Louie Anderson feels like he’s finally home with headliner gig at Palace Station

Las Vegas feels like home to Louie Anderson. And it should. He has performed here for 26 years and lived here twice.

He also has an almost telepathic rapport with that giant Vegas demographic known as "Middle America." Las Vegas is "their freedom" for one weekend a year, he says. "This was designed for people to, instead of quitting their job, blow off a little steam, I think."

Combine those at a place called Palace Station, and Anderson seems to have the best chance of anyone at pulling off a tall order: being the year-round headliner at a no-frills casino supported primarily by locals.

There will be challenges. What will happen to all those wincingly accurate casino-gambling jokes he cultivated in his years on the Strip? Can he match them with "locals" humor?

Las Vegans "don’t ever tell other people about the shortcut," he muses out loud. "You can’t have one more person on that shortcut to get to work."

He is hoping to figure it out in time at the Louie Anderson Theater, the new name for the Bonkerz Comedy Club, though the show is still produced by Bonkerz chain owner Joe Sanfelippo.

In four years at Excalibur, Las Vegas "felt like home, but I never felt like I had a (professional) home. Now I feel like I have a home and a reason to be home."

"I always felt like the Excalibur was temporary. I always felt like the second or third banana" in a showroom branded with the "Thunder from Down Under" male strip show.

For his new "Louie LOL" that opened earlier this week, Anderson says he is encouraged by everything from the collective attitude of the Station Casinos staff to the actual acoustics and feel of the room. "The Excalibur stage had some spots that were no good, that I didn’t feel comfortable in."

Yes, home is a comfortable place. But in comedy, that isn’t always a good thing. "I want to take my stand-up and put a fresh coat of paint on it," the 57-year-old comedy veteran says.

"I’m completely relaxed up there, and I can talk about anything. But sometimes that relaxes the audience too much," he explains. The comedian also battles obesity and health issues such as sciatica. His Excalibur debut in 2006 included a whole routine based on his heart surgery.

"Any time I was tired or not feeling well, it suffered in my show," he says. "I really had talks with myself. Before I would go out, I would list the things: These people paid good money, they took their time, they picked me out of a hundred shows to come to. They deserve to have the very most I can offer them."

Earlier this year, there was talk of Anderson’s staying at the Excalibur but relaunching his show with a new format. He wanted to bring in an outside director and shift his act from conventional stand-up and crowd work to more of a linear, theatrical approach, based on his childhood and the routines that made him famous.

Some of the work along those lines carries into the new venture: "Two definite spots in my show where I pay homage to my dad and my mom. I don’t want to say they are dramatic pieces, but I want to say they are authentic pieces to those two characters."

In recent years, he had drifted from the material based on his Minneapolis childhood in a large family, and early routines about sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving or his Dad’s old Bonneville.

"I think what happened is I forgot how important that is. I was living off the reputation and not doing the actual deed," he says. The new show includes "an attempt at re-creating that thing for them in maybe a more modern, updated version."

Collectively, "I think it’s me saying, ‘Here I was, here I am and here’s where I’m going.’ "

Metaphorically, of course. Physically, he plans to stay put. The Excalibur run wasn’t helped by an erratic schedule where he often left town for road dates and his "Comedy Boot Camp" for aspiring stand-ups.

Now he plans to stay in town more — recruiting big-name friends to cover those times he is gone — and he believes it will be good for his health. "When you travel you can’t eat well," he says.

He has been working on that, along with swimming at home, a condominium high-rise in the tourist corridor.

"At 55, I taught myself how to swim," he says, after being inspired by a woman in her 70s who is now his swimming partner. "She does 50 to 60 laps and I’m up to about 30."

Maybe fans will relate to that as well as they do his lifelong struggle with food. (One of his signature lines is, "My mom was a food pusher.")

Anderson’s comedy always has come with an undertone of sadness and struggle. Fans feel, "Hey, Louie has a hard time, too. I’m not the only one."

"I think it all ties back to the fact that I don’t have an easy life, but it doesn’t stop me from living."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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