Where There’s A Wil, There’s A Wiluminati

Wil Anderson is a figure of the Australian media landscape who needs little introduction. Making his mark though print, radio, online media, TV and stand-up, Anderson might well be the hardest-working man in Australian showbiz. While a detailed biography of Gippspland’s most famous export would read well, Anderson provides so much more as an interview subject, the quick-witted yet considered thinker engaging this journalist for far longer than the prescribed 10-15 minute interview slot.

Wiluminati is Anderson’s 19th show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, with PEARL chatting to the veteran as he recovers from his debut night of the Brisbane leg of the tour. “I just did two weeks in Adelaide, 14 shows in a row. So you land without a show and then by the end of it you kind of have a sense of what you’ll be talking about for the next nine months…the first month it’s a constant process of reviewing and working on it. It’s a fascinating but also draining, complex procedure and you would think it would get easier over the years but sometimes, I really feel like it doesn’t and sometimes, I think the more you know about it, the less you f**king know.”

Over the 15 dates so far, Anderson has been spouting completely new material, as per usual, and Wiluminati is still very much in its infant stages when considering the tour of epic proportions ahead. “The way my process works it that there is no point in me locking in material first, because material can age. I started this show at the beginning of March and I think the last show of the tour is booked in for November 23 – so I’m going to be talking about these things for a long while. What I tend to do is start quite broadly with themes, with what I want to say. I do all of my writing with those themes in mind.”

While themes can be written in broad terms, intelligent comedians such as Anderson can be faced with the decision of scrapping content that they no longer engage with, regardless of whether it still earns them the ‘big laugh’.

Anderson is quick to say he would happily do away with a joke if he could no longer connect with it; declaring, “You shouldn’t be choosing something just because it’s funny.” Considering the notion further he adds, “…well I guess you can. At the end of the day your job is to be funny. My simple rule is that I can make whatever points I want to make as long as it’s funny. I can be funny without making a point, but I’m not allowed to make a point without being funny because basically at the end of the day I am a stand up comedian.”

The idea of making people laugh for a job is interesting. The phrase implies that the laugh is provoked against someone’s will, a challenge to be conquered by the funnyman. With a career spanning over 20 years, it’s natural to wonder whether Anderson is still driven by the raw challenge of making the audience laugh and if diving into the US scene rekindles said feelings.

“In Australia, people come to the show with a certain level of expectation. They pay a decent amount of money – it’s not cheap – there are thousands of them there, and they probably expect that at the very least, they are going to see a seven and a half out-of-ten show. The amount an audience loves something is the gap between the expectation and the delivery. This is why you don’t declare that you are going to tell the funniest joke in the world; you’ll raise expectations too high rather than surprise with the joke. In Australia I feel the pressure for shows to be better than the high level they expect it to be.”

Applying this logical formula to the US, Anderson explains that comedy club punters seeing an unknown Australian probably expect a four or five out-of-ten show.

“If you deliver an 8 or a 9 it’s a fun laugh. They are surprised and the expectation gap where they go from 0 – 100 closes really quickly. That’s still really fun and it reminds you of when you first started. There is that joy of knowing that you can make a room of complete strangers laugh…there is a real sense of ‘I can do this’.”

With plans of spending the next few years focusing solely on stand-up, Anderson is making the most of what he claims to be the ‘golden age for comedians’ after turning 40, a new era for the Australian industry.

“You look at Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK. You look at all these guys and their best years, the years where they went from being really good comics into all-time great comics, were the years between 40 and 50…I think we [Australia] just haven’t seen the next level yet because our industry is so young. My generation – Hughesy, Hillsy, Peter Hellier, Rove and Corrine – while there were a few comedians making a living before us, we are the first generation to have life-long careers doing comedy. We are explorers in someway, dipping our toes out because it kind of hasn’t happened before.”

Catch Wiluminati at The Comedy Theatre from March 25 – April 20 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. More info and tickets at www.comedyfestival.com.au