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BY MITCHELL TERPSTRA | Photo: Rudy Malmquist While at Second City, Anderson found


himself working alongside Farley’s younger brother, John, and rehearsing scripts marked with handwritten notes by comedy greats like John Candy and Steve Carell. He was on his way. Then, in 1997, “Saturday Night Live” su-


perstar and all-around lovable big guy Chris Farley died unexpectedly at the unripe age of 33. As with SNL great John Belushi before him, Farley’s death resulted from runaway drug use, the doer-in, in Farley’s case, a com- bination of cocaine and morphine. Even in the wake of the elder Farley’s


death, the party atmosphere at Detroit’s Second City continued and, in Anderson’s eyes, began to escalate. He began to worry about the rampant drug and alcohol use that seemed to increasingly accompany writing sessions, rehearsals and performances. “Right after Chris died, it was getting


crazy,” he said. “Like cocaine-during-inter- mission crazy.” So Anderson quit. He moved back to Grand Haven with no


job and few, if any, opportunities for comedy or acting. He hadn’t developed a “Plan B” for what to do if Second City didn’t work out, so he did with his life what he does so adeptly on stage: he made it up as he went along. He took a part-time job in a bike shop.


He worked on scripts. He helped out a friend who taught theatre at Grand Haven High School and directed a few productions at Muskegon Civic Theater. He worked with another friend on an indie film that won him some notice, and then, in the mid-‘00s, he moved to Grand Rapids and started working more regularly on commercials, corporate gigs and touring as a stand-up. Today, Anderson is one of the busiest


professional comics in Grand Rapids. You’ve likely seen — or heard — him in the TV spots he does for Chemical Bank, Furniture Row or Big Boy. (He’s the voice of the Big Boy statue that verbally accosts people on the street.) He’s also the co-creator of a couple of inventive improv-comedy shows in Grand Rapids, and he tours nationally as a stand-up comic. The 40-year-old comedian is a busy man


who seems to have at least 10 different proj- ects churning simultaneously. At the moment, he’s part of a two-team stand-up that covers 30 states for what’s called the We Can Make You Laugh Comedy Tour. Performing mostly at college campuses, a typical show features a segment of stand-up from both Anderson and his co-comedian Jimmy Meritt. The final half-hour brings a number of guests onstage to see if they can make it two minutes without laughing while Anderson and Merritt engage in all kinds of ridiculous antics. Cash prizes go to those who keep straight faces. Few do. “It’s a calculated risk,” Anderson said. “By this point, I basically know how many


people will laugh and how many won’t. Guys fare better than girls, because there’s always something vaguely adversarial about guys and comedy. That I’m-funny-too kind of resentment.” In addition to his show with Merritt,


Anderson also enjoys a quiet omnipresence around town. His commercials and improv work give him lots of visibility, and he’s re- cently taken on work as one of the co-hosts of WOOD-TV’s new “MYGR Weekend.” Some of Anderson’s other comedy proj-


ects include the weekly V.I.P. Show, in which a local “celeb” — say, Mars Hills Pastor Rob Bell or WGVU’s Shelley Irwin — is questioned about his or her life, which, in turn, serves as the basis for an hour of improvisational sketches. Then, there’s the Don’t We Boys — a sort of Hardy Boys-meets-SNL sketch com- edy group. Altogether, Anderson does about 150 shows per year. Both shows are performed at Dog Story Theater, where Anderson serves as a board member. Finally, there are the numerous stage and


screenplays he’s written, directed or starred in, including his critically acclaimed, two-man Civil War-era tragicomedy called Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying! and his award-winning survivalist mockumentary, Living with the Fosters. Shoot Faster started with absurd e-mails


between Anderson and his friend Demain Krentz. “Out of the blue, I received an e-mail say-


ing something like, ‘The congregation prays for your safe return,’ and ‘Write with news about the war,’” Anderson said. “So I decided to write back, following his lead stylistically.” The duo expanded and revised their


e-mails to create the historically inaccurate epistolary play about two brothers’ raucous adventures and sleazy love affairs, all told in the ornate-letter style of a century-and-a- half ago. The two performed the play at the Apollo Theatre Studio in Chicago during July 2010 and received rave reviews from multiple critics, including chicagotheatreblog.com’s Lawrence Bommer, who called it “a remark- able feat—worthy of Mark Twain … two hours of pitch-perfect parody.” Anderson’s other major production,


Living with the Fosters, captures all the pre-Y2K hysteria in its main character, bootstrap- survivalist Carl Foster, played by Anderson. In the film, Foster has 365 days to prove to his family that he’s not insane, while local filmmaker Atis Jamison has 365 days to docu- ment Foster’s preparation for the end of the world. The film won “Best Feature Film” at Lansing’s 2002 Film Festival and, for a time, attracted the eye of New Line Cinema. If Anderson seems exceptionally suc-


cessful at pulling off risky career moves in a particularly inhospitable economy, it’s for two reasons: 1) he refuses to have a plan B, and 2) he doesn’t separate work from play. He keeps


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work fun, which, understandably, is easier for a comedian than, say, a CPA. Undoubtedly, Anderson carried these business philosophies over from his earlier days as a BMX pro. “If you have a backup plan, you’re gonna


use it,” Anderson said. “So don’t have a backup plan.” Hence, onstage or offstage, doing acting,


writing, directing, improv, sketch or stand-up, Anderson goes all out. It also doesn’t hurt that Anderson has a definite poise, aplomb, or stage presence. In other words, Anderson has style—but not that punchy, one-liner, typical club-crowd style. His comedy is more subtle, patient, slow-stewing, narrative-driven and just a little bit contemptuous. “Joe never half-asses anything like a lot of


other comedians who, when trying their new material, kind of hedge their bet and warn the crowd,” says Merritt, Anderson’s colleague and road companion on the We Can Make You Laugh Tour. “Joe is always smooth and professional, yet what makes him funny is his sense of joyful playfulness, his being a kid at heart, which is especially interesting to watch as he starts getting into darker topics.” That mixture of dogged professional-


ism and child-heartedness is apparent in Anderson’s home office. The room resembles something halfway


between a museum and a landfill, the way its landscaped with heaps of notes, scripts and scraps of paper, napkins even, containing one-liners and potentially hilarious scenarios for some forthcoming film, play or sketch. Yet, surrounding these work piles is parapherna- lia of Anderson’s childhood obsession: Dr. Pepper. “Can you tell he’s a sugar addict?” says


Amy McFadden, Anderson’s girlfriend and fellow Dog Story board member. Six Dr. Pepper clocks cover the walls.


Dr. Pepper lunch boxes and paperweights, ads and crates, travel mugs and trash cans cover the horizontal surfaces. Cans of Dr. Pepper-aspiring knock-offs line the room’s one window sill in some sort of homage to the original. And a Carhartt with a Dr. Pepper logo — the coat Anderson wears everywhere — even rests on the back of his desk chair. “If the bottom fell out of the comedy


industry, I would expand my Dr. Pepper col- lection,” Anderson says. “That way I could finally end up rich and famous and super happy. Like people on that ‘Hoarders’ show. “Maybe I do have a backup plan.” n


SCENE SOUNDS | SIGHTS | DINING | SCHEDULE


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