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NUNN ON ONE Fred Willard returns to Second City
Extended for on online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2014-07-14


Actor and comedian Fred Willard will always be remembered for his improvisational skills.

This Is Spinal Tap—along with films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration—have cemented that. He went on to such movies as WALL-E and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

His television roles have been numerous, ranging from Laverne & Shirley to Community to Modern Family.

This Second City alumnus now returns to give back to the organization that made him the man he is today.

Windy City Times: Hi, Fred. I'm excited you are coming to Chicago.

Fred Willard: I'm excited too. I like coming back to Second City and doing things there.

Read more story below....

WCT: You are an [alumnus of] Second City?

Fred Willard: Yes. It was back in 1966, I think. They had a different way of recruiting people. What you did was audition for them. I was familiar with Second City because I saw them on Broadway with Alan Arkin in the original company. I was doing sketch comedy with a partner in the coffee houses in New York and around the country. My agent called me and wanted me to audition for them. I didn't think I could do that because they seemed so bright and politically oriented but I did anyway.

Robert Klein was in the group I auditioned with. I had never improvised before but for some reason it worked out very well. By the end of the time they had more time and I raised my hand to try another one. They offered me the spot and I was working on other things but luckily I wound up working in Chicago.

WCT: There will be lots of stars at this fundraiser for Second City.

Fred Willard: I am close friends with Mike Hagerty, who will be there along with David Koechner and George Wendt. I was just with Scott Adsit in Nantucket for the film festival there.

I am not sure what we are going to do but I am hoping to be in one of favorite Second City sketches called "When Football Comes to the University of Chicago." It is an old classic. I was not in the original version. I will do whatever they want. It is honoring Gilda Radner, and will also help out Second City alumni who get sick and don't have insurance. It is like one big fraternity and a family. We all know each other and support each other. I never go back to Chicago without seeing a Second City show.

WCT: Some people are good at improvising, but it can be quite scary. How is it for you?

Fred Willard: It is both. It is very scary. The key to me is to do it all the time. If not you are onstage thinking about when to jump in. Now when I come back to Chicago they ask if I will do a set and that is scary to me.

WCT: That's a lot of pressure.

Fred Willard: I will go to the first show because I know they won't improves after that show. Before I never understood why people wouldn't want to do it because it was so much fun. It was being part of a team then. It is like a wonderful game you have discovered. It is supposed to be. It is a lot of fun when you get into it with friends you know and people who you trust. That is very important. It can be scary as hell otherwise!

WCT: It must have paid off with all of your Christopher Guest roles.

Fred Willard: Yes. The first movie I did with Christopher he told me there would be no script and it would be improvised. I thought, "That's great; I don't have to memorize all those lines." Walking out to my car then I realized I would have to come up with all of those lines!

That was great working with people like Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy and Bob Balaban. We just fell right into it.

WCT: Look at Jane Lynch. She's gone on to do very well.

Fred Willard: She's wonderful. I don't know if she is a Second City person or not.

WCT: She's from the Chicago area. She got her started with the Brady Bunch live show here.

Fred Willard: I'm learning about her, okay...

WCT: Did you base some of these characters on people you know?

Fred Willard: Of course you do. When I first got to New York I got a job at a credit office. The people I worked with nonsensical rules and stuffy bosses I was always amused by. I think I very easily jump into one of those characters and make fun of them.

WCT; Congrats on the Emmy nomination for Modern Family. It must be a blast to be on the show.

Fred Willard: It is. I had worked with the producers on a show just a year before that with Kelsey Grammer called Back to You. They only did one season so I was very pleased that they got such a successful show as Modern Family.

WCT: You look just like his father. [Willard is the father of Ty Burrell on the show.] That is great casting.

Fred Willard: Yeah, Ty Burrell is terrific. It is wonderful show. Frankly I didn't even watch it before I did my first episode. When I was making it I looked around and saw what was happening and thought how clever it was. Now I am a big fan of it.

WCT: Are you doing more episodes?

Fred Willard: I think so but they are hiatus now. I just ran into Julie Bowen at an event. She said that she would see me back on the set since they hadn't killed me off yet! So I am ready.

WCT: You have been performing in some Broadway projects like Promises, Promises.

Fred Willard: The company is called Reprise out here in Los Angeles. The first show I did for them was Promise, Promises. Jason Alexander starred in it and directed it. Then I did Anything Goes and Li'l Abner for them. It was great but I shy away from long running things. I can do a simple song and dance. In Cape Cod I did No, No Nanette. The rehearsal is tough but once you get it then it's a great job.

WCT: I read you did Dreamstuff with Michael Urie, who recently did his one-man show here in Chicago. Are you doing some more one-man shows yourself?

Fred Willard: I would love to, and have in the past. My idea was to work in a sketch-comedy group called Fred Willard: Alone At Last! There is a cast of 13 but I thought it was funny to come out as a one-man show but then there are scenes with two people then more and by the end of the show have an entire cast taking a bow. That is my preferred way of performing as a sketch-ensemble comedy.

I've tried stand-up and it is a lot of fun and fulfilling but also very scary. It is like walking a tight rope every day and when you get to the other side it's great but if you slip and fall it's tough.

WCT: Your resume is huge. Did you ever think you would have such a long career?

Fred Willard: I hoped to when I started. Someone once said, "When the job is over, you've retired." I think that is true; then someone calls, so each job is like a bonus.

WCT: What do you have coming up?

Fred Willard: I have a new Disney animated film called Planes: Fire & Rescue. I play one of the characters in that. I just did a kids' movie about a dog that becomes a wrestler. I guess they thought of me because of Best in Show. I play one of the announcers.

I did a strange movie called The Night Before. I have no idea when it will come out. It is like The Hangover, with a bachelor party the night before a wedding.

I am also the spokesman for La Quinta Inns. When you make travel plans, think of La Quinta.

WCT: Are you doing Review for Comedy Central again?

Fred Willard: I would love to. It was picked up for a second season but, unfortunately, I was killed off the first season in a space accident. I did a few episodes. Maybe they could bring me back as a twin brother or in a dream sequence!

See Willard in person at The Second City All-Star Comedy Benefit, 1616 N. Wells St., July 17, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m, with the event benefitting the Alumni Fund and Gilda's Club. Visit www.SecondCity.com for details and tickets.

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