The Comedic Legacy of Fred Willard (in Four Videos)

When it comes to performers who always made us smile, the late Fred Willard (1933-2020) was a towering figure. During his acting career he was involved in an absurd 317 different projects, evidence of the common knowledge that Willard’s presence was always a value-add.

In my estimation, Fred Willard shined brightest in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary-style movies, which leaned heavily on the actors to improvise the dialogue. Due to Fred’s proficiency with this unique skillset, he earned recurring appearances in Guest’s work, putting up a string of legendary performances along the way.

Below is a collection of the laugh-out-loud charisma of Fred Willard:

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Waiting for Guffman (1995) IMDb

“An aspiring director and the marginally talented amateur cast of a hokey small-town Missouri musical production go overboard when they learn that someone from Broadway will be in attendance.”

In this scene, Fred teams up with the incomparable Catherine O’Hara to portray a pair of small-time stage actors demonstrating their inflated sense of self. Their back and forth is made all the funnier with the knowledge that the two of them are surprising one another with their lines, and their artistry is on full display when they’re both able to use that surprise to further the scene.

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Best in Show (2003) IMDb

“A behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive and cut-throat world of dog shows through the eyes of a group of ruthless dog owners.”

Fred embodying a silly character in a serious setting is always ripe for laughs. Credit to his scene partner, Jim Piddock, whose strait-laced acting enables Fred to go over-the-top with his commentating.

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A Might Wind (2005) IMDb

“The mockumentary captures the reunion of 1960s folk trio the Folksmen as they prepare for a show at The Town Hall to memorialize a recently deceased concert promoter.”

This is my all-time favorite Fred Willard scene. Performing alone, Fred can follow his whims wherever they take him, and what comes out is so irreverent that it can easily stand-alone outside of the context of the film. It legitimately boggles the mind that anyone could free associate this well, and to this day I can’t believe this was improvised.

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For Your Consideration (2006) IMDb

“Three actors learn that their respective performances in the film “Home for Purim,” a drama set in the mid-1940s American South, are generating award-season buzz.”

No one, and I mean no one, plays the confident idiot better than Fred. He totally owns this moment despite the scene being filled with extremely talented comedic talent. This movie had many quieter moments, and Fred breathed life into it with his interstitial scenes.

You were one of a kind, Fred. Seeya on the other side.

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