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Words for Gene Wilder

Posted Aug 30, 2016 in Words

The world of comedy lost a beloved man yesterday when Gene Wilder passed away at the age of 86. In no way are we an authority on the life and work of Mr. Wilder, but three of our comedians took a moment to put into words what his work means to them and how his very special talent inspires them still.

First, from Mandy Price:

Gene Wilder was the comedian I always wanted to be. In retrospect, he may have even been the human I always wanted to be. As I child, I realized he was truly the perfect man. He had a rakish nobility, the ability to cock an eyebrow with a one-sided smile, and looked perfectly natural in a tuxedo. He was sophisticated and debonair and could charm the hell out of the ladies. And he used that urbane quality to underline the preposterous. He could be remain stoic when surrounded by silliness, then shoot one perfectly executed arrow that out-sillied the whole scene.

Nothing entertains me more than intelligent stupidity. Loud and fast wackiness has never made me laugh. I recognize the genius of Robin Williams, but his blitzkrieg style never spoke to me on a personal level. Gene Wilder’s juxtaposition of highbrow demeanor and ludicrous humor was inspirational and, I like to think, helped craft the comic actor I am today. Or, at least, strive to be. And he understood the value in that juxtaposition. His movies with Gilda Radner combined smart and goofy in a way that was absolute genius. And his work with Richard Pryor is the definition of intelligent stupidity.

Gene Wilder was hilarious because he never thought he was funny. Not once. Every dumb line in every dumb scene in every dumb movie was treated with respect and gravity. With truth and honesty. He appreciated the seriousness of absurdity.

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” Roald Dahl wrote it and Gene Wilder lived it.

From Doug Willott:

When an actor specializes in comedy, they are often called a comedian. This is not necessarily a bad word, but when people use it to describe a performer of the stage or screen, they often overlook how seriously the actor in reference takes their part. The fact of the matter is Gene Wilder was a helluva actor. No matter how strange or over the top the world his characters lived in, he gave emotionally honest portraits of the people he portrayed. Watch The Producers and see, though it’s outlandish and hysterical to us, it’s quite serious to Leo Bloom. The stakes of Young Frankenstein are very real to Frederick. And, of course, Willy Wonka is incredibly smart and aware, though never judgmental, of the amazing world he’s surrounded by. Gene Wilder was a master of comedic timing and emotional commitment, and his work continues to inspire me to this day. Like Mr. Wilder, let us all worry less about being funny (an overrated goal), and focus more on being committed to our moment and the feelings therein.

It was asked, when writing this, that we include a clip. I choose this one, showcasing his commitment to the moment, as in the midst of a family film, he has no problem making a moment scary and upsetting since that’s what the story needs. It doesn’t matter here to him that you still like Gene Wilder, it only matters that Willy Wonka hits the right emotional buttons for the audience.

From Derrek Greenleaf:

I’ve always admired that Gene committed to do the character Willy Wonka on one condition: he would hobble out of the factory using a cane, and do a somersault in the scene when he first meets the children, and is introduced in the film. He fought hard for it, and although the production team thought it was silly, the director agreed. Gene required this so that, “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?” To which Gene Wilder replied, “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” (source)

A great physical manifestation of the character and the film, and the fantasy and wonder that is Willy Wonka, in my estimation. We should all try to be characters of that caliber, the inside, outside and physicality are all the character.



Aug 31, 2016 at 18:43

Thank you so much for your words--very well written from some of the best improvisors I know.


Sep 3, 2016 at 13:31

Thanks for your beautiful and thoughtful reflections. We lost a great one with Gene Wilder and I'm glad he lives on.

Kristaps Butners

Sep 4, 2016 at 01:52

I will always think of Gene Wilder as Mr Wonka and miss him so. My favorite role of his was the quick draw sidekick in Blazing Saddles.

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