This is about the millionth interview I’ve done with Wil Anderson over the years, but the first I’ve ever done for radio, so, to be honest, I asked him questions to which I pretty much knew the answers, for the benefit of the listening audience who may not be familiar with him as a stand-up comic.
Wil is arguably the best stand-up comic on the Aussie circuit, although he’d tell you that Dave Hughes deserves that title. That Ross Noble currently spends much of his year Downunder may be cause for re-appraisal, and it would be folly not to acknowledge the likes of Tommy Dean, Tom Gleeson, Adam Hills, Subby Valentine and any number of other contenders who will curse me for not receiving a mention here when they read this.
Anyway, watching Wil Anderson live, and certainly reading his weekly column in whichever colour supplement of a Sunday paper it appears, I’m taken back to my misspent youth as a Doug Anthony Allstars fan, when to see them live or on telly usually meant that, whatever the (often contentious) topic of humour, we were likely to hear the entire gamut of gag about it — from intellectual humour to cheap and nasty vulgarity — all the while keeping it hilarious.
This interview went to air prior to Sydney dates about a month ago (the tour continues) and opened with some live stand-up taped at Sydney’s Comedy Store by Jesse Perez of RadioWise; I am grateful to Jesse, Radiowise and Wil Anderson for allowing me to use it as part of the broadcast.
WIL ANDERSON (stand-up):
I accidentally stepped on our cat’s tail. Accidentally, okay? To which my girlfriend has said to me,
“Right, that’s it! We are never getting married or having babies! What if that had been our baby? You would be the worst father in the world.”
And that's when I snapped. I went, “No, you would be the worst mother in the world, because you left out baby on the floor!”
Demetrius Romeo: Now Wil, why did you give up breakfast radio?
WIL ANDERSON: Because I’m a stand-up comedian, and I think that breakfast radio is the enemy of stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy is night time work. It’s very hard to walk of stage at eleven-thirty or twelve o’clock at night, then try to chill out for a while so that you can actually sleep and then get up at four o’clock in the morning.
I mean, stand-up comedy is what I do. I’ve always said that stand-up’s my one true love and I just see TV and radio behind its back, but I looked around the world and I just couldn’t see one world-class comedian who had a five-day-a-week radio job so I thought that if I am genuine about wanting to be a world-class comedian, then I obviously have to do that more fulltime.
Demetrius Romeo: During all that time that you were hosting breakfast radio and hosting The Glass House on television, you were doing a major one-man stand-up tour a year and you were touring it to all the festivals. They all had distinctive names like Wilennium, Wil By Mouth, Who Want’s To Be A Wilionaire, View To A Wil… Why do all the titles of your shows turn on puns that involve your name?
WIL ANDERSON: It’s a long story. Look, there’s two reasons to it. One is that originally when I started doing one-man shows, they were for the Melbourne Comedy Festival. They ask you to put a blurb in and the name of your show in December, and the Comedy Festival is in April. Now comedians are essentially those kids at school who didn’t do their assignments until the night before it was due, so no comedian in the world really knows what his show is going to be about in December for April. To be honest, nobody knows halfway through the comedy festival what their show is supposed to be about. I see comedians write shows to fit their blurb rather than write what they actually want to write about. The title of the show just meant, ‘look, it’s a new show’.
Why the puns? I was talking to an American comedian called Will Durst who’s an amazing American political satirist, and he was doing a show called The Durst Amendment. I came up to him afterwards and I said, “I love the show and I’ve just started doing comedy; do you have any advice for me?” And he said,
“Yeah; always do a show that has your name in the title and has a pun or a play on words and people will remember that.”
And I thought, “that’s great advice!”
So I went off and did I Am The Wilrus the next year. And then I was in Edinburgh in ’99 doing Wilennium and Will Durst was there, and I went up to him in the bar and said, “you gave me this great bit of advice and I’m here doing Wilennium” and he said,
“Yeah? Yeah, about that: I was just trying to get rid of you so that I could go to the bar.”
So pretty much the whole thing is predicated on a lie – a man trying to blow me off!
Demetrius Romeo: But it’s worked for you!
WIL ANDERSON: Well, people always ask about it. But I think it shouldn’t matter what your show is called or what it’s about, because if people are going to come and see my show based on what it’s about then I’m not doing my job properly. When Billy Connolly comes out, nobody goes, “oh, Billy Connolly’s out; what’s he talking about this year? I’ll decide whether I want to go based on that”. You’re going because you think that Billy Connolly is really funny and you think he’ll be really funny, whatever he talks about. So that’s what I want to get to. I want to get to the point where nobody cares what my show’s about. “Oh, Wil Anderson has a new show; that’s what I want to go and see.”
Demetrius Romeo: Okay, but there has been a time when the clever, punning title has been absolutely relevant to the material therein. Who Wants To Be A Wilionnaire? dealt with jobs and money. Wilennium dealt with what if it really is the last day on earth, what if the world does end with the changing of the millennium?
WIL ANDERSON: I think more so when I was newer at it because back then, again, you need to sell your show on something. There are a million young comedians who no one’s heard of doing shows, so the way you have to sell your show is if your idea is interesting. Then hopefully you get to a point where you outgrow that.
And also, it’s easier to do a show about something when you’re doing it for about a month because in a month, you can deal with how much the world changes. I tour this current show for nearly six months, so the world changes a lot and the things you talk about change a lot. If you write a show that is specifically about one thing and you don’t have any room in it for growth and to change it, a) you’re going to get bored senseless, but b) your show is going to seem incredibly dated; the show you wrote in November or December is going to be really dated when you’re doing it in June.
Demetrius Romeo: Sure. The show could change from night to night. You don’t want to set it in stone before you set off on your tour.
WIL ANDERSON: Oh, well the show does change from night to night. There wouldn’t be a night on the tour, and I’ve done this show probably — I don’t know; at a guess — sixty or seventy times already and there wouldn’t be one night that was the same. There wouldn’t be one night that was ninety-five percent the same as another night. I mean there are built-in improvisational parts of the show in that there is a bit that every night is an improvised bit along a formula, but there are just genuinely improvised parts of the show as well, so it is different every night.
Demetrius Romeo: At this stage of the tour, Wil Anderson, what is the show about?
WIL ANDERSON: Dom, I think it is a really interesting question. The best way to explain it, for me, is that I find people boring if they just have one area of interest. I find someone who only knows about Lord of the Rings boring. I find somebody who is only interested in sport boring. I find somebody who is only interested in politics boring. I’m attracted to people who have well-rounded interests and who could have a conversation about anything. I like those people who could have a conversation about the AFL ladder and then switch to Australia’s refugee policy without it feeling like you’re missing a beat. So I guess my shows are probably reflective of that as well. I talk about everything from the war to abortion to politics to sport and Shannon Noll and some stupid things that have happened in my life and that couple in Perth who advertised their baby’s name for sale on the internet and celebrities naming their kids stupid things and… It’s really one of those things where I would think it’s stuff you would discuss at a dinner party: everything from sex through to politics through to sport through to friendship. That, also, is what my show’s like.
Demetrius Romeo: Wil Anderson, thank you very much.
WIL ANDERSON: Thanks Dom!