Fred Willard imparts his comedic wisdom on ‘Raising Hope’

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Get out your No. 2 pencils! Comedic whiz and TV veteran Fred Willard is getting class into session on “Raising Hope.”

In Tuesday’s episode, Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is moved to take his G.E.D exam after baby Hope shows signs of being a smartypants. Not one to watch their son shine, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton) decide to take the test, too. Only Jimmy is surprised to find his former high school teacher and tormentor, Mr. Swift (Willard), instructing the G.E.D. course.

“They’re trying to outdo themselves being smart,” Willard said during a break from filming the episode a few months ago. “And one is dumber than the other!”

“Oh, and there’s a flashback to when Jimmy first came in in 1988 — when he was in his goth period,” Willard continued. “All I’ll say about that look is, ‘yikes!’ ”


A look at Willard’s resume might elicit the same reaction — in sheer amazement at its length. The amiable 72-year-old actor, who has made a career of playing the clueless boob, has appeared in countless TV spots, movies, and hosting gigs since he began his career in the late ‘60s. He’s probably best known for roles in the Christopher Guest mockumentary films — “This is Spinal Tap,” “Waiting for Guffman,” etc. — and appearing in ‘D.C. Follies.’ And playing fathers seems to be his current calling: He was Hank MacDougall on ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’; Phil Dunphy’s father on “Modern Family’; and will appear as Rob Schneider’s father in ‘Rob.’

‘It’s Fred Willard!’ Dillahunt said while riding a scooter during a break on set. ‘He is a comedic genius. The G.E.D. thing is just a front. He’s really just teaching us how to be funny. We’re all taking notes.’

His “Raising Hope” appearance is a reunion of sorts for Willard and Dillahunt; both appeared in the short-lived Fox comedy “A Minute with Stan Hooper.”

“You know, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my career and I don’t usually break down and laugh, but there are some awfully funny moments in this show,” he said of his ‘Raising Hope’ gig. “My character is very long-suffering. He probably failed at a lot of things and that’s probably why he teaches night classes. But still, I’m smarter than they are. But, geez, they make it so damn easy.”


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-- Yvonne Villarreal