Wil Anderson is seriously one of the coolest, nicest people I’ve ever interviewed, famous or non-famous.
I’m not really sure what I expected. His stand-up’s always hilarious (or rather, Wilarious?) and I love Gruen–
and the great thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to wait for his shows for him to say funny stuff about current affairs.
It was meant to be an interview for Alt Media, for a 200-word preview of his latest (Helpmann-nominated) stand-up show ‘Goodwil’. The show’s headed back to Australia after touring the UK, the US and Canada. It’s pretty much a summary of everything he’s been up to the past year and it covers important, timely issues like gay marriage, boat people and the differences between cats and dogs.
Wil’s also filming the new season of Gruen Nation, where he, Todd Sampson, Russell Howcroft and various guests are dissecting all the political spin and making fun of all the dorky election ads.
I had about five questions and was expecting it to take about 10 minutes, but he gave me such awesome, thoughtful, in-depth answers to what were really pretty average questions I just had to write up the whole thing and share it:
You’ve taken this show to quite a few places overseas- have you noticed differences in the reactions you get in different countries?
They mostly laugh at the same things- pretty much, in Australia people know who I am but you are dealing with what I like to call an expectation gap which is that if people are going to pay a decent amount of money to see a show, they should expect it to be good, and I believe that as well. So they might come in with an 8/10 expectation, then hopefully you’ll deliver like a 9/10 or 10/10 show, but they’d still be like ‘Okay, we expected it to be good, we paid for it.’
I guess the advantage of working in America is that people are going in with much lower expectations so you’re able to do an 8 and a half [out of 10] show and they’re a bit blown away by it. They also have a different way of reacting- I got more standing ovations in the week of doing shows in Denver that I’ve had in 18 years of doing stand up in Australia! The American audiences are very ‘yes we can’, the Australian audiences are a bit ‘Bet you can’t’ and the English audiences are just ‘Screw you for trying in the first place’, I think.
A lot of entertainers pretty much feel they’ve made it once they’ve ‘cracked’ America- is that something you’re aiming for as well?
I spend as much time doing work in the US as I do in Australia, that’s certainly something that I’ve been working on for a few years and it’s got to the point now where it’s actually starting to happen in the way that I was hoping it would.
It’s definitely very different- like, I did a month at the Melbourne Comedy festival where I was in a 1500 seat theatre for 21 shows in a row, and then the next gig was in a log cabin in Alaska in front of 45 hilbillies.! You’re definitely doing your comedy in very different environment but I personally find it very challenging and exciting to do.
When you were doing the shows at The Princess Theatre (the 1500 seat venue in Melbourne), was that the biggest venue you’ve ever been in?
Certainly the biggest venue I’ve ever done a run of shows in- I mean obviously when you do big gala shows, you’re just doing your seven minutes. To do an entire run of shows in the theatre that I saw Hugh Jackman in, in Beauty and the Beast when I was a kid, it was definitely the biggest run of shows I’ve ever done in that capacity.
Do you have a preference for smaller or larger venues?
I think it has to do with the configuration of the theatre- like the octagon in Perth is 800 seats but it feels like 400. I don’t like to work with screens or anything like that, if you get to any size where the people up the back are suggesting they might need screens then that’s too big to do stand-up.
I always say it’s like surfing- some nights the waves are big and anyone can catch them and some nights you’ve got to work a little bit harder, but it’s always about how well you connect with the audience. You’re working with them. You’re going to express the same ideas and tell a lot of the same jokes but the way you tell them and the way they react to them is going to influence the show a great deal. If you feel like people up the back are not connecting with the show the way that people down the front are, then immediately, that becomes problematic.
Having been a journalist yourself, do you ever find it weird being on the other side of interviews? Do you ever think ‘I would have done that differently’?
Um well, I do have that but I don’t think it’s because I was a journalist, I think sometimes because people ask really shit questions! But most of the time, I find my dealings with people have been incredibly respectful. I like to talk about these things because I work by myself – when we do a show like Gruen, there’s a whole team of us and we’ve all been on the phone or email or whatever with each other today discussing that worked and what didn’t work, whereas when you’re a stand-up comedian, you don’t get specific feedback.
Rather than me standing here in my office talking to my cats like some crazy person I actually find, getting to do interviews, I learn as much from them as the person who’s talking to me does. I think in some interviews, I walk away with a couple of great insights about what it is I’m trying to achieve, and they write some little article that doesn’t reflect anything and I think ‘I won out of that one!’
It’s been twenty years really since I was a journalist so it doesn’t really feel like a part of my life- although, I guess when I’m trying to do Gruen, the one thing I take out of my journalism years was that I want to make a show that feels really, really balanced. I think it’s very different to me doing my stand-up comedy where it’s a forum where I can express my opinion in whatever way I want as long as I can make people laugh, but when it comes to something like Gruen, I feel like the way to serve the show best is to not let my personal prejudices out, for me to be an equal opportunity discriminator and have a go at everybody.
You’re heading to Canberra on this tour, where you originally went to uni and were a journalist for a short amount of time. Is is somewhere that you make it a point to try and head back to?
You know what? The truth of it is if we could find the dates and the venues that can support us going out on tour, I’d go to everywhere, you know what I mean? I always get hit up by people in Newcastle or Townsville or Mackay. I love those shows, the further you get out of town, the further you get to places where shows don’t come to town, the more appreciative the audiences are in some ways.I would do Canberra every year if we could. Unfortunately last year we couldn’t find a night where the venue and us couldn’t schedule it all in together, but I was pretty glad that we got to go back there again this year.
Having spent three years of my life there, particularly three really formative years, where I was going to see comedy but not really imagining that comedy was a thing that I could do, and having said to my mate Adam Harvey (Peter Harvey’s son)…I remember us standing outside a restaurant at 3 o’clock in the morning on a street in Manuka, and me telling him I was going to stop doing journalism and go and be a stand-up comedian and him just giving me this look like ‘What the fuck?! I’ve known you for three years and you’ve never said anything funny at all!’ It has a particular significance to me in that regard so definitely I try to get there when I can.
It’s hard to know where it all started. I remember watching TV in the country when I was 14 and 15 and being obsessed by comedy and Ted Robinson and Andrew Denton. I’m 39 years old and I’ve been doing stand up comedy for 19 years and the only two people I’ve worked with on television are Andrew Denton and Ted Robinson, you know? Those guys I loved when I was 14. Sometimes you feel it’s gone a really long way and sometimes- when I’m on stage in Alaska I’m like ‘Fuck, how did I get here?’ It doesn’t really have a consistent theme but it’s all pretty delightful.
Is there anyone you’d really like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I always like to collaborate with people that I admire. I’m not a very project-driven person. I’ve never been particularly enamoured by the idea that you have to have a great idea- you have to have great people and great chemistry. I think the reason that Gruen has been sold in like twenty different countries but has never been made is that Gruen itself is not a revolutionary idea for a show- why it works is that particular magic that no one can define, how Russell and Todd and I get along, how we react to each other and how when other people are brought into that mix they kind of fit into that mix.
I guess what I’d like to do in the future is maybe be there in the way that [Denton and Robinson] were for me, work with some younger people…I mean, I love on the stand up scene all the new people that are coming through and getting to see what they’re doing and talk to them.. I think rather than going up the rung to older people what I’d like to do in the future is collaborate and be there for some younger people.
One of the things about Andrew is the amount of people who are kind of bona fide their own things, that he’s kind of discovered. If you look at the Chaser and guys like that, those guys wouldn’t be on television without Andrew Denton. I think in the future that would be something I’d be interested in doing more of.
Are there any younger comedians you’re a fan of right now?
I love Tom Ballard, Ronny Chieng, Rhys Nicholson…there’s a bunch of people around on the scene at the moment. Damien Power, I think he’s really fantastic…it’s probably the strongest crop of new and different people that I’ve seen.
The guys that were young on the scene when I started were guys like Rove and Hughesy and Helliar, Merrick and Rosso, Meshel Laurie, sort of people that came through and ended up forming a fair part of the Australian comedy scene for a fair while. It feels to me like there’s a really new strong generation and rather than one or two of them popping through like a Josh Thomas or whatever, I feel like in the future you’re going to see more of your Tommy Littles and all those people that are just all over your television rather than just being a few bit players in that capacity.
Last question- the title of your show is called ‘Goodwil’, continuing your theme of all your show names being puns of your own name. Do you think that’s something you’re always going to do?
Well, I’ve done 18 of them so I feel like I’ve locked myself into it! It would have to be something pretty big to stop me doing that I guess, after 18 years. It’s one of those things that I enjoy because it’s rare when you’re doing a new comedy show that people are excited about the show, let alone what the show might be. One of the great things about having done this- which was really an accident when it first started- is that people ask about it all the time, like ‘What’s this one called?’ and ‘What’s the next one going to be?’ and it’s a good way of getting people interested. People suggest them to me all the time and I’ve got about 60 up my sleeve and I can guarantee you I won’t be doing another 60 shows before I die!