The Interview Series // 17

WILANDERSON

Writing these intros can be such a bitch. Trying to think of something witty and original is super ghey, plus you get that added extra of thinking no one will laugh at your jokes. So seeing as we’re awesome journalists now, we decided to consult the almanac of Awesome Journalism 2009: Wikipediac.

William James (Wil) Anderson (born 31 January, 1974) is an Australian (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Australian) comedian (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Comedian), performing stand-up, as well as on television (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Television) and radio (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Radio).”

That pretty much sums it up. Funny dude, funny name, famous enough to need a Wikipedia entry… Basically, Wil is a pretty rad dude and funny as balls. How funny? Check this out! These are the names of his stand-up shows since 1998:

“Wilosophy (2009); BeWILdered (2008); Wil of God (2007); Wil Communication (2006); Kill Wil (2005); Licence to Wil (2004); Jagged Little Wil (2003); Wil By Mouth (2002); Wil Of Fortune (2001); Who Wants To Be A Wilionaire (2000); Willenium, Terra Wilius (1999); and I am the Wilrus (1998).”

Ok, enough of that. We asked him all the questions us juniors might want to know about figuring out life, parents, being creative, the ‘process’, and other such in depth conversation. Read on and find the meaning of life.*

Jr: When was the first time you realised you could make people laugh?

Wil: I can’t remember when I first realised I could. That part of it still comes as a bit of a mystery to me. But I certainly remember when I realised I wanted to.

When I was about fourteen I lived on my parents’ farm in the country, and we only had two TV channels. Yes, that’s right kids, two. (And we used to eat nothing but pebbles and were grateful.)

We had Southern Cross, and the ABC. My two favourite shows were the Ted Robinson (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/name/nm0733133/) produced Big Gig and Andrew Denton’s (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Andrew_Denton) Money or the Gun. I loved those shows because I finally saw people who seemed to look at the world the way I did.

I found the notion that interesting ideas, and counter-culture thoughts, could be presented through humor immensely appealing.

I could never have imagined back then that twenty years later I would have been lucky enough to work with both Ted (on The Glass House (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/The_Glass_House_(TV_series))) and Andrew (on The Gruen Transfer (http://www NULL.abc NULL.net NULL.au/tv/gruentransfer/)).

Jr: And when did you then decide you wanted to be a comedian?

W: I can remember the exact moment. My appetite for comedy had been growing for a few years, and for my seventeenth birthday my Mum took me to see Billy Connolly live (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=fzQNNgFNty4). Now I guess going on a date with your Mum on your birthday isn’t that cool, but I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I saw this man talk for three hours in a row, swearing his head off, and have three thousand people aged ten to eighty piss themselves. (In the case of the older ones sometimes literally.) I knew that moment it was what I wanted to do for a job.

Jr: Yes! A lot of us can definitely relate to that feeling. But were you parents supportive?

W: I don’t think my parents were rapt when I told them I was going to give up being a journalist to tell dick jokes for cash.

But my Dad always said the secret of life was to find something you liked to do, work hard, and you would find a way to get people to pay you to do it. And comedy was what I wanted to do.

But secretly I don’t think it was until I bought a house they finally realised it was a proper career. They figured if someone would loan me cash based on knob gags and Shannon Noll material it must be a real job.

Jr: Ha! Yes! Do you think you got your humour from them or are they completely unfunny?

W: My Dad is a farmer and has a dry sense of humor. My Mum is the really funny one. I remember after I had got in trouble for saying something, a journo rang my Mum and asked: “Are you embarrassed by your son?”

Mum simply replied: “When he was one I took him to the local shopping mall and he did poo on my face, nothing he has done since then has embarrassed me as much!”

Jr: When you were starting out did you have a ‘plan b’ – we heard you studied Journalism?

W: I had a teacher at school- let’s just call her “Mrs Brown”- who I told I was thinking about becoming a comedian. She told me I wasn’t funny, and wouldn’t make a living doing it, and I should get a proper job…

It deflated me. So I ended up studying journalism.

When we started doing The Glass House I always wanted to call it Stick It Up Your Arse Mrs Brown, so she would have to see every week she was wrong.

As soon as I started comedy I quit all my other work. I didn’t want a plan b. I saw an episode of Oprah where she was interviewing Roseanne and she said: “The problem with back-up plans is you fall back on them.”

Jr: Totally. Do you think though that having that background helps you be a comedian now?

W: It got me used to producing something to a deadline. Being a comedian isn’t about being funny, it’s about being funny on demand.

Roy and HG (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Roy_and_HG) told me they often get approached in the pub by people telling them they had friends who were funnier than them. Their only response is: “Yeah, we are just able to be funny when the red light comes on.”

Jr: When it comes to writing new material; does it come naturally while you’re doing your daily thing or do you have to sit down and consciously work at it?

W: The one thing I have learned is that it is all these things… and sometimes none of them.

Sometimes something funny happens and I just note it down (that’s why I have to take my notebook to the pub or I come home with notes all over me like Guy Pearce in Memento (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=UFWAE1CffbY).)

Sometimes I have a set assignment (ie. Write something about mother’s day for a column, or I want to write something about gay marriage for my stand-up act) and sometimes it just comes out magically fully-formed on stage.

Sometimes it’s a combination of all of it. Sometimes none of it works. Sometimes the trick is to stop staring at the page, walk to the shops to grab the paper, and in your head something clicks.

Russell Brand (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Russel_brand) says his life is a series of embarrassing incidents strung together by telling people about those embarrassing incidents, but my life isn’t that interesting so I have to work at it.

Jr: OK, so we’ve sent you these questions and you said you’d answer them on the plane. Obviously you’re on your way overseas to do some shows… How well does comedy translate across continents? Do you find you have to change your approach?

W: People tend to laugh at the same things. Language is normally the thing you have to be wary of. For example I was doing a gig in New York a couple of years ago when I said: “I don’t mean to hang shit on George Bush!”

Of course they don’t have that expression there. So everyone stared at me like I literally wanted to “hang shit” on George Bush. Like I was some sort of defecation decorator, think Brown Eye For The Bush Guy.

Jr: You’ve done TV, radio, penned columns, authored a book and of course done stand-up shows, but sometimes all at once… Is this all part of being a great entertainer? Or if you had it your way would just concentrate on one area?

W: I tend to get sacked a lot, so I tend to do a lot of things because I have a hideous mortgage and no other skills.

Seriously though, having more than one string to your bow certainly makes you more employable, but you do run the risk of being jack of all trades, master of none.

In the last few years I have been trying to pick fewer projects (ie. Doing ten weeks of Gruen rather than 42 weeks of Glass House) and try to do them better.

I guess ideally I would love to get to a point where I could do stand-up full-time and just dabble in the other things.

But then again, while I don’t love TV, radio, writing etc in the same way I love stand-up, there are things about each of them that I really enjoy and I am certainly glad I have had the opportunity to try them all.

And like anything, no matter how much fun, you can get bored and that is the death of creativity. So after a long stand-up tour it’s great to forget about it for a month and go and work on some tele or write a book.

Jr: Tell us about The Gruen Transfer – How did you find yourself working with Andrew Denton on a show about ads?

W: I have a general theory that you should try to work with people who inspire you, or people you admire, and the idea will work itself out.

Andrew came to me and said he wanted to do a show that “gave people the tools to understand advertising, using humor, like Frontline (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=a4C8rsjlyA8) did with current affairs”.

At that stage, that’s all the idea was. But I think if someone like Andrew wants to work with you, you take his hand, close your eyes, and jump off a cliff.

Jr: So is hosting shows like The Gruen Transfer and The Glasshouse the ‘top job’ to you? Or do you have other aspirations?

W: To be perfectly honest, as much as I love both of those shows, hosting television is about the least fun of all my jobs.

In fact, it’s the one that feels most like a “job”. I think the best way to put it is, I don’t think tele is fun to make, it’s fun to look back on something you have made.

(I also find writing a little like this. I don’t love to write, I love to have written.)

I certainly have some other aspirations, big and small, but if I could still be working in comedy at age 65 and never had to get another job, I would consider myself a success.

Jr: And lastly, any advice for young wannabe comedians?

W: Don’t do it… I’m not that good and I certainly don’t need competition for jobs from young, ambitious and talented people.

And only do it if you “need” to do it. If you need to, then nothing will stop you. If you are just doing it for money, or fame, there are much easier ways to get those things… like advertising.

* Ha! Got you. No meaning of life here!

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 23/07/2009