Matt Young chatted with stand-up comedian, podcaster, and presenter Wil Anderson.
If you had to make a pie chart of your passions, what percentage would you devote to podcasting, comedy, and television? What else is in there?
I think I would need more than one pie. I might need to open my own Pie Face for all the pies. What I tend to think is that I am 100% a stand-up comedian, but then I see some other things on the side and I tend to concentrate more or less on them depending on time available. But I guess to answer it in time and creative energy spent on each per year, probably 80% stand-up and the other 20% podcasts and TV in various mixes.
What was your first gig like? Do you remember the first show where you could really tell you were nailing it?
It was in the Gershwin Room out the back of The Espy in St Kilda, 20 years ago on September 10 this year. The great thing (and necessary thing) about being a young comedian is that you don’t have a self-awareness of how shit you are, which is actually handy. If you knew how crap you were you would give up before you had time to get good.
You obviously have a pretty tight routine on stage, what about a pre-show routine?
You’d be surprised about the tight routine on stage. From the start of the Free Wil tour this year until the end of the festival in Melbourne I think there was only about five minutes of the show that would have been the same. Even when the show is pretty much the same each night, I like to think the jokes tend to be worded a different way and even approached from a different perspective as I try to be in tune with the audience. Pre-show I am pretty simple. I like to stay as close as I can to my venue (especially during a long run) so I can still be in my apartment 10 minutes before the show. Then I get in my show clothes, I wear the same thing every night of the run, and get to the show about five minutes before the advertised starting time, which normally ends up being more like 10-15 minutes before stage time. If I have a support act I will always be there at the start of the show to introduce them and watch from side stage. I generally like to have one beer before the show, and then I will drink 2-3 onstage depending on the length of the show.
What’s it like when you sit down to write? Do you chuck stuff at the page and see what sticks, do you work from a backlog of notes, do you have rules, guidelines, a writing philosophy?
The only thing I know about what works is that anything that gets the job done is what works. I try not to have any rules about how a show needs to come together. I prefer to work out what it is that I want to talk about and then work out what approach is best needed for me to execute that. I tend to find if you listen to the show, it will tell you what it needs.
For example I did two new shows at the MICF this year: Free Wil and Political Wil (which was a show exclusively about Australian politics). The shows were the same length, in the same venue, and yet were constructed with two completely different approaches. There has never been a written version of Free Wil, it just developed on stage, and was completely different from night-to-night in the first two weeks until it started to find its shape. Whereas Political Wil, because I wanted to talk about specific instances from Australian politics involved me collecting ideas, stories and angles for almost and year, and then trying to construct and structure all those various thoughts into a narrative that I could get across in 70 minutes (or 90 as it was on the final night).
You seem like you’re always getting stuff done. Do you have much downtime? What do you do with it?
I don’t really. It’s something I probably need to do more of. Sometimes as a comedian you forget that the really great “writing” can come from just throwing yourself into the world with your eyes open and experiencing things. It’s also important to remember how important being distracted can be to creativity. Just like your best ideas come in the shower, I have had many of my best ideas when my brain was half distracted doing something else.
That said, someone asked me if I had a hobby the other day and if you define a hobby as something you do in your spare time for free, that probably costs you money, that you put your energy into for no tangible reward other than the enjoyment of it, then I do have a hobby: it’s a podcast called TOFOP.
Speaking of TOFOP, it has an incredibly devoted fanbase, but it’s not exactly a household name. Do you think podcasts as a medium are likely to ever become as popular a form of entertainment as radio or television? Would you want them to?
I think if we wanted it to be a household name we would have given it a better name. (And I certainly wouldn’t have changed it slightly to confuse people). I think of all the things I have ever done, I have never had the response to them as I have had to the podcasts. The people who love them really love them (as do I with my favourite podcasts). Do I think if more people tried podcasts they would also find ones they loved? Yes, because there are so many great podcasts out there to suit any taste. And if there is not one that suits your taste, then start one yourself.
Do I sometimes wish that more people listened to the podcast so I could do something with it more full-time? Sure. But not if it meant that we had to change the show in any way. (The same reason we don’t run advertisements). The greatest thing about having the podcast is it’s the only place you can be 100% truly honest and creative.
Have you found podcasting in the US is a good networking tool in terms of meeting and connecting with other comedians? Do the comedy and podcasting scenes feed into each other?
I did joke to someone that podcasts are like comedian Tinder. When you move to a new city it’s a bit weird to call someone and say: “Hey I know I don’t know you, but do you want to come over and smoke weed and talk about Batman for an hour.” But if instead you say: “Do you want to do my podcast?” Then tend not to worry so much that you are going to kill them and wear a suit made of their skin.
When it comes to crowds on the road in the US you certainly see the effect of podcasts. I went to 20 US cities last year and every crowd would have had someone who listened to the podcast (often sitting in the audience wearing one of the t-shirts).
What’s the number one difference between the Australian and American comedy scenes? Which do you prefer?
Because Australia has a mix of the American and British styles of comedy, I think we tend to have the best of both worlds. We have the strong story-telling tradition of the UK, but the rapid joke rate of the US which is why Australian comedians tend to be adaptable to both scenes.
The American audiences are definitely the most enthusiastic. I used to joke that US audiences said: “Yes you can!” Australian audiences were like: “Bet you can’t!” And British audiences were: “Fuck you for trying in the first place!”
You’ve been at the MICF for 20 years now, how did this year compare to the rest? Have you had a favourite year?
I really aim only have one aim for the festival each year which is to do something that is better, and pushes me more creatively, than the year before. I think I could say each of the last 7 years I have achieved that, and that has definitely been the period I am most proud of the work I have done. The MICF is the third biggest comedy festival in the world and in my opinion the best, so it’s been real pleasure to have it be the most important part of my life for the last 20 years, and I hope that streak continues until I run out of pun names.
Do you see yourself doing more improvised shows down the track?
The fully improvised show I do is called Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout Wil? We filmed one at the Sydney Comedy Store last year and put it on the Wiluminati DVD. I love doing those shows, and wanted to squeeze in another run this year but I think instead I am going to try to do something with Political Wil after the Free Wil tour is done so I think I will run out of months in the year. But at some point I would actually like to do a national tour of the show as it is the most fun I can have on stage.
With Fan-Fiction Comedy in its third (second?) year and bringing Dave Anthony from America this year, you’ve really launched into producing. What do you get out of putting other people’s shows on?
I think it may even be our fourth Fan Fiction this year, but the truth is I am a terrible producer. I only tend to try and help out when someone that I believe in needs some help, (but I tend to be help in name alone).
You’ve written off your first DVD in the past. What’re you proud of in Wiluminati that was lacking in Wilosophy, and (if it’s the case) vice versa? Do you have any plans to do yearly/more frequent specials?
It’s true I didn’t like my first DVD at all. (In fact I have never watched it). I didn’t like the way the room was set up on the night, I really didn’t nail my performance and I think it was just a period of my comedy that I was about to leave behind (and the DVD was actually an important part of that process) that almost feels like another comedian.
I did the first one in 2009 and it took until 2015 for me to record another one, and I only did that because when I died I didn’t want them showing stuff from Wilosophy on the news. I guess whether I record Free Wil will depend a little on whether anyone buys Wiluminati. Ideally if we sold enough that there was a demand for it, I would love to be able to be in a position to film each of my shows at the end of the tour. These days I spend almost a year of my life on each show, so it would be good to document that.