Family humor is Louie Anderson’s specialty. For nearly four decades, he has taken inspiration from his family to make people laugh. In his first special, “Mom! Louie’s Looking at Me Again!” from 1989, he joked about his mother trying to get everyone to eat the “seven or eight hundred pounds of sweet potatoes” she’d made for Thanksgiving dinner. In his animated show “Life With Louie” from the mid-’90s, he found laughs in an unusually deep portrait of his hard-working but angry father.
“I re-create my family onstage in the hopes that you’ll be able to re-create your family in the audience,” says the 63-year-old comedian, speaking from his home in Las Vegas. On Saturday, Anderson comes to Boston for a show at the Wilbur Theatre.
In January, he was introduced as part of a new TV family as Christine Baskets on the FX show “Baskets,” which was co-created by Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and director/writer Jonathan Krisel. Galifianakis plays Chip Baskets, who flunks out of clown school in Paris and can only find work as a rodeo clown in his hometown of Bakersfield.
Anderson doesn’t play Christine as a campy drag character. He doesn’t raise the pitch of his voice or change it in any way. Christine is a real person to Anderson, partly because she is an homage to his own mother.
“I’m Chip Baskets’s mother,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m very concerned with my family and my sons, and I take it very seriously. This character’s had a life. This character’s been through a lot. This character is just beginning her journey on TV.”
Anderson is already looking forward to shooting season two in September (“Next year is going to be unbelievable.”) He says when he was offered the role, he was thrilled that he’d get to work with such relevant comics as C.K. and Galifiankis. He was even more thrilled when they told him what the role would be and he accepted immediately, even though he knew nothing about the producers’ intentions. “I knew exactly what I would do with it. What they were thinking of doing with it was insignificant to me.”
When he is on set, he comes in early and gets into his wardrobe and makeup and stays in character until he leaves. “My main goal in the role is to make Louie Anderson disappear in the part,” he says. “As soon as someone puts lipstick on your lips, your first thing is to make sure it looks good. And so you purse your lips and you look at yourself. And when you’re in the full garb, you look at yourself and say, ‘I make a pretty good woman.’”
As much as he throws himself into the character, he has a detached feeling when he watches the show later. “When I look at that character, it doesn’t feel like me at all,” he says. “And so I think I accomplished what I was supposed to. I don’t know how I accomplished it. I’m just brilliant,” he says with a hearty laugh.
He’s been laughing more these days. He says nothing was more fun than being a comic in the 1980s and breaking through with the likes of Roseanne Barr and Bob Saget. But he finds he can relax and be himself a bit more these days. “I think people realize that, to be who you are and to be true to yourself is really fun,” he says. “I think I’m laughing a lot more and smiling a lot more at life than I used to. I used to take it all too serious.”
He’s now working on material for his sixth special, which he may tape at his New Year’s Eve show at the Ames Center in Burnsville, Minn., not far from his hometown of St. Paul. He’s done the show every year as a tribute to his mother since her death in 1990.
It may be Anderson’s last stand-up special, although he doesn’t know for sure. The process of creating an hour of new material is stressful. “You have to do an hour that’s really five hours,” he says, “sifting through five hours of stuff you discarded and threw away because it wasn’t good enough to present on a piece of tape that would be there forever.”
A lot of his older material has resonated with fans. He’s flattered when someone comes up and says their family quotes the sweet potato line every year at holiday gatherings. “I didn’t know I was invited to so many Thanksgiving dinners,” he says.
His family struggles are well-documented. He wrote about his father’s abuse and alcoholism in his 1989 memoir, “Dear Dad: Letters From an Adult Child.” But he chose to turn the pain into something positive in his comedy. “I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful, I think that’s who I am,” he says. He’s thankful for his experiences, good and bad.
“Look what it gave me,” he says. “I was able to use my skill that was given to me to refine this really harsh, rotgut moonshine into something I find quite beautiful.”
At the Wilbur Theatre, Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $29, 617-248-9700, www.thewilbur.com
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino