Harland Williams at Improv Fort Lauderdale: How Do You Top Dumb & Dumber and Half Baked?
Harland Williams is one lucky guy. He managed to score small but important roles in some of the biggest movies of the '90s, like Dumb & Dumber (in which he drank pee) and There's Something About Mary. But his signature moments, like accidentally killing a horse with Funyuns in Half Baked, are quickly overshadowed by his laundry list of skills and projects. A podcaster, musician, and even children's book author, Williams recently took it up yet another notch with the release of his new standup special, Force of Nature, which takes place atop a mountain in an empty desert. Just a man and his jokes.
With such a mixed bag of talents to pull from, Williams has a little something for everyone. We spoke with him about Canadian humor, why he follows only two people on Twitter, and whether there is any chance for a Half Baked sequel.
New Times: You're from Canada, our great northern neighbor. Vanity Fair just did an awesome comedy issue and highlighted the differences between American comedy and Canadian comedy. What do you think the differences are?
Harland Williams: I think Canadian comedy leans a little more towards the absurd and cerebral. Canadians have two major influences: one, the American influence, which is humor that goes a little over the head, and two, British influence, which is a little more subtle. The Canadian vibe is right in the middle, and it's like the weird soup. It's like a bad mushroom soup that has gone sour, but now it's delicious.
You are a member of the podcast universe with the Harland Highway. How did you get started?
I was one of the guys that got into it early, when there were only five or ten of us doing podcasts. I started about four years ago and got the idea because a few years prior, I had done a drive-home radio show in Denver, and I produced over 1,000 comedy bits that I owned the rights to. I thought they would be great little segments to drop into a podcast. I loved being a broadcaster, and it was a great way to pull it all together — my comedy message, my bits, my life. I've been doing it ever since.
You are one of those guys who has had bit roles in lots of big movies. What is the one role you get recognized for most when walking down the street?
Boy, you know what's great is I'm happy to say I have been in a lot of really popular movies, so I really get it from all sides. I was coming out of an office building today and the guy that held the door for me was all "OH MY GOD, ROCKETMAN!" Yesterday I was walking across Sunset Boulevard and this homeless guy with a pit bull was like "OH MY GOD, YOU'RE FROM HALF BAKED!" It really comes from all directions.
I keep hearing about Anchorman 2 and Zoolander 2. Would you be up for a Half Baked 2? I think the world is ready.
Oh man, I would love a Half Baked 2! But I don't know if it would happen because Dave Chappelle has gone off the grid a little bit. I don't know where he is or what he's doing. But if it ever came up, it would be amazing. It would have to happen soon, though, because we are all getting older, and you don't want to see a stoner going down the street with a walker.
Dumb & Dumber has become ingrained in our culture. When you were working on the movie, did you have any idea it would be so long-lasting?
I had no idea. To be honest, when I first read the script, I didn't even like it. I didn't think it was very funny, but I also didn't think about how amazing Jim Carrey is and the life that that guy can put into a line or facial expression. Without Jim, that movie would not be what it is, but then you add all the other people on top and it just became so great.
You even write children's books. How do you come up with the ideas?
You know what I do? It sounds silly, but I kind of devolve my mind and sit in a quiet place and start doodling and thinking like a kid. Like "If I was 3, what would make me laugh?" It's a fun thing to be able to do as an adult.
So you illustrate the stories too?
Yes, I've been drawing my whole life and studied animation in college. I'm currently developing some cartoons with Disney, so it's definitely nice to tap into that side. As we get older, we seem to get ingrained in the adult world; it's a nice way for me to remember my youthfulness.
The standup comedy landscape has started to shift with everyone getting on Twitter. I was going to ask, "Who are some of your favorite comedians to follow?" — but you only follow two people! What's up with that?
I'm a Twitter snob. It's going to sound mean, but I don't really care what anyone else is doing. I only follow those two because they are my friends and asked me to. I can look out my window and see people doing stuff; I don't need them reporting to me that they are buying grapes at the grocery store.
I was pumped to read you're cousins with Barenaked Ladies keyboardist Kevin Hearn.
Yeah, we have a little band called the Cousins.
Wow, how long did it take you to come up with that name?
We toiled over it. We struggled and struggled and finally had to take a road trip to the Philippines to figure it out. We have a blast; I sing, and he plays. We have a silly little CD.
So are the songs funny or serious?
The songs are serious, catchy little pop love songs. But we have a couple of music videos up on YouTube — one is tongue-in-cheek, and the other is more real. We just do it as a hobby and to goof around. It's whatever we want it to be.
What can we expect from your standup show?
I will be doing a lot of material from my brand-new special, Force of Nature. I was inspired to do a new special out in the middle of a desert on a giant hill in broad daylight with no audience. I was just sick of seeing standup in dark, depressing theaters where you cut to the comedian, cut to the crowd over and over again. That's the only way we have ever seen standup specials, and I needed to break the walls down. I will talk about sex, life, death, driving, technology, Bigfoot, putting mayonnaise on the bottom of your shoes, giraffes afraid of ceiling fans. Important stuff.
I'm starting a new thing, a signature question I ask all my interviewees. You happen to be my guinea pig. Ready?
Bring it on.
What's your favorite kind of sandwich?
Wow. I am going to think carefully. Mmm, I would have to say a corned-beef sandwich. With nothing on it — just corned beef — and it has to be moist and juicy and have fat in the meat. It can't be dry. On white bread, not rye, no mustard. Just juicy meat.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.