Future Bright host Wil Anderson tells us about his time in Canberra and why finding a career you love is so important.
Speaking to UnCover from Byron Bay, where he lives, it might seem as though comedian Wil Anderson is a long way from his Canberra roots.
Not so far away, however, that he’s forgotten his love for the nation’s capital. Since completing a Bachelor of Arts, Communications at the University of Canberra in 1995, Wil looks back fondly on his time at UC.
Growing up in regional Victoria – in a town of 250 people - Wil made the decision to avoid the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne for his studies, and instead opted for Canberra - where he knew he wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
“I really think I might have been eaten alive if I’d gone straight from a small town to Sydney or Melbourne,” Wil says.
“Canberra is a very good starter city – it has all the conveniences of a big city without the overwhelming nature of Sydney or Melbourne.”
Wil also says that Canberra has the perfect demographic combination to make it a great city – one that compares to internationally-renowned university towns.
“Over the years I’ve found that some of the best cities in the world are ones that have a political class and a university class – take Madison, Wisconsin for example,” he says.
“In Canberra, it means that the amenities are very good because the politics are there, but because of the university class there’s also cool things going on – modern culture, music, and student politics.”
As a student, he thrived academically and graduated at the top of his cohort. Although it might seem as though Wil was a model student, he – like many others – found a way to ensure he was in class as little as possible.
“Study-wise I wanted as few contact hours as possible,” he laughs.
“The big thing back in my day was that if you got in first to schedule your classes, you’d get your entire week of study done in two days. I used to camp out overnight to sign up to the right classes in the timeslots I wanted!”
Returning to Canberra to host Future Bright has allowed Wil to reflect on how his journalism degree has aided his career thus far.
Even while he was at university, he knew that his calling was in comedy – and so after graduating tried to distance himself from the degree.
“I’ve often had a complicated relationship with my education and my qualifications. Early on when I was trying to establish myself as a comedian, the last thing I wanted to be known as was a funny journalist – I wanted to be a stand-up comedian,” Wil says.
“In a lot of ways I was very dismissive of those qualifications – nobody comes to a comedy gig and shouts out ‘do you have a degree?’”
Now though, he’s very aware of just how much those practical skills have woven their way into every piece of work he does.
As host of Gruen and his podcast Wilosophy, Wil says he is truly grateful for what he learned at UC.
“Now, 25 years after graduating I have an opportunity to reflect on what my career has been and I see – as much as I joke about the idea of not being a journalist - how often those skills have featured in what I do,” he says.
“Gruen is in its 12th year now and we really do approach that show journalistically in the first instance, and then add the comedy.”
“Same with Wilosophy – it’s an interview podcast and I sit down and conduct an interview that is very much in a journalistic fashion – so I start to see the threads of what I studied at uni more prominently in my work upon reflection than I did in that early phase of my career.”
Like many people, COVID-19’s abrupt arrival in Australia put Wil’s career in limbo. For the first time in a quarter of a century, he found himself unemployed.
“The great thing about stand-up is that it’s consistent. Even if I didn’t have any other jobs on, I always had stand-up as the ultimate safety net,” Wil says.
“Then suddenly it wasn’t so safe anymore, it’s become one of the most dangerous things you can do; get a whole bunch of people in a poorly ventilated room and try to get them to expel fluid from their mouth.”
“Laughter really isn’t the best medicine in a time of COVID-19!”
With a jam-packed schedule of shows in 2020, Wil suddenly found himself with spare time on his hands. It gave him time to think, and it reignited his love for the work he does.
“I realised I really am lucky that I get to spend my days doing the things that I’m passionate about. My dad always said, ‘there’s a trick to life, find something you like doing and work out a way to get people to pay you to do it.’”
“It’s very true and I’ve had varying degrees of success doing that over my career. I tend to work hard on everything regardless of the reward at the end.”
It’s a philosophy he lives by – both personally and professionally - and its advice that he’s happy to share with the world.
“Find things you enjoy working hard on regardless of if they’re successful or not.”
Although the pandemic had a largely negative impact on his work, Wil’s an optimist – and sees the lessons learnt during 2020 as a positive.
“We have an opportunity to rebuild and look at the way we do things and to have those conversations,” he says.
“It would be the biggest mistake we could possibly make as a society to just get through this and pretend it never happened.”
Words by Elly Mackay. Photos supplied.
This year, UC is celebrating our 30th anniversary as a university.
Join comedian and TV personality Wil Anderson as he hosts UC’s 30th anniversary celebration with the virtual UnCover event Future Bright Facebook Live on Friday 6 November from 7.30pm. RSVP here.