Keeping things warm
BURBANK -- The fictitious psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane might look to
several factors in David Jackson Willis’ life for clues about his career
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
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
“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
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
“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.