Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fred Willard

Fred Willard had a birthday last week.  In the World Willard, keeping statistics like the number of years you've been alive is an insignificant activity.  The numbers that fill Fred's mind are baseball statistics and a God given sense of timing that must involve some genius level comedy algorithm.  They say a comedian "says funny things" and a comic "says things funny" so therefore - Fred Willard. 

I have been a fan of Fred Willard for longer than I can remember. In the Ace Trucking Company Fred stood out as a guy who didn't look like a comic. Fred looked like the weekday anchor on the news.  Fred's timing and delivery blurred the lines between straight man and comic,  Fred can be both, often at the same time. Many years later after crossing paths,  we became friends.  

Everyone knows Fred from their favorite character he has played in countless movie roles and television shows.  I only have to say, "No Eyelids Girl" to a friend of mine and he will not only laugh out loud but know I am talking about Fred Willard.  It would be hard for me to pick a favorite part from his resumé. I like all Willardisms. 

I told this story about Fred at his birthday party. Since I told it in front of him, I guess it is okay to write about it now.  I preface the story by admitting it can never be as funny "on paper" as it was in the moment it happened.  That having been stated:

It was a benefit performance for Actors and Others for Animals at the Grove theater in Upland.  It was an all star line up of talent and a full show.  The men were crowded into a small dressing room with a low ceiling.  Like boxers warming up for the fight the comics were throwing punch-lines around to test their timing.  Some of the lines get giggles others just smiles some get a real laugh like you would suspect with cell full of jokers.  
Fred has been sitting quietly on a chair smiling and or laughing at what is going on.   I notice he is wearing very brightly colored and oddly patterned socks on his feet. I figured there was a funny story behind the socks, I mean they are on the feet of Fred Willard. 
So, I say loud enough for the entire room of comics to hear, "Hey Fred, do those socks come in men's colors?" 
Remember the barroom scene in Western movies when the bad guy pushes open the swinging door? The piano player stops playing, gamblers stop gambling, drinkers stop drinking and every head turns toward that one guy.  That's what it was like in the dressing room at that moment. No one snickered at my line, they all  turned to Fred awaiting a Willard comeback. 
I am now rethinking my decision to bring up Fred's socks.  The silence in the room is deafening. Maybe everyone else knows something I don't know like, 
"Hey what ever you do don't tease Fred about his socks." 
I feel like I am hanging out to dry. No one is coming to my defense saying,
"It's okay Fred, Jay doesn't mean it, he didn't know."

There is nothing in the room but impending anticipation.

Fred slowly stands up from the chair wearing only boxer shorts, formal shirt and those socks. It's as though Fred didn't hear my smart ass remark, although everyone else in the room certainly did.  Silently he takes his pressed trousers from the chair and carefully drapes them over his left arm.  
He walks carefully and deliberately across the dressing room to an oversized utility closet. The only place with a door.  He gently opens the door and hangs his pants neatly on an overhead water pipe;  then pivots and slams the door as hard as he can.  
The room burst into laughter nearly drowning out the echo of the big bang.  It was the perfect Jack Benny take, not rushing into comedy but making it come to him, trusting in the exact moment to get the laugh. That is algorithmic comedy timing. It was the biggest laugh of the night and Fred never said a word. 

Several people ran to the small dressing room to see what had happened, the bang was so loud there was genuine concern.  The answer finally came when  someone caught their breath from laughing and said, 
"Jay made fun of Fred's socks". That also got a laugh.

Here's to you Fred. Still celebrating the day of your birth.

As you were,

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