Off-kilter funny with Harland Williams
Sixty years after I Love Lucy, Canada is finally getting the hang of making American-style sitcoms, said comedian Harland Williams.
As co-star of the new Citytv comedy series, Package Deal, Williams said Canada, “amazingly,” has rarely employed the multi-camera, live-audience approach routinely used in filming U.S. sitcoms, from Lucille’s Ball’s 1950s landmark series to The Big Bang Theory.
An exception was the long-running CBC show King of Kensington. “But that was a kind of corny, cheesy show about some fat guy shopping in a market,” recalled Williams, who couldn’t sound less thrilled at the memory.
He’s glad to see the Canadian TV industry seemingly taking a leap forward with the four-camera taping style used in the creation of his weekly series, Package Deal, which is filmed in Vancouver in front of a live studio audience.
The show about three dysfunctionally tight brothers and the woman who comes between them springs from the mind of creator/ executive producer Andrew Orenstein (3rd Rock from the Sun, Malcolm in the-- Middle, Everybody Hates Chris).
Package Deal, which airs on Mondays at 10 p.m., also features Eugene Levy and Pamela Anderson in reoccurring roles — and Williams couldn’t be more excited.
The comedian, who brings his live show to Red Deer’s International Beer Haus and Stage on Tuesday, said he worships Levy from his days with Toronto’s Second City and SCTV series.
“He was one of my idols, so to work with him is to come full circle.”
And Anderson, who is not at all ditzy in person, actually is as big a bombshell in real life as in the movies, said Williams. “She’s just born with it. She doesn’t have to turn it on — she can’t shut it off!”
The 50-year-old comedian, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Los Angeles, has appeared in tons of movies over the last 20 years — from the police officer who drinks pee in Dumb and Dumber to the hitchhiking serial killer in There’s Something About Mary.
When it’s suggested that Williams is known for making a big impact in small roles, Williams takes mock umbrage, saying, “I’ve had some starring roles too — like in Rocketman.”
He played the obnoxious, geeky astronaut Fred Z. Randall, who travels to Mars in the 1997 low-budget family comedy.
Williams also starred in the 1998 TV movie Mr. Headmistress, in which he played an ex-con who disguises himself as the head of an all-girls’ school to escape some bad guys. (Think of a gender-bending, white, secular, non-musical version of Sister Act.)
But, for someone who has spent a good deal of time in front of the cameras, Williams said he always enjoys performing for live audiences, since his wellspring is stand-up comedy.
“I’m very comfortable in front of an audience because I like getting that live feedback.”
He gathers inspiration for his act from all aspects of life. For instance, front-page articles about global warming, “made me decide to get into the rubber galoshes market. If 15 years from now, the ocean’s going to rise by three feet, then I’m getting in early . . . . .”
There’s also his Walmart experience. Williams said he only recently set foot in the store to see what it’s all about. “I didn’t realize how big it was,” added the comic, who claims he bought a rifle from the sporting goods department in order to bag an elk that passed him in housewares.
“It’s the only store where you can yodel and hear your own echo.”
Williams said he looks forward to performing in Red Deer — and soaking up more of that undefinable something that makes so many Canadians off-kilter funny. “It’s all the fumes from Syncrude . . . it’s demented us to a degree.”
Although he can be seen in a new movie that comes out in February — the raunchy high school reunion comedy, Back in the Day — Williams also encourages fans to tune in to his website, harlandwilliams.com, for some free humour by clicking on The Harland Highway.
To de-stress, Williams turns to music.
He performs with his real-life cousin Kevin Hearn (from the band Barenaked Ladies) in a duo called The Cousins. The group dabbles in a lot of genres — from tropical flavoured tunes, to tongue-in-cheek 1960s love songs, to country music and dance club mixes.
“It’s great, because we don’t have to answer to anybody,” said Williams.
Tickets to his 8 p.m. stand-up show at 5008 48th St. are $25 from Ticketmaster. For more information, call 403-986-5008.