Wil Anderson refers to his new stand-up show as his own personal Dark Knight Rises – trust me, though, there’s a very good reason for this, and it makes a lot more sense than you’d imagine. Just as Bruce Wayne left Gotham to live in exile, Anderson spent the last few years taking his act on the road in foreign lands, perfecting it in front of audiences who often didn’t know or care who he was. “I did my show at the Princess Theatre for the Melbourne Comedy Festival,” he says. “It was a 1500-seat theatre, sold out for 21 nights in a row. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The very next gig I played was in front of 45 people in a log cabin in the middle of Alaska.”
“You learn a lot about your show and who you are under those circumstances,” he says. “That trip pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I know that sounds weird, but I’m kind of shy. I have a way of communicating with people, which is that they gather, I talk at them for an hour, and then we all go our separate ways. I’m not so good at small talk.” Getting off a plane in the middle of Alaska, an unfamiliar place with no familiar faces, forced Anderson out of his shell, an made him evaluate his approach to comedy. “They say that comedy comes from uncomfortable situations, and for me, that was definitely an uncomfortable situation,” he says. “I realised, though, that if you can make a show work in front of people who’ve never heard of you, then you can make it in front of audiences who’ve actually paid to be there because they like you.”
On the personal life front, it’s been a bit of a difficult year for Anderson. “A bunch of shit has gone wrong in the last little while,” he says. “My car was stolen, and my health was bad. What happened was minor in the scheme of things, but it was a pretty big deal to me.” Indeed, however bad you have it, someone somewhere in the world is a lot worse off. Anderson’s show GoodWil deals with these experiences head on, while attempting to place them in the context of the wider world. “Nobody wants to see a comfortable and successful guy just get on stage and complain,” he says. “I wondered how to reconcile my individual drama with the notion that, in the grand scheme of things, I still have it okay?” he says. He pondered this for a while, and then hit on an epiphany. “In the end, I realised that my personal situation actually relates to the state of things in Australia right now.”
“There was a recent survey by The Economist that asked the question ‘where would be the best place in the world to be born this year?’” he says. “They surveyed things like jobs and economics and health and life expectancy, and they said that if you were a baby born this year, Australia is the number two place where you’d have a shot at the best life. It’s interesting, because people in our media are always complaining about how bad things are here, even if, in the grand scheme of things, we’re still doing pretty well. I talk about that, and then relate it back to my own problems.” He pauses for a second. “That sounds like a heavy concept,” he says, “but I’d like to reassure people there are also plenty of dick jokes.”
Anderson has regular TV and radio gigs – you would have seen him on ABC’s recently-concluded Gruen Nation – but still sees stand-up as his true calling, an aspiration he’s held ever since he was a kid listing to Billy Connolly records. “I was on Triple M breakfast in Melbourne this morning, talking about James Hird and footballers,” he says, “and more people heard me doing that than will ever come to one of my live shows. At the same time, though, I see radio and television as part of my job – I go there and perform, and try to do the best job I can, and that’s it. Whether I do well or badly on a radio or TV performance, I’m able to walk away without it affecting my self-esteem. Stand-up is very different.”
“When a stand-up gig is good, it’s great, and I feel fantastic,” says Anderson. “I never feel happier than when I’m on tour with new material and people like the jokes that I’m telling. If I’m having a bad run or working on a new bit and I’m struggling with it, that’s how I feel like the rest of my life. Stand-up is who I am. I do the TV so people will come and see me do stand-up, and I’ll keep doing that, until I get to the point when people will just come and see me for stand-up.” Anderson says that if he ever reaches the point where he can justify stepping away from TV and radio work, doing it for fun rather than to make a living, then he will. “I can imagine that, but I can’t ever imagine saying that I’m done with stand-up,” he says. “Whether successful or unsuccessful, though, I’ll always be doing this.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Wil Anderson performs GoodWil at Enmore Theatre on September 13 and 27, Dee Why RSL on Friday October 11 and Sutherland Entertainment Centre Friday October 18. Visit wilanderson.com.au for further details.