“Tonight’s show will be a special show,” he began. “It will be a sad show. But we will also laugh a lot as we pay tribute to a lovely and genuinely funny man named Fred Willard.”
The host told viewers that as a kid growing up in Las Vegas, one of his favorite shows was Fernwood 2 Night, in which Willard played “oblivious second banana” to his longtime comedy partner Martin Mull. “I loved this show,” he said. “This was one of those shows that probably 80 percent of the people watching it didn’t get. Maybe 90 percent. It was definitely my kind of show.”
Citing the Christopher Guest movies Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show along with Anchorman and Modern Family, Kimmel said that Willard “played basically the same character in everything. He was the same guy. Because it always worked. So, why would you change it? It didn’t matter if the movie or show was good, bad, terrible or great. Fred was always funny.”
“And he was more than just funny,” he added. “He had a light inside him. You could see a glint of it in his eyes. And it made everyone around him happy.”
Over the past few years, Willard appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! more than a dozen times as various characters, including Donald Trump’s father in hell, Rand Paul’s angry neighbor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Kimmel revealed that he started making these regular appearances not long after his wife of 50 years passed away.
“I’d heard that he was feeling down and we wanted to come up with something for him to do,” he said. “And whenever we called him—every time we asked him to do anything—he said yes.”
“We could not get enough Fred,” Kimmel said, explaining that Willard rarely had any time to prepare for whatever silly bit they wanted him to do, performing them for the first time with no rehearsal in front of a live audience. “And he nailed it every time. Dozens of times. Up to 86 years old. He killed it.”
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