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Martin Mull on Fred Willard: ‘He Was Absolutely, Unconditionally Original’

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

“He was completely, unconditionally authentic,” Mull advised Selection. “He labored so spontaneously. He had such a closet that he may 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 discuss 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 identified to pop off with nonsequitors and stern opinions about trivial issues.

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

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

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

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

The guts of the present was the unstated “synch” between Mull and Willard. “Fred and I may improvise collectively. We may go off script,” Mull mentioned. “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 collection as “All people Loves Raymond” and “Fashionable 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 but it surely was at all times only a delight,” Mull mentioned. “He was as sort and as mild and as heat and beneficiant an individual as you possibly can ever need to meet.”

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