Fred Willard — one of this generation’s most gifted comic actors and a favorite of Johnny Carson while serving as host of “The Tonight Show” — will be the recipient of the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award at this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Neb.
Known for his quick wit and improvisational expertise, Willard appeared with Carson on “The Tonight Show” more than 50 times and followed that up with 100 appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Eddie Brill, the festival’s artistic director, described Willard as “one of the most talented and respected actors and comedians this country has ever known.”
“His list of accolades is as diverse as it is impressive. Mr. Willard has been entertaining audiences for many decades including over 50 films, over 80 TV shows, and he continues to make people laugh today with his hilarious and improvisational expertise,” Brill said. “We couldn’t be more proud to present him with this year’s Johnny Carson Legend Award.”
Willard will be on hand in Norfolk to receive the award during the Saturday, June 18, festival gala at the Johnny Carson Theatre. Tom Cotter will serve as the headliner that evening and host the finals of the festival’s stand-up competition.
The festival began in 2008 as a way to pay tribute to the legacy of Johnny Carson, who grew up in Norfolk. The festival annual presents the Johnny Carson Comedy Legend award, one of only two awards in existence that bear Carson’s name. Past recipients are David Steinberg, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Stephen Wright, Dick Cavett, Kevin Pollak, Bill Dana and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker.
Jeff Sotzing, who serves as president of Carson Entertainment and will be on hand for this year’s festival as part of a panel discussion on “The Tonight Show,” was pleased to learn of Willard’s selection. “He’s a great choice,” said Sotzing, who was Johnny Carson’s nephew.
A four-time Emmy nominee, Fred Willard is an alumnus of The Second City and a founding member of the classic improv group, the Ace Trucking Company. In his movie career, Willard’s work in “Waiting For Guffman” earned him an American Comedy Award nod for Funniest Supporting Actor. For his performance in “Best in Show,” he won the Boston Film Critics Award, the American Comedy Award and a tribute from the American Film Institute.
Some of his other film work includes “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “For Your Consideration.” He starred as the only human in the Academy-Award winning film, “WALL-E.”
He first came to prominence as ambitious but dimwitted sidekick Jerry Hubbard to Martin Mull’s smarmy talk-show host Barth Gimble in the satirical series “Fernwood Tonight” in Willard received a Daytime Emmy Award for his role on “The Bold and The Beautiful.” He received three Emmy nominations for his recurring role on the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond” as Robert Barone’s father-in-law, Hank MacDougall. In 2010, he received an Emmy
nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the ABC series “Modern Family” as Phil Dunphy’s father, Frank Dunphy. He was an original cast member of the NBC comedy series “Real People” He has made more than 1,000 television appearances, beginning with “Get Smart” to recent appearances on “Raising Hope,” “Franklin and Bash” and “Hot in Cleveland”and the HBO series “Family Tree.” He can soon be seen in the upcoming Netflix movie, “Mascots.”
He and his wife, Mary, have been honored for their charity work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Actors and Others For animals. He also has received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles for “outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work that helps to further the goal of making the City of Los Angeles a better place.”