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Harland Williams stands up for himself



Harland Williams

Where: Yuk Yuk’s, 2837 Cambie St.

When: 8 nightly Dec. 5-7, 10:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7.

Tickets: $35 at yukyuks.com or call 604-696-9857

Comedian and Actor Harland Williams became a familiar face in Vancouver’s comedy scene during three months of filming here on the Canadian sitcom Package Deal, which wrapped last January and airs Thursdays on Citytv.

The Toronto-born Williams — he’s frequently mistaken for American because his slow drawl comes off sounding southern — spent his off-set time trying out new stand-up material at Vancouver comedy clubs.

“I pop up, I never go by my own name,” Williams told me during an on-set break. “Last night I went as Snortin’ Norton from Halifax. I don’t want them to know it’s me. I really just go to dick around try new material and experiment, come  up with stuff. Snortin’ Norton, Bongo McGee, Krinkles McGuinty.”

So fans can expect at least a partly made-in-Vancouver set from Williams as he returns to the city.

Comedy has been good to Williams ever since he headed tot he U.S. two decades ago, for film roles including Dumb and Dumber, and There’s Something about Mary, and TV appearances with late-night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brian.

Sample joke: “Did you know it is impossible to throw away a garbage can?”

Then it gets more oddball, with riffs on motel cleanliness, Smart car safety and tracheotomies, all delivered in that distinctive drawl.

He said comedy is always an experiment, which is why he loves the live stage.

“As much as we’re laughing on set (making a movie), it ain’t up to us, it’s up to the folks at home,” Williams said. “To be honest, when they gave me the scripts to Dumb and Dumber, and Something  About Mary — which were two huge comedies that I was in that came out amazing — reading the scripts on the page I didn’t think they were that funny. I wasn’t laughing while I was reading so I was a little skeptical.

“It was in the execution, in the  actors, in the timing, the way the directors put it together. You got  two classic comedies right there that I wasn’t sure were funny.”

He had some room for experimenting when he made Package Deal in Vancouver, as the show included a day of filming for each episode in front of a live audience, and Williams would go off script after a couple of takes.  On the TV show, Williams plays a guy perpetually looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme, opposite Randal Edwards as his more successful younger brother.

“Coming from the stand-up world, I’ve really learned to feed off that energy,” he said. “It’s a fun day where I like to push the envelope, go off book and improvise a lot of lines, add some lines that will get us a laugh and fit with the script. That’s fun to do in front of a live crowd because you get your answer right away, does it work or doesn’t it?”

Backstage talk is that Package Deal will be returning for a second season, so expect more onstage aliases from Williams when that happens.

Williams released a DVD of his stand-up act last January as well, called Harland Williams, a Force of Nature, which meant he had to come up with a totally new collection of jokes — hence those Vancouver incognito comedy experiments.

“It’s a little tough, the audiences here demand a lot. Vancouverites are a bit of a stubborn crowd, they’re not going to laugh at just anything. They make you work, which I appreciate. I like it when the audience push you and say let’s go, show us what you’ve got. But it’s a town where if you go in a nutty direction, in an obscure direction, they seem to like to go on that ride with you.”

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