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Life & Arts

Actor Fred Willard on Returning to Austin and Saying 'Yes, And...'

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Minnesota Public Radio/flickr
Actor Fred Willard performs at a past 'Wits' show. Tonight he performs with 'Wits' in Austin.

For fifty years, Fred Willard has been entertaining America. He is one of the more prolific working actors of our time. He’ll be in town tonight for a taping of the public radio show, “Wits.” Spanning genres from ground-breaking comedies to tween sitcoms to animation voice work, he has more than 275 film and TV credits as an actor and more than 130 appearing as himself. Willard could be the embodiment of the improv comedy "Yes, and..." credo.

Willard: Well, that has been my whole career if someone calls and asked me to do something. There’s things I’ve turned down, but I find it's always better to say “yes” and then make something good out of it.

Maas: Your career has spanned decades – since the '60s and yet you still are quite relevant today. I mean  you're doing everything from Disney shows to Comedy Bang Bang to everything else. Our kids are watching you. Our grandparents are watching. Everyone seems to be watching something that involves Fred Willard. How have you managed to stay relevant?

Willard: Well, I don't know. I've always been a fan of comedy. I like to stay current with things. I try to hang out with the right crowd. I did this show called “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which I find little kids now will say, “Oh, you were on ‘Wizards of Waverly Place.’” Also “Wall-E,” which was a Pixar film, which was a great favorite for kids. And then I don't know, the younger people, I don’t know what they’ve seen me. Maybe the Christopher Guest movies, which stay kinda perennially popular with people.

Maas: I believe you came to the area for “Waiting for Guffman,” correct?

Willard: The first Christopher Guest movie I did “Waiting for Guffman,” we did right here in Austin and a few scenes out in Lockhart.

Maas: What's the one thing you get most often?

Willard: I think probably best in show Best in show that was Christopher Guest’s most popular movie. I was the announcer. People say, “Hey, Best In Show!”

Maas: None for “the Bold and the Beautiful?”

Willard: Oh my God. I almost… Isn’t it awful that I forget? The first one I did I pulled into CBS, I said I'm here to do “The Bad and the Beautiful.” And the guard says you mean “The Bold and the Beautiful” But I just won an Emmy for that, a daytime Emmy for that  Yeah, and it's a lot of fun to do. I'll tell you that. I’ve always kinda looked at daytime soap operas as “ahh geez, all of these glossy looking people.” But I said what an interesting acting experience it is. You come on. You do a show in one day.

Maas: Let’s talk about Wits. You've done the show once before. Your thoughts on your experience?

Willard: It was wonderful. It seem very bright. We did it in Minneapolis. It was just a great experience. So, I was a little confused were doing it in Austin, but they said they're going on the road, going around the country, which is a great idea. And it gave me a chance to come back to Austin. It's an actor’s dream because you just read it. You don't have to memorize. You don’t have to put on makeup. Maybe I might use my street makeup, my day time makeup.

Maas: There will be an audience.

Willard: Well, then I definitely. Thank God I brought my hair and makeup man with me. He’s accompanied by a hair and makeup woman, too.

Maas: Well, of course, they come in pairs.

Willard: Depending on how I feel at any particular minute.

You catch “Wits” with John Moe and special guests Fred Willard, Shiny Ribs and Carrie Rodriguez at the Paramount, Thursday May 21st. You can catch the radio show every Saturday night at seven on KUT 90.5 or right here on kut.org.

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