Fred Schruers
December 22, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Here’s Willard’s first rule of improvisational comedy: ”Don’t try to get laughs.” Maybe, but nobody lately hasn’t tried it quite so comically as Willard does in Christopher Guest’s satire Best in Show. Portraying Buck Laughlin, a sportscaster doing the color commentary in the fictitious Mayflower dog show, Willard, 61, deploys what he calls his ”weird gift” — that marvelously obtuse comic persona familiar in many films, including Guest’s 1997 Waiting for Guffman. Clueless about canines, Buck increasingly exasperates his snooty partner in the booth, wondering just how the small dogs were ”miniaturized” and spouting non sequiturs (”How much do you think I can bench-press?”). ”I just started firing off shots,” says Willard of his all-night shoot for the sequence. ”After each take I’d ask, ‘Is Chris laughing?”’ He was. And so were we.

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