Who: Fred Willard and musical guest Dan Wilson
What: Minnesota Public Radio’s “Wits”
When: 8 p.m., Friday
Where: The Fitzgerald Theater
Cost: Non-students: $32, Students: $16 when you show your student ID beginning at noon on the day of the show.
Fred Willard is a master of improv comedy. He’s shown off his off-the-cuff chops on the stage, the big screen and the little screen. From the Second City to the Christopher Guest mockumentaries like “This is Spinal Tap,” Willard has made folks laugh on multiple platforms.
It’s only natural that he’s slated to be a guest at “Wits.” Minnesota Public Radio’s unscripted series pairs funny people of all stripes (writers, comedians, actors, etc.) with musicians in the hopes that casual conversation and good music will keep the crowd tweeting.
A&E talked to Fred Willard about what it’s like to guest star on “Modern Family” and how he wants to save the whales. Unfortunately, A&E neglected to ask the most important question Willard asked as the spiky-haired Mike Lafontaine in “A Mighty Wind” – wha’ happened?
You made an appearance at the Oscars this year with the Christopher Guest ensemble. I’m wondering — how often do you guys get together?
Almost never. I’ll run into different ones.
Like Eugene Levy, I’ve worked with a couple times last year, once in Toronto at a benefit and then, you know, you run into him somewhere.
And Christopher Guest I ran into a year earlier at a benefit for his son’s school where he was performing with a musical group.
And I just saw Catherine O’Hara two nights ago in Los Angeles at a show.
So we don’t get together as a group. So this was, well, I can’t say … It was a lot of fun. But we all got together on that day and spent about two hours in the studio doing that. And then we all split and went our own ways.
Are you working on anything right now? What’s your life like?
There’s a couple things I’m doing. There’s a new series by the people who do the “Antiques Roadshow.” It’s going to be called “Market Warriors,” and I’m doing the narration for it. I think it’ll start this summer.
I also did a series that’s going to go on this summer called “Trust Us With Your Life.” We did it in London. What it is is a celebrity interview show, where I’m the host, and there are about four improvisational actors. At certain points during the interview, I’ll say, “That part of your life sounds like a good situation for our actors to act out.”
And the improvisational actors come on stage and act out what the celebrity was just talking about. I’ve never seen improvisation like this.
We had some great guests. We had David Hasselhoff and Jerry Springer and Ricky Gervais and Serena Williams. We did eight of them, and it’ll be on this summer on ABC.
I know you have a lot of background and experience with improv. How does it feel to do it on TV and with new people?
It’s always scary to me, unless you do it all the time. I spent a year at Second City in Chicago, and I also worked with a comedy troop that would do shows where half of our shows would be written sketch and the other half would be improvisation.
If you do it all the time, it’s a lot easier. But if you don’t do it every day, it’s scary and intimidating.
Do you ever get nervous before going up on stage anymore?
Oh, sure. Someone asked me that question just recently. I said that if you don’t get nervous, you don’t do quite as good a performance.
I think it’s a way to kind of get your adrenaline going. And you never know, in a performance, what’s going to happen at any time. I’ve been in plays where I’ve done the play over and over and suddenly, one night, your mind wanders and the line just doesn’t come to you.
You can never get too comfortable.
Yeah, you’ve been doing this for so long. Did you ever think of pursuing other avenues besides acting and doing comedy?
Well, I’ve been writing some things. I’m working on a film now, and I’ve written ideas for sitcoms. Nothing’s ever come of them, and I don’t really push them that hard. You know, if I show them to someone and they don’t jump at it, I kind of put it away. That’s the only thing I’ve thought of doing. I never had any interest in directing.
And just lately I’ve started thinking that I’d love to do something working with animals. You know, one of these groups that rescue animals or take care of animals. The ideal thing I’d like to do is go up and work with these people who save the seals or stop the whale-hunting or something like that. I just think that would be a good thing to do.
What is your day-to-day routine?
I get up. I do some writing. Sometimes I have meetings. I’m doing the voice of the commercials on Old Navy, so once a week I have to get in a studio and do that. And then every day I try and do some sort of physical activity, something outdoors, some kind of exercise. My wife and I go to the theater a lot. We just saw “Billy Elliot” last night, and we’re going to see a friend’s play tonight.
And this has been tax season, so we were out of town. We went to Bora Bora for 10 days. And when you’re out of town for 10 days, you come home, and you feel like you’ve been gone six months. You’ve got stacks of newspapers, you’ve got stacks of mail. You’ve your income tax, and you have to rush and talk to the guy who is preparing that.
Every day I think I’ve gotten caught up and then the next day, something else starts. That’s why I think a lot of actors, if you’re in a series or something, have assistants. Someone they hire just to do the everyday things for you.
I never had that. But it’s very tempting.
Tell me what it was like to work on “Modern Family” as Phil’s dad.
That was very exciting. I did two of them. They shoot it pretty fast. They have several cameras, and you do it once or twice. And then they say, “OK, now do whatever you want. Improvise.”
And you do that a couple of times, and then they take the best of that and put it onto the already scripted stuff and just move on.
It’s a very exciting experience. A lot of series, you go and spend 12, 14 hours shooting. This was not a long day but it was very stimulating, very exciting.
Will there ever be a Christopher Guest revival or reunion?
I think there might. But I don’t know if he’s planning anything right now, and there’s a couple of reasons for that.
One is I think he feels that everyone is doing that kind of movie or show now, where there’s a lot of improvisation. And his were some of the first ones.
I think if he does anything else, it will be a little more in another direction. Maybe a scripted movie or something else that he comes up with. Right now, there’s nothing really that they’re planning.
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