‘He Was Completely, Unconditionally Unique’ – Variety

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Fred Willard was a gifted comic whose distinctive type and improv roots made him a formidable performer. That’s how his longtime buddy and frequent collaborator Martin Mull remembered Willard, who died Might 15 on the age of 86.

“He was completely, unconditionally unique,” Mull instructed Variety. “He labored so spontaneously. He had such a closet that he might go to. It was simply outstanding. You by no means the place he was going to go. He didn’t tip it.”

Mull and Willard met in 1977 on the set of “Fernwood 2-nite,” the syndicated speak present spoof produced by Norman Lear. Mull performed noxious, leisure suit-loving host Barth Gimble. Willard performed his dim-witted sidekick Jerry Hubbard who was recognized to pop off with nonsequitors and stern opinions about trivial issues.

Over time, Mull had a key perception that helped him study to fall into a great groove with Willard.

“He by no means went for the joke. He went for the character. The character was all the time the joke for him,” Mull recalled. “He was such a delight to work with.”

Willard’s talent at improv and going off script stored different performers on their toes, and impressed them to rise to his stage, Mull added. “You’d be struggling to maintain up with him typically,” he stated.

“Fernwood” was developed as a summer season alternative sequence for Lear’s daytime cleaning soap opera satire “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” The sequence, which ran in the summertime of 1977 and once more from April-August of 1978 beneath the title “America 2Night,” has been a seminal affect on the present technology of mockumentary and satirical comedies.

The center of the present was the unstated “synch” between Mull and Willard. “Fred and I might improvise collectively. We might go off script,” Mull stated. “He was a genius.”

Mull and Willard continued their partnership in 1985 on the HBO comedy miniseries “The Historical past of White Folks in America.” The pair additionally performed a homosexual couple as recurring characters on ABC’s “Roseanne” from 1995 to 1997.

One other testomony to Willard’s character was the truth that his persona by no means modified over time regardless of his fame and ubiquity on TV in such sequence as “Everyone Loves Raymond” and “Trendy Household.”

“Fred was nonetheless inexplicably humorous in social conditions. While you had been at a celebration at his home, you by no means knew the place he was going however it was all the time only a delight,” Mull stated. “He was as type and as light and as heat and beneficiant an individual as you might ever need to meet.”

(Pictured: Fred Willard, Martin Mull)

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