We are extremely saddened to learn that comedian and actor Louie Anderson has passed away.
Among his many credits, Anderson created the animated series Life with Louie, he appeared in films like Coming to America and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and he won an Emmy Award for his work on Baskets.
Of course, Louie Anderson has given us some notable appearances with the Muppets. In 1989, Anderson was honored as the first celebrity guest star on The Jim Henson Hour, in which he had a dinner date with “Codzilla”, played the captain of a space ship, and was transformed into a tiny pink bunny.
That same year, Anderson presented an award with Kermit the Frog at the American Comedy Awards.
Louie Anderson’s final credit with the Muppets came in 2001. Anderson was the host of Family Feud, and the Muppets appeared as contestants. Among the Muppets present were Kermit the Frog, Sweetums, and Mo Frackle.
Last fall, ToughPigs’ own Anthony Strand wrote the brilliant Oral History of Mo Frackle, and we were lucky enough to make contact with Louie Anderson to see if he remembered Mo, and what his experiences with the Muppets were like. While we only used a few quotes from that interview in the Oral History, we’re proud to share the Q&A in full here:
ToughPigs: What was your pre-production involvement in your Jim Henson Hour episode? Did you discuss ideas with the creative team before shooting?
Louie Anderson: From the minute I walked into Jim Henson Productions, it was a collaborative effort. They did a really great job at making you feel like a part of the team.
ToughPigs: On The Jim Henson Hour, so much of the guest star’s role was to talk to Kermit through a monitor. I’ve always been curious about what the setup was like for those scenes. Were you actually talking to Jim Henson/Kermit in real time? What did you think of that experience?
Louie Anderson: I can’t remember now if Jim was Kermit or if Kermit was Jim. It was a great experience because I was talking directly to Jim Henson, who invented Kermit the Frog. It was like talking to two icons at once. One of them is still with us, the other feels like he’s still with us.
ToughPigs: In the episode, you get turned into a Muppet – a little pink bunny that still has your face. How did you interact with the puppeteers for that scene?
Louie Anderson: I was actually having a gall bladder attack while I was filming that week. Jim Henson was not only Kermit but he was like a doctor, he was so gentle and healing. It was like being the most fun hospital you could ever imagine. I would have let any of them operate on me except the evil alien Muppets.
ToughPigs: Did you ever watch the finished episode?
Louie Anderson: Yes and I was so mad that I was sick during the filming. As a performer you always regret not being at your best, especially when you are working with one of the all-time greats.
ToughPigs: Any other thoughts or memories about The Jim Henson Hour you would be willing to share?
Louie Anderson: Every time you heard that Jim Henson music, your heart lit up as your TV lit up. Some of my fondest memories were watching The Muppet Show with my dad who adored Statler and Waldorf. He loved all the Muppets. Why wouldn’t he with 11 children?
ToughPigs: Several years later, the Muppets appeared on Family Feud for a week. What did you think of that idea?
Louie Anderson: That was so much fun. Getting to meet the people who were the real creators behind the Muppets and getting to have them right there with you really made the show better. They competed against Buck Owens, who was one of my Mom’s favorites, Keith Urban right before he became a big star, and the Dixie Chicks, who were so great to work with. Everyone wanted to meet the Muppets, though, nobody cared whether I was the host or not. We all had a blast and raised some great money for charity.
ToughPigs: Was that different from your usual experience hosting the show? Did you alter your approach?
Louie Anderson: It was way more fun, I could be a lot more silly and irreverent with the Muppets in the studio. These were all characters I knew and grew up with.
ToughPigs: Were there technical difficulties due to having puppets instead of humans on the show?
Louie Anderson: Everybody was such a pro. I think everyone hit their mark, maybe except Keith Urban who took a little while to catch on if I remember right.
ToughPigs: Finally, were you rooting for the Muppets to win?
Louie Anderson: Of course! Out in the open I had to be neutral but secretly the Muppets were my favorite.
Click here to help us remember Louie Anderson on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes and Anthony Strand