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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fred Willard Brings Even More Funny to TBS

The end of the year is now upon us, believe it or not, which means it’s time for TBS to give us their annual look at the World’s Funniest Commercials…

But this year, they’ve added some extra funny with the man I consider to be one of the funniest people to ever grace a TV screen—Fred Willard.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to Willard about the show, his amazing career, and whether he plans to slow down any time soon…

But before we could talk about any of that, Willard wanted to know where I was calling from since he had just been in Charleston for the WV Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. He had been there to honor his friend Frank DeVol, who wrote the music for Willard’s legendary sitcom, “Fernwood 2 Nite.” And he had nothing but nice things to say about the ceremony, Charleston and West Virginia…

But then I’m not sure Willard could say anything bad about anything. He’s that nice of a guy. And I discovered that we share the same birthday, which he thought was really nice…

The host of “World’s Funniest Commercials” is Kevin Nealon and although Willard was only brought on to do one sketch, he ended up sort of becoming the co-host. “I’m a big fan of the show. It was a lot of fun. I love Kevin Nealon. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the commercials. I can’t wait to watch it on TV myself.”

If Willard were choosing the funniest commercials he would choose “nothing too slapstick. Sometimes they’re just so funny that you forget what they’re about…Some of them are very real. They’re like little movies.”

Willard cited the classic Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial as an example of a good one. “The first time through you remember football. The second time through you remember the product.”

Willard has made us laugh in countless movies, sitcoms and variety shows. But what makes him laugh? “I have a diverse sense of humor. My favorite stuff is subtle but I do like slapstick. Some of my favorite stuff is ‘Fawlty Towers.’ I like a lot of stuff from England. ‘That Mitchell and Webb Report.’ I love sketch type of humor. I never like serious stuff.”

He also tries to sample what’s new in the world of comedy when he can. “I don’t get out and see comedy as much as I should. If I can I’ll tune into Comedy Central.” Willard said that’s a good way to sample new comics, because you’re “not stuck in the club.”

Since Willard has done so many sitcoms, I asked him if he thought the sitcom was making a comeback after many thought it was dead. “It definitely is. The tide has turned and three camera comedies with an audience [are making a comeback]. Of course, I don’t notice if the audience is laughing or not.” Getting back to what brought us to speak to begin with, Willard added, “They should put laugh tracks on commercials, shouldn’t they?”

The last sitcom Willard was a regular on was the Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton vehicle, “Back to You.” Willard calls that a “sad deal” and adds that it was “a little too soon for Kelsey” to return to TV as another character. “He’s a great guy.” Willard agreed with me that “You” would probably be more successful on TV now.

Asking Willard to go through all of his characters and choose a favorite is probably like asking a mother to choose her favorite child, but Willard chose Mike LaFontaine in “A Mighty Wind.” “He was a character I really loved. He was a very colorful character. My hair was dyed blonde.”

Willard also mentioned a role that was “completely opposite,” the role that earned him three Emmy nominations—Hank McDoogal on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which I admit is one of my favorites.

I couldn’t resist mentioning to Willard that he was the “zoo dollars” guy on “Friends” for me since I am such a big “Friends” fan. I didn’t know if he would remember what I was talking about since he has done so many roles but he immediately remembered he did the episode after the Super Bowl with Brooke Shields. “That show was huge.”

So with everyone Willard has worked with, is there anyone who he hasn’t worked with that he would like to? Willard immediately listed Larry David, Albert Brooks, and the one he would really like to work with Woody Allen.

Willard mentioned that he played the bartender in the series “DC Follies,” which featured puppets, one of which was a Woody Allen puppet. “I heard that Woody didn’t like it. I thought at least he’s a little familiar with the show.”

So will Willard be slowing down anytime soon? No way. “You slow down inadvertently, and you think why aren’t I doing anything? And then when you do something, you need a vacation. But I’m having a good time.”

And as long as he keeps popping up on our TV screens, so are we…

“World’s Funniest Commercials of 2009” airs Tuesday, December 15th at 10 p.m. on TBS…

Photo Credit: Erik Liebowitz/TBS