We can’t even begin to guess where you best know the incomparable Fred Willard from, but we are 1000% certain that you’ve seen him and encountered a few laughs thanks to him on multiple occasions. Whether it’s on the comedy stage or the big screen, the four-time Emmy nominee has done it all and become one of our generation’s most gifted comic actors in the process. I mean, the man has appeared in over one thousand episodes of TV. That is… prolific.
He’s about to add 8 more episodes to that total number by serving as host of the new improv show Trust Us with Your Life that premieres tonight at 9/8c on ABC. On the show, Fred sits down with a variety of celebrities (including the likes of David Hasselhoff, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Springer, Florence Henderson, Jack & Kelly Osbourne, Jane Seymour, Serena Williams and Mark Cuban) and interviews them, bringing to light different stories from throughout their lifetime.
But the twist here is that after Fred gets these stories, he hands them over to three well-beloved improvisers – Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Jonathan Mangum (who have a rotating fourth guest spot, too) – who act out these very scenes the celebrities just depicted, with their own take. Its light, genuinely hysterical and a great step for getting improv back on TV! Perfect show for the summer, too!
Just yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Fred, himself, where he shared some stories from the stage, insight into improv and much, much more! Check out everything he had to say below and be sure to tune in tonight for the series premiere of Trust Us with Your Life at 9/8c on ABC as we’re treated to two back-to-back episodes starring celebrity guests Serena Williams and, later, Jack & Kelly Osbourne.
I think the combination of these beloved familiar faces and this talk-show-meets-improv hybrid format is a great way to get improv back on TV. Having been in the entertainment industry for so long now, what do you think? Could this be what brings improv back to TV for good?
It could be because their improvising on a definite point. It’s not give us the first line or place, you already have situation! You have the celebrity who is right there and I’m talking to them and [the improvisers] are going to act out a portion of his life in front of him and it’s a very strange situation. The reactions were wonderful to see!
And every show they pull them into one improv where they have to play themselves or something, but they don’t have to talk. You know, some were actually shy about getting up, but they didn’t have to improvise. Someone else did their voice and they just have to react. It was quite exciting to watch.
Well, whether it’s real talk shows or fake talk shows, you’re no stranger to them or to the world of hosting in general. What was it that made you want to be a part of this show? You know, how did you get involved?
The concept interested me very much. First, I kind of enjoy hosting and interviewing. I’m interested in a lot of things about people. I wanted to talk to them. And then I wanted to see – I’m such a fan of these improv actors, some of who I’ve known for years, and, I tell you, I was amazed when I saw what they were doing.
Well, this was last year, 2011, how far improv has come, how cutting edge it is and these people amaze me! They didn’t want to know anything that was coming. They didn’t want to cheat, they didn’t want to know any facts. They were listening to things for the first time like I was and just acting out scenes. So that’s what drew me to it right there.
Great! And you are, obviously, a very funny man and certainly well-versed in the ways of improv. How was it for you this time to sit back and be able to watch the improv rather than take part in it on the show?
Well it was great because I might have been lost if I had to get up and improvise with them. So I was very comfortable to just sit there and react.
You know, today they have so many improv games… there’s a new game called Sideways where the actors are lying on the floor behind the screen backstage and they’re projected up on the wall and it looks like they’re standing. So they can give the impression that they’re floating in air and flying. I think that was the high point to everybody. The celebrities just couldn’t believe what they were watching. I couldn’t believe it! I sat through 8 shows watching it and they just got more and more amazing.
I bet! Did you have any techniques or develop any throughout the show as to how to pull these great anecdotal stories from the celebrity guests?
Well, they kind of gave me the guidelines. They were pre-interviewed, but a little problem I had, I would get so interested in some of their stories that I would start asking follow-up questions and try to bring out certain points that I knew maybe they hadn’t included, but I was hearing from the producer in my ear, “Fred, we have to move along! We have to get to the next game!” because they weren’t sure whether the show was going to be an hour or a half hour, so they wanted to get to certain points.
So I think I could have interviewed them for a full half hour and then gotten into the half hour of improv, but I think it’s going to be one of those situations where you can’t believe the show’s over. Like, “Oh my God, I wanted to watch more!” So I haven’t seen any episodes, but I hear they’ve come out wonderfully.
Oh, man, I’m already going to be pushing for a second season with hour-long episodes!
Yeah! They weren’t quite sure at the time, but they could have easily filled an hour because, as I said, just the interviews themselves – I mean, when Jerry Springer came out and the audience just spontaneously started yelling “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” And he such an interesting story about his boyhood. The audience, you could hear a pin drop listening to this story. Then, of course, we had to move on into “Yes, I understand, but let’s get into your teenage years! I understand this happened…”
You’ve been mentioning a few of the celebrities that you had on the show, but there is quite the line-up in these 8 episodes! Was there a particular celebrity the sticks out to you as one you had the best time with?
I think I had the best time… with Ricky Gervais, mainly because he’s a comedian and I felt a little more, you know, I was in a movie that he’d be in and it was a little freer to be with him. I don’t really know Jerry Springer, I don’t know David Hasselhoff. They were all wonderful and very nice, but Ricky Gervais, you know, when one comic is talking to another, it gets a little looser.
And the one I was most impressed about was Serena Williams. I’d never seen an interview with her. I thought it was just a stroke of genius to have her on as a guest. She was very charming, very disarmingly sweet. I didn’t know what she would be like. I thought she’d be very tough, like “let’s just keep going here!” you know, how athletes are. But if I hadn’t known she was a championship tennis player, I never would have guessed it.
Well how about you? Would you be willing to undergo the Trust Us with Your Life treatment yourself?
I think it would be very interesting! Yes, I think it would be very strange to tell about a situation when I was a youngster and then see people act it out. I think I would enjoy it very much.
Again, maybe we’ll trying pushing that for season two!
Yeah! I think there’d be a lot of guests that would come ahead of me, though. And, you know, I think it’s the kind of show that if it would catch on that a lot of people would be calling, saying “oh, do me! Do me! I’ve got a story to be on!”
The problem with the first eight weeks, we had to get people from Los Angeles to London, which is a big jump to get over there, but we got some wonderful guests, Jerry Springer, David Hasselhoff, the Osbourne kids… It was a great first eight weeks.
Definitely! Well, to wrap things up, you’re constantly making audiences laugh, but what’s making you laugh these days?
Hmm… I just discovered a new show on TV called Ridiculousness, where they are showing clips of people doing crazy things, hosted by this skateboard professional. It’s just a fun half hour. I kind of like some of those reality shows. And I’ve hosted a few comedy shows, charity shows, with some of my favorite comics. Jeffrey Ross, who I’ve become kind of friendly with, he just did the celebrity roast. He is so funny, he is such a sweet man. We’ve become kind of friendly; he was just at our July 4th party. So that’s about it!
For more information on Trust Us with Your Life, check out their show page:
Series Premiere of Trust Us with Your Life Airs Tonight, July 10 at 9/8c on ABC
with two back-to-back episodes!