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Harry Anderson of 'Night Court' fame brings magical comedy to Sarasota's McCurdy's Comedy Theatre

He's best known as Harry Stone, the wise but boyish judge from the classic sitcom "Night Court." Before that, he had a recurring role as amiable grifter Harry the Hat on "Cheers."

But Harry Anderson said he never wanted to be an actor, and never even considered himself one.

"I did a 'Saturday Night Live,' just a guest spot," Anderson said in a phone interview from his Asheville, N.C., home. "Les Charles called me and said I had beaten him out of $20 in a shell game in San Francisco."

Charles was co-producing a new sitcom called "Cheers." He asked Anderson if he'd like to do some guest spots, playing the character he played on stage.

The producers of another new show, "Night Court," saw him on Cheers and offered him the lead.

"I guess they figured I was an actor," Anderson said. "I never auditioned for anything. I had the scripts next to me behind the bench. They named the character Harry so I'd remember to react when someone said my name. By the time they figured out that I couldn't act scared on the subway at 4 a.m., I already had a five-year contract."

The only acting he had ever done before his TV work, he said, was a high school production of "Harvey." Also appearing in that production was a classmate he knew as Stevie, who the rest of us know as Steven Seagal.

Anderson had a couple of other TV roles after "Night Court." He was in the miniseries "It" and the had the lead in series called "Dave's World," based on the life and works of Dave Barry, which he calls "the least-remembered five-year show in history." But he eventually left acting and went back to performing in front of live audiences. The next place he'll be doing that is at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre in Sarasota, where he'll be doing five shows in three days starting Friday.

After his TV career, Anderson bought a comedy club in New Orleans, where he had been a street performer before he was a star. The club featured Anderson every night doing a show called "Wise Guy" that mixed his impressive magic and his wry humor. What audiences at McCurdy's will see is a pared-down version of that show.

"It's tough to describe," he said. "I do tricks, I tell stories, I get people involved."

The club was doing fine until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The French Quarter, where the club was located, actually remained unscathed. Anderson and his staff holed up in the club, and when they came out everything seemed fine.

"We didn't take on any water," he said. "There were bags of garbage waiting to be collected that hadn't washed away. But then we started walking around, we saw people who were wet from the waist down."

The club was not damaged, but the city was.

"They were looting the Pottery Barn," he said. "Why were they looting the Pottery Barn? Did they think they'd get rescued sooner if they wrote "Help" on sheets with a 400-thread count?"

The main problem for the club, though, was that so many people left the city, and so few tourists came in the months after the storm, that the club lost its audience. So Anderson sold it and moved to Asheville.

He still keeps in touch with most of the cast of "Night Court."

"I was a young guy who was in a cast with a lot of older people," he said. "Now we're at the age where we see each other mostly at funerals."

Details: Sept. 25-27, McCurdy's Comedy Theatre, 1923 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. Show times: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28. Information: 941-925-3869, mccurdyscomedy.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.