By Nick Cavaretta
Some love him, some don’t. But whichever way you look at him he’s a household personality, and millions of people tune in watch or listen to him each week. (He also doesn’t wear underwear on stage … just saying.) William James Anderson is a television/radio presenter and currently the host of Gruen Planet on ABC 1, which lands him in between ad gurus Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft (we’ll get to that later … ) He is also a stand-up comedian currently on tour with his show Wilarious. I had the pleasure of chatting with Wil about his career (and the sexual tension on Gruen).
How have your stand up routines changed from “Diet Life” to your current show “Wilarious”? And during your stand-up comedy career, what was the highlight that won’t leave your memory, and possibly even haunts you?
Comedy should never be about looking back, it should always be about looking forward. An audience won’t laugh at the next joke just because the last one was funny, so you always have to be thinking: What’s next? To be honest, I think I am a very different comedian than I was even four years ago when I released Wilosophy. I have never watched the DVD back, firstly because I don’t really like to watch myself at the best of times (I have only ever seen three episodes of Gruen), but mostly because I often don’t recognise that person either, as my style has changed so much. I don’t know if this sort of stuff is obvious to my audience, but it is very apparent to me. I can’t remember much of what Diet Life would have been about, and I am guessing the amount of decent jokes wouldn’t take up more than a minute or two in the new show, but there were a couple of ideas in there and obviously enough encouragement to write another 17 shows since then.
What is the biggest highlight? Well I got into comedy as a fan of comedy. I liked to laugh. I grew up on a road called Anderson’s Rd, that was actually named after my grandfather who built the road. My Dad lives on the road he was born on, and my brother works the dairy farm with him. That was meant to be my life, but I loved to laugh. First it was comedy tapes (remember those?) of Billy Connolly and Monty Python, and then I discovered some of the American greats like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin (and a little later than that Bill Hicks who changed my life forever). Then it was shows on the ABC like The Big Gig and Andrew Denton’s The Money Or The Gun. My biggest highlight has been to be lucky enough to share a stage with some of my heroes and be around the funniest people in the world for most of my life. To work with people like John Cleese, Louis CK, Stephen Fry and Paul McDermott who are the people who inspired me in the first place, well it’s just been better than I could have ever imagined. My two television shows in Australia have been produced by Ted Robinson, who produced The Big Gig, and Andrew Denton. If I had told a 14-year-old kid on the farm watching Channel 2 that he would get to work with, and learn from, those same people who inspired him … well I probably would have punched me in the face.
Do you ever miss the breakfast radio gig on Triple J with Adam Spencer?
No. I’m glad in life whenever anyone remembers something that I do, let alone the amount of feedback I get about that job I stopped doing almost a decade ago now. When we finished I wouldn’t have imagined people would have remembered it eight weeks later, let alone eight years. But I am a stand-up comedian first and foremost, and that is my passion and my love, and what I have been trying to work my career towards is spending as much time doing stand-up and as little time doing anything else as I can, so I can dedicate my life to getting as good at stand-up as I can be. I want to learn about stand-up, and also learn about myself through stand-up. So no breakfast radio jobs for me.
The great thing these days with the advances in technology, you don’t need the traditional gatekeepers. All you need is an idea. I have a podcast called TOFOP that we recorded in my mate’s front room with the dog barking and it is listened to in over 70 countries and a lot of the people who listen have never seen me on television or heard me on radio or whatever. Natalie Tran from Australia has had nearly 500 million views of her YouTube videos and she does most of them in her apartment. This is the future.
You’ve made plenty of appearances on television shows such as “Glass House”, “Good News Week” and of course “Gruen”. Is there a funny or embarrassing story that you can share from your television career?
I do warm-up for all the TV shows that I host, and I remember one night on The Glass House one of my thongs broke and someone in the audience shouted out and asked if they could have it. I went to throw it to them but it went off course. Every eye in the room followed it, except the person that it was headed towards … as she was blind! The thong hit her straight in the face. I was horrified and apologetic, but she got the biggest laugh of the whole night when she just turned to her guide dog and said: “Bad dog, you should have jumped up and grabbed that!”
After your current show “Wilarious” at the Comedy Store in Sydney, what next?
I have two months of the show in Sydney, and then it goes back to Melbourne for a week, New Zealand, Darwin and a couple of other special places I can’t quite announce yet. The tour tends to finish around the end of November each year, which then gives me the three months I need to develop the new show and tour.
Did you really study journalism and do a cadetship at The Australian Financial Review? If so what advice would you like to give to the students in my journalism class striving for a similar outcome?
I don’t think I am much of an example seeing that I finished my course and then gave up journalism to tell dick jokes to strangers in bars. Maybe watch some Frontline and The Newsroom, that will tell you most of what you need to know.
Is there sexual tension between Todd (Sampson) and Russel (Howcroft) offstage?
I don’t like to think that there is sexual tension between them at all, because I am sitting in the middle, which would make me the contraceptive … or the lubricant.
Featured illustration courtesy Wil Anderson’s Facebook page