Louie Anderson at the Guthrie," the comic's Showtime special that premieres at 10 tonight on the pay-cable network, is a quiet jubilation, 57 minutes of sweet contentment on the rarefied level of good jazz or great ice cream. The program, which will be repeated five times in August, merits the compliment of being videotaped for friends. Good friends.
Anderson used to do mainly self-deprecating jokes about his roly-polyness. He's reportedly on a diet now, and though he was still huge when the special was taped last year, he had already widened his comic horizons considerably. He now does warmer, brighter, more personal comedy about growing up in the Midwest, proving that no matter how dull and ordinary a childhood may seem at the time, it can be made hilarious in retrospect.
Louie remembers tormenting his little brother, enduring the class bully, suffering his pampered sister -- hardly unexplored comic terrain but traversed in a fresh, unaffected way. He remembers his father in a state of perpetual high dudgeon as he drove the family car, issuing such philosophical conundrums as, "If I was the last man on earth, somebody would turn left in front of me," and admonishing the kids in the back seat with the parental perennial, "Don't get smart with me."
He remembers mom, the official window monitor, a vigilant lookout poised to report on neighborhood comings and goings. The sound of a car door closing anywhere in the vicinity would send her to the curtains for a covert peek. Then the bulletin in carefully hushed tones: "The Johnsons are home." Pause. "They're very rich, you know."
Even when you don't laugh, you find yourself responding -- emotionally, nostalgically, somehow. In this Anderson contrasts with most of the young comedians who bounce jokes off your head and then vanish, leaving no trace.
Anderson's special was taped in Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater as a fundraiser for Minnesota public TV. Showtime bought and slightly abridged it. It's a comedy hour that's clean in two senses: Families can watch it without anyone being mortified, and Louie has a smooth, neat, ungimmicked approach.
"Louie Anderson at the Guthrie" is a gladdening occasion.
'Down and Out' A clear-cut case of lights being on but no one being home presents itself tonight in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," a lackluster video diminution of the 1986 hit movie comedy. Hector Elizondo and Anita Morris inherit, but hardly do justice to, the roles of the nouveau riche couple played in the original by Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler.
Into their life, and swimming pool, a little bum must fall. Actually, a big one, played by Nick Nolte in the movie and Tim Thomerson in the series, both having been derived from the French comedy "Boudu Saved from Drowning." But the odd thing about the Fox series, which premieres at 8 tonight on Channel 5 (following a "sneak preview" in June), is that the central premise is largely ignored.
The bum has little active role in the plot, and functions mainly as a Greek chorus of sarcastic asides, many delivered to Elizondo. In addition, there is little or no sardonic commentary on the values and foibles of Beverly Hillsians. Essentially, this is just another dumb sitcom about parents who are terrified of offending their children.
The children are creepier and clammier than anything ever played in the movies by Bela Lugosi. Or Mickey Rourke.
There is one happy holdover from the casting of the film: Mike the Dog as Matisse the Dog. What a trouper, and what a show-saver. In the first episode, Mike does aerobics with Morris and in the second, plays backgammon with Thomerson. Why, one wonders, didn't they simply make this "The Mike the Dog Show"?
In the second episode, airing next Saturday, Jo de Winter guest stars as Morris' 66-year-old mother, who arrives in L.A. prim and prissy but undergoes a radical lifestylectomy and turns into, as Morris bemoans, "an unchained Beverly Hills trendoid." In this story there is a trace of deft pathos, a hint of human interest. But it isn't allowed to thrive.
Even though microphones were invented some time ago, most of those in the cast have been instructed, or allowed, to shout out their lines. An old television maxim: The louder the lines are shouted, the unfunnier they probably are. "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" breaks no rules, least of all that one.