No Waiting For Willard To Be Funny

From Marin Independent Journal

January 27, 2010
By Paul Liberatore

Of all the Christopher Guest-directed mockumentaries he’s been in – and he’s been in them all – comedian Fred Willard is particularly fond of 1996’s “Waiting for Guffman,” now a cult classic.

In “Guffman,” Willard plays travel agent Ron Albertson, a wannabe musical theater star who has a cornball act with his wife in a small-town show that they are misled to believe will be seen by a Broadway producer – the Guffman of the title.

Willard’s performance earned him an American Comedy Award nomination and the Screen Actors Guild nomination for funniest supporting actor.

“That was the first one we did, and it was my favorite to do,” he recalled the other day, speaking by phone from his home in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. “It was the first, and I was just doing it to have fun. Now we’ve done four, and by the fourth you start thinking, ‘How did I do that? Can I be funny again? It’s like walking across a tightrope and when you get to the other side, you go, ‘How did I get here?'”

The dashing, 70-year-old Willard, who first became nationally known as Martin Mull’s dim bulb sidekick on “Fernwood 2 Night,” is being modest. Jay Leno calls him no less than “the funniest man in the world.”

He was certainly funny in “For Your Consideration” (2006), playing an obnoxious entertainment news show anchor; “A Mighty Wind” (2003), portraying a has-been TV star who coined the catchphrase “Wha’ happened?,” and 2000’s “Best in Show,” the dog show spoof in which he plays a clueless TV color commentator.

He based that character, Buck Laughlin, on the real-life antics of jock-turned-sportscaster Joe Garagiola, winning the best supporting actor award from both the Boston Society of Film Critics and the American Comedy Awards. He was also honored by the American Film Institute.

“That was the most popular of them all,” he said. “Chris (Guest) sent me a tape of the Westminster Dog Show with Joe Garagiola as the color man. He said, ‘You’ll notice that Joe made no effort to learn anything about the dogs, and I don’t want you to learn anything about them, either.'”

But it was “Guffman” that started it all, and Willard will be at the Rafael Film Center at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 for “An Afternoon with Fred Willard,” which includes a screening of the film and a discussion afterward.

“These movies are all re-watchable,” he said. “When you watch them again you pick up little subtleties that you didn’t notice the first time.” He recently watched “Guffman” again, and, he said, “I was impressed by the very nice plot in this movie. It wasn’t just silly songs and Christopher (Guest) playing an effeminate character (the off, off, off, off Broadway director Corky St. Clair).

“The music was really remarkable as well,” he went on. “I didn’t realize it until the musical director started playing some of the tunes on the piano when we were sitting around on the last day of shooting. I said, ‘Boy that’s pretty.’ Musically it holds up. This movie wasn’t just silly for silliness sake.”

Willard, an alumnus of the famed Second City comedy troupe, heads a sketch comedy workshop, the MoHo Group – experience that serves him well in the Guest films, which are mostly improvised.

Willard said he’s heard through the grapevine that Guest and actor-comedian Eugene Levy were getting together this month to talk over ideas for yet another mockumentary – good news for the fans of these movies.

“They’re like Woody Allen films, you either like them or you don’t,” he said. “They aren’t blockbusters.”

The comedy is very dry and very realistic. They’re all rated G or PG. They’re nice, quiet movies.”

What: An Afternoon with Fred Willard, including a screening of “Waiting for Guffman” and post-film discussion
When: 2 p.m. Jan. 31
Where: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael
Admission: $12 and $15
Information: 454-1222,

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