Harland Williams’ official website claims that he grew up in a small town called Raisinville on a hickory smoking farm. When his father, Farley “Hickory Smoke” Williams was killed in a freak crow accident, the young Williams began telling jokes to overcome his grief. And the rest, he claims, is history.
In actuality, Williams tried a few different things before discovering he was one of the lucky few who could make a living by being funny. He studied animation at Sheridan College, but dropped out and found a creative outlet in poetry and painting while working as a forest ranger for five years, before heading to Hollywood in 1995 to pursue acting gigs.
His first film role was as the unfortunate state trooper who mistakenly takes a swig of Jim Carrey’s urine in the 1994 comic blockbuster Dumb & Dumber. A year later, Williams won the lead on a short-lived TV series entitled Simon (1995), about a Wall Street stockbroker who loses his job and his wife and ends up in Harlem. In 1996 he appeared in Down Periscope, a comedy set on a submarine starring Kelsey Grammar, Rob Schneider and William H. Macy among others.
In 1997, Williams finally had his big break when he was cast as the title character in Rocket Man. While his nerdy scientist/wannabe astronaut character inspired some critics to liken him to a “Jim Carrey for the 6-14 set,” it was a box office disappointment. That same year he won a small, but hilarious role as a pet wrangler in the Barry Levinson political satire Wag the Dog which costarred such acting heavyweights as Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro.
Williams continued to land supporting roles in comedies, including Half Baked (1998), Mr. Headmistress (1998), Superstar (1999) and most memorably, There’s Something About Mary (1998). In the blockbuster comedy, he appears as the serial killing hitchhiker picked up by Ben Stiller.
Large and small roles continued, in films such as The Whole Nine Yards (2000) which starred Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry, and the straight-to-video Insane Clown Posse film Big Money Hustlas (2000). TV series such as the short-lived David Spade animated series Sammy (2000), and the doomed sitcom The Geena Davis Show (2000). Who knew she would go on to be President of the United States a few years later?
Also in 2000, Williams became host of Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, and provided the voice of one of the title characters in the short-lived animated TV series Gary & Mike. His most memorable roles of the past few years have been as gross-out comedian Tom Green’s best friend in Freddy Got Fingered (2001) and as the least convincing of three frat boys disguised as girls in Sorority Boys (2002). He appeared in Family Tree (2003), a live-action family comedy by director Vicky Jensen (Shrek) and Kart Racer (2003).
Rather than allowing his stand-up comedy to fizzle out while appearing in films and on television, Williams has succeeded in maintaining both sides of his career. He tries to do a stand up show once a week and has built up a loyal fan base. He has been doing stand-up since 1982, when he first took the stage at Yuk Yuks in Toronto. He continues to appear at Yuk Yuks and has appeared at a number of the yearly Just For Laughs festivals in Montreal. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1995, he has been a popular performer on the late night talk show circuit, appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
As well as being a comedian and actor, Harland Williams is also an artist and writer, and since the early 1980s has written and illustrated a series of children’s books about a curious brontosaurus named Lickety Split.
Harland Williams has built a successful career on his ability for gross-out physical humour, his innocent, vaguely hillbilly appearance and his multitude of wacky personalities and voices. By playing mostly small, supporting roles with his own unique style, he has managed to carve out a niche for himself as one of the most recognizable character actor comedians.
Also see: Harland Williams’ filmography.
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