The world lost Fred Willard last Friday, taken at 86 years old. He was best known for his roles in the Rob Reiner mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap (1984), and the Christopher Guest mockumentaries Waiting For Guffman (1996), Best In Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), For Your Consideration (2006), and Mascots (2016) which is streaming on Netflix. He had a long, prolific career, often playing good-natured simpletons, blissfully unaware that they were in way over their heads.
Like Jerry Stiller, another comic actor who died this month, Willard leaves behind performances that are comic perfection in film and television. He got his start in the late 1960s doing improv at Second City. He was a founding member of the improvisational comedy troupe Ace Trucking Company, who performed on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson over 50 times.
I first took note of him as Martin Mull‘s sidekick and announcer Jerry Hubbard on the 1970s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spinoffs Fernwood 2 Night, Forever Fernwood and America 2-Night, parodies of nighttime talk shows.
He regularly popped up on television, appearing in sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond, Modern Family, Community, and many more.
In the 1990s, Willard was a semi-regular on Roseanne, back in it was the Number One show on television. There was a famous episode, December Bride (Season 8, Episode 11) with the wedding of Roseanne’s boss, Leon (Mull), to his boyfriend, Scott, played by Willard. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), who’s acting as the wedding planner, adds every gay stereotype imaginable to the ceremony, including male strippers, flamingos, and a sign proclaiming ”Gay Love, Gay Power”. Cringe inducing, but it is supposed to be, Roseanne was a comedy.
My favorite Willard performance is in Best In Show. He plays Buck Laughlin, a color commentator who clearly knows nothing about dogs and won’t let that stop him from talking up a storm at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. He asks after suggesting that putting a Sherlock Holmes hat on a bloodhound might be a hoot:
”Are they ever allowed to do anything like that? Dress up the dog in a funny way.”
Netflix will premiere Willard’s final role posthumously when Space Force arrives on May 29.