Harland Williams has gotten plenty of movie and TV work since “Half Baked,” but that performance is one which resonates with comedy fans.
Part of the appeal of “Half Baked” certainly stems from the comedic genius of Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan, the film’s writers who went on to create the iconic “Chappelle’s Show” for Comedy Central.
The film’s cast is picture perfect as well. It’s tough imagine better choices than Chappelle, Williams, Guillermo Diaz and Jim Breuer for the movie’s lead roles.
Also, it’s a movie steeped in marijuana culture so stoners of every variety can feel a connection to the 1998 release directed by Tamra Davis.
Williams, a veteran actor and stand-up comedian who is headlining Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh this week, plays elementary school teacher Kenny Davis in “Half Baked” and after going on a post-smoke session munchies run, Davis feeds a police horse enough junk food to kill the animal affectionately known as Buttercup.
Causing Buttercup’s death results in jail time for Williams’ character, and hilarity ensues when Chappelle, Diaz and Breuer hatch schemes to get their friend out from behind bars.
Even the inadvertent animal murder reveals a sweetness in Williams’ portrayal of Davis. In his stoned state, Davis stopped to feed a horse in New York City and eventually gave his four-legged friend all the food he was planning to take back to his biped buddies.
An inherent innocence is a recurring theme in Williams’ acting and his stand-up, and during our Wednesday afternoon interview, we talked about whether or not that innocence is real, the challenges and charm of an ever-evolving art form like comedy, why Williams is coming back to Raleigh and much more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Williams on Twitter (@HarlandWilliams) and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: On your website you suggest that people don’t reference Wikipedia to gather interview information. Is that because you’ve read some crazy things about yourself there that aren’t true?
Harland Williams: Not only that, but I went in changed everything one day. I spent like three hours changing everything. I went back about a day and a half later and someone had changed it all back to what it was before.
There’s projects on there that I’ve never done. I think they have my middle name wrong. They have my birthday wrong. They have my parents wrong, sitcoms that I’ve never been in. They have movies that have never even been written. It’s just horrible.
Sometimes I get people interviewing me and it’s all these questions about stuff that doesn’t exist so I spend half the interview debunking it all. I didn’t want to go through that so that’s why I put that up there (on my website).
TC: I think that’s smart and I’m not trying to say I’m the best comedy interviewer ever, but I rarely ever use Wikipedia when I’m coming up with questions for a comic. I’ll watch your stand-up or YouTube clips or visit your website. Those seem like much better sources of information.
HW: Exactly. I admire Wikipedia, but I just wish they’d allow the actual people to go in and edit it. It is what is. Welcome to the digital age, you know?
TC: Indeed. There is a sweetness or innocence to most of the characters you’ve played and in your stand-up. Is that in you or is it just an act and you’re actually a mean, terrible person at heart, Harland?
HW: [laughs] Which answer do you want?
TC: [laughs] I want the truth!
HW: It’s in me. My mother was super sweet and I think I get it from her. Both of my parents spent their lives committed to helping people. My mom worked with drug addicts and prostitutes and was a social worker and a marriage counselor. My dad was a politician so I guess there’s just a streak in me where I try to be as nice as I can. There’s also a streak in me where I’m a little naive sometimes too so maybe that’s what you see. I don’t know.
TC: I wanted to hug your character in “Half Baked” when the horse died and when you were in jail. I wanted to say, “We’re gonna get through this somehow.” Did you feel like that type of vulnerability is what the role called for and was what you wanted to get across?
HW: The character started off as a school teacher for kindergarten kids. I figure if that’s what you do for a living, you’ve probably got a real soft spot. I find that people who have a soft spot for kids generally are kind of nice across the board. This is a loving, innocent character so I just kind of built that into it when I was acting.
It was a fun character to play, especially when that sweet character gets into a place like jail. [interviewer, Harland laugh] It’s the worst possible scenario.
TC: How long did you do stand-up before you felt like you really understood how to be good at it?
HW: That’s a growing process. I learn more every time I go on stage to be honest. I think it took me probably about five or seven years to start to get in that zone where I felt like I could kind of master it to some degree. The first few years you feel good about it, but you’re still flailing a bit. You can swim, but you don’t have smooth strokes. I feel like the more I do it, the more fluid I get and even to this day I’m learning to get more fluid all the time.
I’m glad there’s no finish line and I think that’s true of any art form really. … I think what’s so inspiring about arts is that there really is no end. It keeps leading you as much as you’re leading it, you know what I mean?
HW: You think you’ve arrived, but then something within your artistic spirit finds another gear. It’s like an 18-wheeler where you think the 17th gear is the end of the game, and then all of a sudden it slips into the 18th gear. I think that’s what makes the arts beautiful. That’s what keeps us inspired and keeps us moving and pushing forward.
TC: Aren’t you happy that it seems like there are a million different things you can try in comedy?
HW: Oh yeah. My next special is gonna be a good example of that. It’s really going to be pushing the envelope and doing something really different. (Comedy) keeps me inspired.
TC: Have you played Goodnights before?
HW: Yes, I played it once I think about three years ago. I’m coming back because I had a really good time there. I usually don’t return if I don’t like a club or a community, but I really enjoyed myself there. Great crowds and a great club, so I’m coming back for more gravy on the beef.
TC: [laughs] We have plenty of gravy in the South if you just want plain gravy.
HW: OK. Good.
TC: We can put little bits of sausage in there. Whatever you want, Harland. We’ve got you.
HW: Well, if you’ve got any manatee sweat I’ll take that.
TC: There are some spots in Raleigh where you might be able to round that up.
HW: OK. Good.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
It hurts all the more when a Prius cuts you off bc its like wow u love the earth but you dont like humans
— Chelsea Peretti (@chelseaperetti) February 9, 2017