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Keeping things warm

Laura Sturza

BURBANK -- The fictitious psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane might look to

several factors in David Jackson Willis’ life for clues about his career

success.

Whatever the diagnosis, the cast of the television show “Frasier” is

thankful to have Willis around. As its warmup comedian, he gets the

audience in the mood to laugh before the actors come on stage, and

between takes.

Growing weary after years of performing on the road, the eight-year

Burbank resident was fortunate to find the unique post, which lets him

stay in Los Angeles. He has served the casts and audiences of “Friends,”

“The Golden Girls” and “Star Search.”

“It’s an odd little niche in show business,” said Willis, who believes

there are about 12 entertainers in the area with similar full-time jobs.

Willis has offered a mix of stand-up comedy and show factoids for

“Frasier’s” audiences for the past eight years.

“He projects a real grown-up sensibility, and that’s the kind of

audience “Frasier” has,” said Ted Frank, an NBC senior vice president.

“He’s one of the best in the business.”

Cast member David Hyde Pierce, who plays Niles Crane, Frasier’s

brother, agreed.

“I’ve never seen anyone better.” Pierce said at Tuesday’s taping.

He described Willis as understanding the balance between keeping the

audience laughing during breaks and maintaining their focus on the show’s

story line.

Taping the show in front of a live audience helps the actors, writers

and producers know what moments make the audience laugh, Willis said.

“It’s also a morale thing,” Willis said. “When you hear several hundred

people laughing ... it’s motivational.”

Last year, the cast and crew faced the loss of their beloved

co-creator and co-executive producer, David Angell, and his wife, Lynn,

who were passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11. Flight 11 was one

of the planes hijacked and crashed by terrorists on Sept. 11.

“Lynn sat next to me for eight years,” Willis said. “I would do

certain jokes just for her ... that woman heard my same jokes for eight

years and still laughed. For that alone, she deserves a place in heaven.”

In the first show taping after their deaths, Willis faced an awkward

moment.

“There’s a point in the show I introduce the staff,” Willis said. “I

went to introduce them and realized one of them wasn’t there.”

The inherent healing nature of comedy helped the audience, cast and

crew during that painful time.

“We had people from New York in the audience,” Willis said. “They got

lots of extra applause. The whole thing brought people together.”

Willis is also busy with other entertainment pursuits. He has appeared

in and written for several television shows and recently finished writing

and directing the short film “The Disappearing Girl Trick.”

THE WILLIS FILE

NAME: David Jackson Willis

FAMILY: Single, with two cats.

WILLIS’ WEB SITE: www.inthedarkproductions.com

FOR TICKETS TO “FRASIER”: Call Paramount Studios at (323) 956-4848.

Tapings are at 6 p.m. Tuesdays, August through March.


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