When he was 10 years old, Anders Nielsen remembers piling into the family station wagon for a Christmas Eve trip to see his Danish relatives in Portland.
These were notorious hurly-burly events, his father Erik being one of seven children—six of whom were boys. With “millions” of boisterous kids bouncing about, the holiday feast would balloon to at least 50 people, all vying to command center stage and tell the best jokes.
The survival advice from his father?
“If you don’t have anything funny to say, don’t say anything at all,” Nielsen recalls.
Twenty years later Nielsen has certainly found his voice—both as a regular on Portland’s stand-up comedy scene and as a senior content developer for Trueline. Arriving at the company in early 2020 as an assistant content coordinator, he’s been promoted six times.
“What was interesting was finding the opportunity to speak to people from all walks of life and learn about different industries,” Nielsen says. “Honestly, it was a perk of the job.”
Bright Lights, Big City
Indeed, connecting with people and making them laugh came naturally to Nielsen.
Bit by the theater bug at Deering High School, he was doing stand-up by age 18, often landing at open-mic nights in downtown Portland, playing to a crowd—in his own words—of “drunken 40-year-olds and errant tourists.”
“When that light’s shining on you, you get sucked into that wonderful feeling,” Nielsen says. “It’s addictive.”
Taking his passion to Connecticut College, Nielsen joined an improv group. He ran the live events series every Friday and took plenty of field trips to New York City—even performing in the 3 a.m. slot at the world-renowned Del Close Comedy Marathon. After graduating in 2012 with a degree in theater, he moved to the Big Apple with hopes of making it big.
“It was a great experience. I learned a lot and found some lifelong friends and collaborators in New York,” Nielsen says.
His mentor—an Upright Citizens Brigade instructor named Anthony Atamanuik, known for his starring role on Comedy Central’s “The President Show” and as a writer on 30 Rock—was supportive, but told him that it would take 15 years to break into the late-night scene.
“He paid me the biggest compliment in my life, telling me I always seem like I’m on vacation,” Nielsen recalls with a laugh. “But I knew I didn’t want to spend that amount of time in the city. The quality and pace of life in Portland was more to my liking.”
Migration and Magic
For Nielsen, moving back to Maine didn’t mean giving up. He knew there were plenty of people around—and laughs to be had.
To promote comedy north of New York, Nielsen got involved in promoting, booking and performing at Maine’s flagship venue, the Laugh Shack at Lincolns, which offers comedy every Thursday night for $5. For the past four years, he’s drawn top talent on the cheap from Boston to Los Angeles, including comedians who have performed on Comedy Central and Late Night.
“We’ve got the best shows going,” says Nielsen. “Now when I go do stand-up anywhere, I parlay that into producing and developing better shows.”
But even with a top anchor spot, Nielsen continued to spread his love of comedy throughout the region, producing shows and performing in breweries, participating in roadshows all around Maine and in New Hampshire, Boston, New York and beyond, doing stand-up at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport and serving as a co-chair of Portland’s Comedy Co-op.
“I’m addicted to comedy; it’s a labor of love,” Nielsen says. “I need to practice the art form. There’s no getting around it.”
The beauty of performing comedy—and working at Trueline—allow his two loves to benefit each other.
Like his shows, his phone calls often include an element of spontaneity. But the most valuable thing he’s learned performing onstage, or on the end of a telephone, is the power of listening.
“It’s the most important thing you can do,” Nielsen says. “You allow the universe to move through you and speak. If you listen, you can respond in a constructive way, intuitively. In both instances, you have a powerful impact on someone you’ve never seen before or will see again. It’s a wild thing that happens.”
In his work at Trueline, he strives to get people to see themselves in a different light, encouraging them to share their stories—and their often powerful perspectives on the world. It’s easily his favorite part of the job, he says. When things occasionally get tense, his advice to others is to have fun and to “choose chill.”
“Even when you have a bad set—or rough phone call at work—you get to a level where it can be a good experience,” Nielsen says. “It’s authentic.”
Notes on Anders Neilsen:
Did you know: Nielsen meditates every day? He grew up in what he describes as a liberal spiritual community known as the Journey Farthest Out. It keeps him grounded.
The envy of all: Nielsen used to have a signature beard down to his sternum. His advice to other men who want to sport the look? Don’t shave!
If stranded on an island: The comedian (who also played in the band Floralia during college) would bring his guitar and bang out some R.E.M. tunes.
Bucket list: Trips to Asia and one day having a house, yard and animals.
Greatest life accomplishment so far?: Nielsen says it’s a bit of an unconventional answer: he quit drinking. “People ask me why, and the honest answer is that I have a lot more fun when I’m not drinking.”