Wil Anderson chats about comedy and not coping

Posted on February 22, 2013

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In case you’re one of the few people in the world who still don’t know who Wil Anderson is, he’s one of Australia’s greatest comedians. He’s done (and mastered) it all – TV, radio, stand-up, podcasts, books, newspaper columns. And now: the chat show blog.

Your stand-up is usually pretty influenced by what’s going on in the world. What should we expect from your latest show, GoodWil?

It will be about 65 minutes of the funniest new stuff I can think of said in a row. I hope people like it, but really at the end of the day humour is subjective and one person’s Seinfeld is another’s Kevin Bloody Wilson, so I guess what I am really trying to say is… please come, I have a hideous mortgage and no other skills.

You’re a well informed dude. When you write new material, what comes first: the issue or the gag?

I guess most of the stuff I do these days is more personal political. I tend to talk more about issues that I find important, rather than the individuals. I find it more interesting. Plus Kevin Rudd jokes don’t really travel.

I look at each show as a separate, self-contained beast. You shouldn’t need a “Previously On McLeod’s Daughters”-style recap at the start to get it, but I also tend to have ongoing (and often changing) conversations about topics. For example, in Wilarious there were routines where I talked about how I changed my mind when it came to my approach to the big issues, like religion… and kids on leashes. All the big issues.

Wil Anderson

Kevin Rudd jokes don’t really travel.

I guess more than anything I look at my stand-up show as a 9-month conversation with myself. I did 178 shows last year in six different countries, and I think the most important thing for me is to be as interested in doing the show on the last night of the tour as I was on the first. If I am not interested, then how can I expect the audience to be?

So I guess the first thing I try to think about is: How do I make this show as interesting as possible? And the best answer I have to that is honesty. Be as honest as you possibly can be on stage.

Andrew Denton once told me that he only really asked variations of one question on Enough Rope, which was basically: “Life is hard, how are you coping?” I guess in some ways my stand-up shows are a bit more like: “Life is hard, how am I coping?” and normally the answer is terribly. And then I add some dick jokes.

Curveball: what’s your favourite newspaper?

What are these “newspapers” of which you speak? But seriously, it’s really sad to see what has happened to the state of papers in Australia (and worldwide).

I remember 20 years ago having a serious discussion with my parents about my decision to leave the safe world of newspaper journalism, which had been around forever, to go into stand-up comedy.

Who would have known that telling dick jokes to strangers in bars would outlast the newspaper…

I remember hearing Killing in the Name a few times on your pre-show soundtrack. Any message there or do you just love the song because it’s awesome?

The intro music for my show is Back In Black by ACDC as a tribute to the late-great Dave Grant, but my pre-show music is just a mix of my favourite hip-hop songs (for some reason I like hearing rap before the show – it gets my brain working the right way) that I have been using for the last four years and surprisingly I am still not sick of.

Jay Z

Rap gets my brain working the right way.

Your favourite comedians?

My Mum took me to see Billy Connolly for my 17th birthday. Yes, a date with my Mum for my birthday, hello ladies. I sat in the room that night and thought that swearing at people for a living would be a pretty fun job. Then I discovered artists like George Carlin and Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks who really started to influence the direction I wanted to go in. These days I am constantly looking to Dylan Moran and Louis CK and Patton Oswalt as people I really admire.

If you weren’t doing comedy, what would you be doing?

Hopefully not standing in a mall with a cardboard sign that says: “Will Tell Jokes For Food.”

I have never been a person with a career plan. That’s because all I ever wanted to be was a stand-up comedian, and the thing about comedy is you get to do that on your first day of work.

That is the greatest thing about stand-up. On your first day of work you do what Louis CK does; what Chris Rock does; what Billy Connolly does; what Judith Lucy does; what Dylan Moran does; what George Carlin did. You stand in front of a room of strangers and try to entertain them with nothing but your thoughts.

It’s amazing really. At most jobs they don’t let you use the photocopier by yourself. Stand-up is the equivalent of arriving at the first day of pilot school and them saying: “You’ve seen Top Gun, right?” and then just throwing you some keys.

Who are funnier: yanks or aussies?

I had a joke in my last show that said Americans are “yes you can”; Australians are “bet you can’t”; and in England they say: “Fuck you for trying in the first place.”

I think this gives an insight into different audience attitudes, but that said, audiences are weird beasts. Often you can have more difference between a 7pm and a 9pm show in the same venue in the same town than you will between two on different sides of the planet.

I sincerely believe the best Australian comedians are the equal of anywhere.

The one thing you can’t argue is that Australians are the most prolific comedians in the world. In the US you can literally tour for 10 years with the same jokes and not run into audiences who have heard them.

Louis CK (with Dylan Moran my favourite current international) is blowing people’s minds in the US because he is now writing a new show every year. Blowing people’s minds.

Louis CK

Louis CK blowing his own mind.

But the truth is because of the size of the market here, there are Australian comedians who are not household names who do that every year, and have done for their entire career, and probably don’t get the recognition they deserve. I am looking at you, Justin Hamilton

Why don’t we give our best stand-ups their own sitcoms here in Australia like they do in the US?

Well Josh Thomas is doing one this year, so hopefully if that goes well they will do it some more. I’d love to see it.

Ever have breakfast with Adam Spencer for old times’ sake?

Yes, and he will stop the conversation very now and then to give a time-call and tell people what the weather is going to be and how they can vote for the Hottest 100…

Wil Anderson performs his show GoodWil At Adelaide Fringe from 4-17 March. You can buy tickets here, and you could follow him on Twitter here, but of course you already do.

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Posted in: Arts