Louie Anderson has made a big splash that may have resulted in a lasting ripple in his career.
The rotund comic, who weighs more than 400 pounds, stole the opening night of ABC's new celebrity high dive competition “Splash” on March 19 when he made the bold decision to go off a 23-foot platform.
He was supposed take a leap from the 16-foot level which he says was scary enough for him.
“I was thinking 'how am I going to compete with these guys?' and “what can I do to impress people?' and I think it worked because I got a good score,” Anderson said in a recent telephone interview.
He also got rave reviews for his endearing dedication of the dive to his father and the troops.
The dive was a success and, combined with clips of Anderson's struggles to get out of pool during rehearsals, what could have been a cheesy reality show turned into something poignant.
“You know when I was in school, I didn't know how to swim and I could never climb that rope in gym class,” he says. “Other kids could do it. But I never did. So that dive was my rope. I feel like I climbed it now.”
Nearly 9 million viewers saw him take a plunge. That's the biggest reality show debut since “The X Factor” on Fox in 2011.
Anderson, a frequent visitor to the Tampa area, is scheduled to perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“I've been surprised at how many people are coming up to me and saying they were inspired,” he says. “I think people are looking at me in a new light now. They got to see more of me on different levels.”
He says that right after that episode aired he was scheduled to speak at fundraiser in Minnesota. “I do it every year and last year we had about 400 people there. This year there were 3,000,” he says.
“I was really happy about how the dive turned out but it also seemed to mean something to a lot of other people,” he said. “People are rooting for me and giving me support. I'm feeling better and I've lost 10 pounds.”
Anderson, who lives in Las Vegas, has been doing stand-up comedy for decades. He made his TV debut in 1984 on Johnny Carson's “Tonight Show.” He has been a frequent guest on Jay Leno's and David Letterman's shows. He hosted a revival of “Family Feud” and created an animated kids show “Life With Louie.”
“I never had a sitcom myself but I've been a guest,” he says. “I'd like land a role as the grumpy, old uncle, or grandfather, or neighbor.”
In recent years, he has had a regular gig in Vegas with the “Louie Anderson Big Baby Boomer Show” at Palace Station. That show is closing.
“I was looking for something new to inspire me,” he says. “And 'Splash' came along just at the right time. The show stepped up to have me on it and I stepped up when I got on it. It wasn't planned. It was just something that happened.”
Anderson, who turned 60 on March 24, says he learned how to swim five years ago. “My mother was afraid for me to go into the water,” he says.
He decided to join the show after he saw a clip of the Netherlands version. He said it's the most exciting thing he's ever done.
“There are some impressive people on this show including Kareem Abdul Jabar, Katherine Webb and Kendra Wilkinson,” he says. “I felt I was either going to be inspirational or a laughing stock.”
During the second week of competition Anderson was injured trying to do a flip from the 5-meter board. He hit the water, landing on his face and chest. “We've all got injuries,” he says. “I want to win but no matter what happens, it's already changed things for me.