Wil Anderson, comedian
I'd like to learn to make sushi properly. That's probably the only aspiration I have ...
Wil Anderson has gone from milking cows on a dairy farm to becoming one of the biggest names in comedy. The comedian, podcaster, radio host and face of the ABC’s Gruen Transfer series spends much of his time touring the globe with his high-energy shows bursting with imaginative wit, passion and energy. We had a chat to Wil ahead of his stand-up performance at Laugh Your Pants Off at The Star Gold Coast on Friday May 26. Get set for … um, well, we don’t really know what Wil has in store for us, and neither does he.
You’re in town for Laugh Your Pants Off at The Star Gold Coast on Friday May 26 – tell us, what can we expect?
Am I? Things just appear in my diary and I go where they tell me to go … so if you’re telling me what I am going to be there, then I assume it’s true! Technically, I hope that we’re not intending for people to laugh their pants off. I feel like that would create a whole bunch of other issues. But, in the way that I work, on a night like that, I really don’t think about it too much until I wander out on stage and start talking, to be honest. I could tell you a whole bunch of things about what to expect, but I would be completely and utterly lying to you. It’s a mystery – both to the audience and myself.
You’re performing more than 100 stand-up shows a year – how do you fit it all in?
Well, it is my job, so I do have prioritise for it, I guess. The bank does expect me to go to work occasionally and keep paying back that mortgage. Really, the main way I keep on top of things is by having a hideous mortgage and no other life skills – it really keeps you out there on the road! It keeps you really motivated. Otherwise, I’ll have to go back and work on the diary farm, and I just don’t think I can get up that early in the morning to milk cows. I love stand up though, it’s certainly not a chore. I can’t really imagine doing anything else.
The last few years has seen you focus more on stand-up shows than TV and radio – what prompted the shift back?
I have always been a stand-up comedian, I have never considered myself a tv or radio host – they are jobs that I have had, but I never tell people that is my job. I’m lucky that over the last few years there has been enough demand for me to do stand-up, that I haven’t had to do the other things that I guess I don’t have the same level of passion for. It’s stand-up first and foremost. Stand-up is the baseline of my year – nowadays, that’s what goes in my calendar first, and everything else goes around it. I’ll do TV or radio to pretty much try to convince people to come and see me do stand-up.
What was your very first stand-up gig like?
It was at the Espy in St Kilda in the Gershwin Room – which is where the SBS TV show RockWiz is shot. They used to have a Sunday afternoon ‘new comics’ day, it was five bucks. I told myself that people will always remember the two or three of the worst acts – but if you’re like fourth or fifth worst, then no one will really remember. I thought if I wasn’t the worst, then I wouldn’t be ‘memorably bad’, then I’d go back and give it a crack.
What was your very first job?
As a farm kid, I got put to work on the farm – milking cows, driving the tractor, bailing hay.
Do you go back out to the farm often? Is that your happy place?
No way! It was my unhappy place. It was the place I wanted to get out of as soon as I could. There isn’t much demand for someone with no life skills in a town of 250 people.
Do you find your shows change over the course of a tour? Does a show ever feel complete?
It changes a lot early on. When you’re running-in a new show, you’re trying to work out what the show is. In the first two weeks, that’s where you’ll see the most change. Then, for the rest of the tour, every single night will be different in some way. You tend to find that the show grows. I was recently in a show in Perth, which was the last of about 80 shows in ten weeks, and there were jokes and lines in that show that completed bits and made it way better – and then I was like, oh shit, now I feel like I have to ring all of the people who had seen the show over the last two months and say “Hey! It would have been way better if I said this at the end, right? That would have made more sense!” It never feels finished. Sometimes with comedy, things can feel complete and then the world can change.
What are you most proud of?
That’s tough, because I don’t really look back a lot to be honest – it’s a very forward-looking job. Just because someone laughs at the last thing, doesn’t mean that they will laugh at the next. So I am always thinking forward on the next laugh. But I am proud of the fact that when I get things wrong, if I make a mistake or do the wrong thing by someone, either intentionally or unintentionally, I can confront that and take it on and try and improve myself through the process. I recognise and reflect on my own flaws and weaknesses and improve and learn something of it. So, in both in life and in work, this is a pretty handy thing to have. The process of getting to good comedy is the process of failure in the first place – if you can’t accept the flaws in what you do, then it’s very difficult to get better.
Where would we find you on a rare day off?
I’m certainly not a leisure person. I have about a million projects on a list, and I am going to die before I get to more than half of them, but if I ever have any downtime I generally go to this list and have a dabble.
You’ve been at it for 20 years – what can we expect in the next 20?
It would be nice if I made another 20, both in life and my actual career – I don’t know which will end first! I’ve never made many plans, and it’s really hard in this industry to make plans. Often you make decisions based on a hunch. I moved to America eight years ago thinking that Gruen Transfer would only last a year – and eight years on, it just won’t go away! So, I just plod along. I don’t have any particular aims or aspirations or unresolved goals. I’d like to learn to make sushi properly. That’s probably the only aspiration I have.
Leave us with some parting words of wisdom that you live by …
Remember at the end of the day, if you are happy or sad, then you have some power over those things to recognise and change a circumstance yourself. I tend of live by the philosophy that I should make decisions about my own life, and not worry too much about what people think. My motto is that ‘I chose this’. Yeah, I do 100 shows a year, but I chose to.
Wil Anderson is part of a star-studded line-up of performers to take the stage at Laugh Your Pants Off at The Star Gold Coast on Friday May 26. Tickets are available here.