Shawn Conner / The Vancouver Sun
Dec. 5, 8 p.m.; Dec. 6, 7 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Yuk Yuk’s Tickets: $35, at yukyuks.com
To comedy fans who came of age in the ’90s, Harland Williams is probably best known for his roles in the movies Half Baked and Dumb and Dumber (he was the state trooper who pulls Jeff Daniels and Jim Carey over) and, perhaps RocketMan, the 1997 vehicle that envisioned the Toronto-raised comic as a modern-day Don Knotts. The 51-year-old Toronto-raised comic can be seen now in the shot-in-Vancouver (but set in Toronto) Package Deal, a sitcom on Citytv, in which he plays one of three brothers a little too involved in each others’ lives. Williams’ more personal comedy stylings are showcased on his podcast, the Harland Highway, and on his website harlandwilliams.com, where he posts creative endeavours like Fshlaaanngg!, a running series of videos parodying Jackass-style stunts. But for the full Harland Williams experience, check out his standup act, which he performs Dec. 5 to 7 at Yuk Yuk’s in Vancouver.
Q I was watching Fshlaaanngg! videos while preparing for this interview, and crying with laughter. Where did that idea come from?
A I was walking around bored one day and I started filming stuff with my cellphone. There are all these shows where people are trying to do these outrageous stunts and I thought it would be funny to do all these stunts that aren’t outrageous but then act like they are outrageous.
Q There’s another video on your website of you lipsynching to the Styx song Mr. Roboto.
A Again, I was just bored one day, and it just popped into my head, the idea of some guy thanking a robot just made me laugh. It’s very bizarre. It got in my head one day and I thought, I’m going to lip-synch to that. It’s time.
Q These Vancouver shows aren’t part of a tour, they’re just one-offs, right?
A I don’t go on tour tours, I just go randomly to cities to do shows if I have an opening in my schedule. It worked out for Vancouver. It’s just a one-off show, my last show of the year actually. We shot the sitcom up there, Package Deal; hopefully we’re back there soon, doing some more. We’re in the Pamela Anderson zone now (Anderson is on a few episodes of Package Deal). It’s good stuff, good viewing.
Q Had you met her before the taping of the show?
A I had, yeah. I met her out at the Chateau Marmont, in Hollywood. We were flirting with each other at the famous Chateau Marmont, where Jim Morrison walked on the window ledge and where John Belushi died. And now, where Harland and Pamela flirted. How about that?
Q So you knew what to expect when she came to work on the show.
A Well,I’dnever worked with her, so we really didn’t know what to expect. She was just amazing, she was a real pro, and she was funny, she was just really bang on. We all loved her. She’s got a great sense of humour. She delivers.
Q She was a good sport when she was the subject of a Comedy Central Roast. Do you ever get asked to do those?
A I’ve kind of stayed away from them. They’re a little too mean-spirited for my tastes. I find them a bit insincere. Most of those people don’t know each other. If you’re going to take a jab at someone, you should at least have a bit more of a personal relationship with them. I don’t know. I feel like you can be funny and clever as opposed to just outright vile.
Q They’re a long way off from the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.
A Those were great for their time. And I think you have to come up and get edgier, but some of the stuff they say on there – I don’t know. It’s not to my taste.
Q Speaking of comedy tastes, who are your golden-ageof-comedy-type heroes? AI grew up on Don Knotts and Jerry Lewis and all the guys from Second City. That’s why it was such a pleasure to work with Eugene Levy – he did four episodes of Package Deal. What a treat. That’s a guy I grew up watching as a kid. Guys like that, they were hilarious and didn’t have to be super vile or X-rated.
Q Did you pump him for SCTV info?
A I didn’t want to do that because I figure he probably gets that all the time. But one day I pulled one out of the hat. I said ‘Hey Eugene, I just gotta do this,’ and he said ‘What?’ and I sang, ‘Who made the egg salad sandwiches (a “hit” for 5 Neat Guys, SCTV ’50s-era vocal group parody).’ He laughed and we talked about the 5 Neat Guys for a bit. That was as far as I pushed it.
Q How much input into Package Deal do you have?
A I improvise a lot, that’s kind of my thing, so we’ll do three or four takes the way it’s written, then I let the barn doors open, and I kind of rewrite every scene on the fly and we’ll do a few takes where we improvise lines. Some of them make it into the show.
Q What can we expect from your sets at Yuk Yuk’s this weekend? How much is improvised?
A I always improvise with the crowd. Sometimes it’ll be a 50 per cent show, sometimes 70 per cent, sometimes it’s almost a whole show where I wing it. It depends on my mood, the energy in the room. For sure a portion of it is just kind of winging it.