All My Children may be off the air, but one of it’s most, charming, debonair, drop dead gorgeous, and hilariously funny stars, none other than Walt Willey (Jackson Montgomery), is out on the road again doing his stand up comedy act. On Sunday, May 18, Willey hits the Detroit area, starring for one night at Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, MI.
Soapdom’s Laurie Bedigian caught up with Willey over the weekend via email and asked a few questions about his comedic roots, his love of acting, his comedy heroes and more. Plus, he shares a bit about what the audience can expect on show night. All I can say is the subject of sex may be involved. Say what? I’ll let Willey clear that one up for you. LOL
Read on and enjoy. And if you’re going to be in the Detroit area on Sunday, May 18, call 248 542-9900 or visit www.comedycastle.com for tickets.
Soapdom: What or who made you delve into stand-up comedy?
Walt Willey: I remember watching Ed Sullivan with my parents when I was a kid and my mom and dad just cracking up watching some of the greats: Henny Youngman, Myron Cohen, Alan King, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles. Mom especially. She'd laugh so hard, tears streaming down her cheeks. I remember very clearly thinking: "I want to do that!" My very first talent show - probably talking 5th grade here - I "lip-synched" to a Victor Borge record (yes, I know, I'm old!). While I owned bunches of 45s, the first LP I bought was Bill Cosby's "I Started Out as a Child." Then I discovered Richard Pryor, who grew up an hour away from me. His truthful take on humanity in general and himself in particular really spoke to me. I was hooked!
Soapdom: If you had to choose between acting and stand-up comedy, which would you choose and why?
Walt Willey: I'd choose acting. For me, stand-up is acting. When I'm on the road with the Wild & Willey Comedy Tour I'm acting. When I hit that stage I'm a character. Sure, it's me, but a very specific, magnified part of me. The person onstage is not the person you would meet at the grocery store or on set or at the gym or even right after the show. I think this is true for most comics.
Soapdom: Do you remember your first time on stage as a stand-up comic? Anything you'd like to share?
Walt Willey: Do I ever! I had been on LIVE! with Regis and Kathy Lee and had mentioned I would love to get onstage and do some stand-up - thought I'd fly a flag and see if anybody saluted. Sure enough, I got a call from a club up in New Haven. Now, I'd never done stand-up before. I had no act, per se, just a vague notion or two. I put together a 45 minute set and rehearsed it, never once trying even parts of it out in front of an audience or even friends.
The night came and the place was packed with AMC/"Jackson" fans, easily 250 people, maybe more. I got up there and I stank - and I'm probably being kind here. I was nervous, nothing worked and I looked out onto a sea of incredulous faces. I broke into a classic "flop sweat."
After that debacle, I tucked my tail, scrapped my set, and started all over, this time doing it the right way; trying stuff out at open mic nights and bouncing bits off friends and other comics.
Soon I was invited to do a fundraiser at "Catch a Rising Star" in Manhattan. Just as I got onstage Christopher Walken and his wife Georgianne came into the place and sat right down front. Now I've been a Walken fan since "Next Stop Greenwich Village" and "Annie Hall," so I was nervous. But I cracked him - and the rest of the room - up. I figured that was all the "acid test" I needed. I began my first tour - to the absolute chagrin of ABC and "All My Children" "brass" - in 1990 and have been at it since.
Soapdom: Do you get nervous before a live performance?
Walt Willey: No, not really. Excited, but not nervous. For better or for worse, stage fright has never been an issue for me.
Soapdom: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Walt Willey: Drinking. Lots of drinking. Kidding. I sit with my eyes closed and visualize my set. If I'm doing new stuff, I'll look at my notes.
Soapdom: Do you have a specific comedic influence? If so, what did/do you admire about that person's work?
Walt Willey: As I mentioned, Pryor was a huge influence on me. I work the way he did; telling the truth. Oh sure, it's an embellished, selective truth, but truth nonetheless. I don't do one-liners, I tell stories. I observe my fellow humans, find the truth that is universal, and riff on that.
Soapdom: Do you have a favorite up-and-coming comic? What about a favorite sit com - either past or present?
Walt Willey: This is a tough question, because, oddly enough, I try to not watch other comics. My mind is an absolute sponge and since I often go off on tangents in my act, I don't want someone else's bits to come out of my mouth. I think Craig Ferguson is an absolute genius. As for sitcoms, All in the Family is one of my all time faves. Friends is incredibly well-written. I've never seen Seinfeld, believe it or not.
Soapdom: Is this your first show in Michigan?
Walt Willey: Oh, no, I've been there several times. In the past, I'd play Chaplin's (usually Chaplin's West) a couple times a year. I remember one time after the gig I was flying back to NY. Across the aisle was an older man in a baseball cap. He leaned across the aisle and asked, "So how'd your shows go"? "Good", I said. "Why? Did you come to one"? "Naw", says he. "I had my own to do over a Chaplin's East". About that time I realized to whom I was speaking: Soupy Sales!
Soapdom: We don't often see actors from daytime come to our area. What made you decide to bring the show to Michigan?
Walt Willey: Really? "Back in the day," actors from the ABC soaps would frequently visit the area, doing Kelly and Company, a local origination talk show on the ABC affiliate in Detroit, and "soapfests." This is in the early-90s or so. I have a feature on my website where fans can suggest clubs where they'd like me to appear, and the Detroit area was mentioned quite frequently, so we hooked this up.
What's really fun for me is doing the VIP Meet & Greet before the show. I've always loved interacting with fans and it serves as kind of a 'warm up" for me, and I'm always very candid - never did learn when to shut my mouth!
Soapdom: What kind of topics can people expect to hear you poke fun at?
Walt Willey: Life! Getting older, wives, kids, sex, pets, parents, sex, soaps, driving, shopping...did I mention sex? I have a lot of new material I'll be trotting out for this date and - as always - I'll have my comedy DVD available, the proceeds from which go to the WilleyWorld Endowment Fund.
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