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Anthony Anderson May Be One Of The Hardest Working Softies in Showbiz, Constantly Paying Things Forward

Anthony Anderson has been keeping busy since playing Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson for eight seasons on ABC‘s black-ish, on which he also served as executive producer and which wrapped after 176 episodes in April 2022. He hasn’t left the Johnson family for good, as he is also producing grown-ish, a spin-off on Freeform that features daughter Zoey and her college exploits.

Taking on reality television, the multiple Emmy® and Golden Globe®-nominated actor has traveled through England, France, and Italy, treating his mother to a six-week excursion of a lifetime in the eight-episode Peacock series Trippin’ with Anthony Anderson and Mama Doris. Anderson continued his love for all things culinary and travel, co-starring with Cedric The Enterainer and picking the brains of BBQ experts in Kings of BBQ, which premiered in August on A&E.

This past September, Anderson unmasked as Rubber Ducky in Season 10 of The Masked Singer on Fox, crooning the Dexys Midnight Runners hit “Come On Eileen.” Throughout dabbling in television, Anderson also made an impact on film with roles in Beats (Netflix), Transformers, The Departed, and The Big Year, as well as starring in Small Town Crime, The Star, and the voice of Bones in Ferdinand.

Currently, Anderson has added game-show host to his repertoire, helming To Tell the Truth (also on ABC), a reimagining of the beloved game show that originally aired on CBS in syndicate from 1969 to 1978. Mama Doris provides the commentary and banter for each episode, while Anderson encourages a celebrity panel to question three people who swear to tell the truth about who they are and what they do for a living. Perhaps the most intriguing of Anderson’s latest pursuits is his ongoing partnership with Charmin bathroom tissue, which has announced “reinventing the square for a smoother tear” – changing the brand for the first time in 100 years.

The Compton-born multi-faceted entertainer first made his mark at the NAACP’s ACT-SO Awards, performing the classic monologue from The Great White Hope, which caught the attention of Howard University, gifting him an arts scholarship.

Above The Line spoke with Anderson via Zoom about his prolific career, how he gives back to his community as an advocate and philanthropist, and turning his passion for food into a culinary enterprise. He just might be one of the hardest-working people in showbusiness, but it turns out he’s a big softie as well.

Anthony Anderson (courtesy Charmin)

Above The Line:  Hi, Anthony. So nice to meet you.  There’s so much to learn about you, so let’s start with your involvement with Charmin. Tell me that story.

Anthony Anderson: It’s also nice to meet you, Robin. It was six years ago, I believe in 2017, that we started our partnership. But my relationship with Charmin started as a kid; growing up, I just had Charmin products in our home, which are still in my home to this day. So when the partnership began, it was an authentic one. They decided to come back to me for this, and I just believe in what Charmin does. It’s all about making your bathroom experience better, but more importantly, they listen to their consumers, and their ads are fun! You just want to be a part of it.

ATL: Talk about this specific campaign.

Anderson: [He grabs a package of Charmin.] The consumers were complaining about square tissue paper not tearing properly, and just ripping off and having edges and torn pieces of paper, so Charmin listened and came up with a new change for the toilet paper, which they haven’t done in over a hundred years. They reinvented the square for a smoother tear. Look how smooth it is. You can just pull them apart. [He illustrates pulling apart a piece of toilet paper.] It’s no longer square. They’re square-ish. But they’re not square. They have these little scalloped edges, the little wavy edges, and that’s what’s exciting about it, and that’s what’s fun. They listened to their consumers and did something to change the product, and hopefully this satisfies some of the issues that they had.

ATL: Well, forgive this segue, but you’re a big softie.  I love the fact that you work with your mother and you’ve traveled the world together in the show Trippin’ With Anthony Anderson & Mama Doris and now she’s working with you on a game show To Tell The Truth.  So talk about your relationship and how she doesn’t drive you crazy.

Anderson: My relationship with my mother has always been best friend, sister-brother, moreso than with my mother’s son. And who says she doesn’t drive me crazy? [laughs] We drive each other crazy, but this is something my mother has always wanted to do. She always wanted to be an entertainer, but it never happened for her. She made sacrifices in her life at an early age for me and my dream. At the age of nine, I said, This is what I want to do, and she supported me. So, I’m in a position to give my mother the opportunity to live out her wildest fantasies and dreams, and that came in the form of casting her on television shows and having her be my co-host on our game show, To Tell the Truth. Then our latest incarnation was traveling throughout Europe for six weeks with our show for Peacock, Trippin’ With Anthony Anderson and Mama Doris. That’s pretty special to build these lifelong memories with my mother and for her to go to places that she only dreamt about going to.

Anderson as Rubber Ducky on the Masked Singer (FOX/Michael Becker)

ATL: Where does your passion for food and travel and being a spokesperson come from? 

Anderson: My mother, and for different reasons. I traveled, because my mother always wanted to be on the go, and she was always on the go. I realized that as I got older, it was like, “Oh, she just wanted to get away from my dad and from us.” So I just thought she was a world traveler. She was like, nah, I just needed an opportunity to get away from y’all asses for a week or two. So that’s what I’m doin’! So that, and then the fact that I became a foodie at a very early age watching The Galloping Gourmet, Julia Child, and these other PBS cooking shows, came in handy once my mother got addicted to bingo.

She would come home from work and say, “I’m going to bingo. You might want to cook something for your dad to eat because he’s going to be hungry when he gets home from work.” And then she would leave, and I wouldn’t see her until later that evening or the next day when I was going to school. So that’s where being a foodie came from, and my love of food came from being the oldest of four children. I had to make sure meals were ready when my mother didn’t cook them. So that’s how travel and food came into my life. One, because my mother was escaping from us on many levels, and then two, because she refused to cook for us because she was in the bingo hall.

ATL: So what were some of your signature dishes that you would prepare? 

Anderson: The first dish I remember preparing was roasted chicken, and it was just fortuitous because that day I was at home watching Julia Child and she roasted a chicken. I was like, alright, so my mom said I had to cook for my dad. So I went in the refrigerator and saw what was in there—a whole chicken. We had citrus trees on our property in Compton. We had two avocado trees, and we had a little garden where we grew herbs and whatnot. So I pulled some oranges and lemons off the trees and didn’t do anything with the avocado. I pulled some of the herbs that we were growing and made an herb-type butter, seasoned the cavity of the chicken, stuffed it with onion, lemon, and the orange that I pulled from the trees in the backyard. It was the first time ever peeling the skin back of the chicken and putting butter in between the skin and the flesh. That was something I learned from Julia Child. Then we had a box of Idaho’s Bud Potato Flakes that you made with milk and water. We had cans of cream corn, and we had some Pillsbury Dough Biscuits. I remember cooking that and having it ready for my dad, and he came home and said, “Ooh, your mama put a foot in this tonight.” I said, “Mom didn’t cook that.” He said, “Who cooked it?” I said, “I did.” He said, “What are we eatin tomorrow?” I said, I don’t know, dad. It depends on what Julia Child cooks! (laughs)

ATL: You must write a cookbook. I would be interested in your recipes.

Anderson:  I’m in the process of doing that because Cedric the Entertainer and I just started a barbecue brand, AC Barbecue, and we have three seasoning blends that are in over 2,300 Walmart stores right now. We’re going to drop off our sauces soon, and we’ll be at Home Depot and Lowe’s as well. Our first AC Barbecue Kitchen is going to open up on the campus of Jackson State University, and our plan is to have these kitchens on college campuses around the country this spring. That’s when it’s happening. Also this spring, hopefully, our first restaurant will be open here in Los Angeles, and it’s going to be called AC Barbecue. Along with that, a cookbook—but not necessarily a cookbook on barbecue. It’s really going to be a book of recipes, but it’s really going to be the origin story of barbecue, where it came from, how it started, and what it means to the community. One of our mottos is that we’re rooted in culture and fueled by community. That’s what it’s about.

ATL:  I love it. Charmin can come in handy for napkins, just in case, right?

Anderson: (laughs) Yes, yes, they can. Charmin can come in handy for other things too, you know. It’s got to come out somehow!

Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer on Kings of BBQ (A&E)

ATL: That’s too funny. So was all that born from your Kings of BBQ show that you did with Cedric? 

Anderson: Well, the idea to start the barbecue company was first and then we approached A&E. We had ideas. Ced had an idea, I had an idea, and we just married the two. A&E received it all and was like, “Yo, that’s a great idea.” So we started the Kings of Barbecue to chronicle us as friends starting a business and let you see the inside of it every step of the way. We look at it like this: It’s a one-hour commercial sending people to our brand every week. It was like, yo, it’s a no-brainer to do the show. Let’s do the show to drive people to the brand.

ATL: I think you are the hardest working man in show business.

Anderson: I learned that from my friend, Sam Jackson.

ATL: What did he teach you about that? 

Anderson: He just taught me about hard work, perseverance, and showing up the way that I needed to show up. He’s a good friend, and it all started with us playing golf. I look at what he’s accomplished in his life from the beginning until now, and to be along for the ride and to be able to consider him a friend is a beautiful thing.

ATL: It’s also great that you’re giving back to the community.  You do so much to give back. What are you involved with these days  you can talk about in terms of philanthropy?

Anderson: I have my own foundation called the Anderson Family Foundation. We raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, The Boys and Girls Club of America, the L.A. Mission, and a bunch of other grassroots organizations from the neighborhood in which I grew up in Compton, California, the city of Compton. There’s a Compton Aviation School that I support that teaches young black and brown children how to fly planes. There’s the Compton Equestrian Center that keeps children out of trouble, and we found out that for all of the students that start at the Equestrian Center, their GPA has risen across the board, and there’s less violence and whatnot. They go on to be productive students in their secondary education at university. These are organizations that I donate to. What’s also in the works is starting a scholarship for students to attend Howard University, which is where I graduated from the College of Fine Arts. That’s what I’m doing, just lending my name and time.

Anderson unmasked on the Masked Singer (FOX/Michael Becker)

ATL: Tell me more about how you got involved with the Compton Equestrian Center. 

Anderson: Compton is still zoned for farming animals. It was a rural area back in the day, and so a part of the city still has barns, open fields, and stables. People use them, and the Compton Equestrian Center is one of those places. It’s just amazing what they’re doing with the children of the city. They’re there to train, to learn, and to compete as well, so it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

ATL: Are you into horseback riding?

Anderson:  I’ve ridden a couple of times, and the last time I rode, we were on a cliff, and my horse—you know horses, they run in packs, and I was a novice—so when the pack took off, my horse was like, “Oh, my homies are leaving me,” and so he tried to get with his homies! I thought I was just going to die because to the left was a cliff in sheer death, and to the right, there was nothing but boulders, and we’re just on this dirt road. I knew what to do, but that horse was not listening or responding to me because he saw his buddies take off and he wanted to take off with them! And a couple of cowboys had to turn back around and come get me and calm my horse down. I was like, You know what, guys? How far are we from the barn? I’ll walk back; don’t worry about it!

ATL: So there will be no westerns in your future anytime soon! Is there an organization that’s especially personal to you?

Anderson: It runs across the board, from the Make a Wish Foundation to Alzheimer’s to mental health. I have a half brother and sister and an aunt who have mental health issues and never really thought about them in that way until I became a host for mental health with Lamar Jackson’s Foundation. Then I really, truly understood the impact that these organizations have on people who have mental illness and learned that it’s okay to not be okay. We can’t talk to someone who has a mental illness. We can’t talk to an insane person, because then we would be insane. We can’t meet them where they are; we can’t try to rationalize with them that way because their brain is operating differently than ours. A lot of us fall prey to that. I did that with my aunt, but then I realized it was more than that.

ATL: So how do you decide what you’re going to lend your celebrity to and what you’re going to lend your name to?   

Anderson: It’s my responsibility to help as many people as I can. It’s my responsibility to lift as I climb. That’s what it’s about for me. So if my celebrity, my name, my time, and sometimes more importantly, my checkbook, can make a difference, then that’s what I do. But again, I stand on the shoulders of those who stood before me, and somebody gave me an opportunity, and I watched how they were helping other people and organizations. So I’m just paying it forward.

Anthony Anderson on To Tell the Truth (ABC, Christopher Willard)

ATL: Before you go, I wanted to ask you about To Tell The Truth, which was one of my favorite shows growing up as a kid. Did you watch it? 

Anderson: I watched it growing up as a kid, so when the opportunity came to me, I was like, “Oh, they were trying to explain the show to me.” I remember that show. I remember seeing that as a child. It was great doing the show because the first year that I was the host and my mom was the co-host, Betty White was one of our permanent guests. And for her to be on the show, she would’ve been on that show for six different decades. She still had it, and we did two seasons together, and we had a great time. There was a lot of history there, and to see her growing up as a kid, watching the show, and then now working with her on the show was definitely cool for me.

ATL: Do you ever get stumped or you know ahead of time what’s going on? 

Anderson: No, I get stumped on the show. We don’t know. And I never wanted to know the answers because I wanted to play along with everybody else. It just became a game within a game for me, my mom, and everybody else because we didn’t know. So we’re making guesses, and then people were making their guesses based on my mom’s guess because my mother can spot a liar from a mile away because she’s a liar herself, so they speak the same language. (laughs) So, for the most part, my mother picked more winners than we did. After a while, if you were on the show and you answered everything correctly in all five rounds, you got the “Doris,” and it was a bust of my mom and her bust. Only three people have it: Deon Cole, Michael Strahan, and Oliver Hudson. So in the seven years that we did it, only three people have answered all five rounds correctly, so we only gave out three busts and their prized possessions.

ATL: What would you say is the most rewarding for you these days, since you’re doing so much?

Anderson:  What’s most rewarding for me is looking at my mother shine the way she always wanted to shine in this industry. Looking at how happy she is is entertaining. That’s what’s great for me: being able to sit back and, one, watch my mother do what she does and have people respond to it and love her for it, and two, being in a position to afford my mother that opportunity. That’s most rewarding for me, seeing the joy on her face when people see us together. Or when they just see me and the first thing out of their mouth is, “Where’s your mom? How’s your mom doing?” Not how are you doing there? It’s good to see you. It’s like, Where’s your mom? You know, how’s your mom doing? So that warms my heart. That’s the best, right there.

 

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