Harland Williams, wacky son of a Beacher

State Trooper: Pull over!
Harry: No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing!
Lloyd: Yeah, killer boots, man!
– Dumb and Dumber, 1994

After a year of scandals and storms, our fair city deserves a dumb laugh or two. After all, Toronto has brought the gift of laughter to the world of comedy with bright lights like Wayne and Shuster, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Martin Short (okay, he was from Hamilton), Catherine O’Hara and Rob Ford.

Toronto humour has contributed a maple flavour to some of the funniest shows and movies of our time. Producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live) and director/producer Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Animal House) have left their mark on the comedy world.

Is there a Toronto sense of humour? Discuss among yourselves … but be quick, I have a column to finish.

One evening a few years back I had the pleasure of hearing Lorraine O’Donnell Williams speak at the Beaches Library. She read from Memories of the Beach, her charming memoir of growing up on Hubbard Boulevard, just steps from the boardwalk.

In the chapter Cinema Paradiso, Williams writes about her love of going to the movies as a child in the late 1930s and 1940s. Those were tough times of depression and war. The ‘pictures’ were an escape for everyone:

“I was addicted to movies from my first exposure. I sat between my parents in the mysterious semi-darkness of the Beach Theatre, nibbling on licorice they’d bought for me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew the occasion was a step forward on the road to becoming a ‘grown-up.’”

The author has an amazing memory for the movies stars and theatres of the era, including Saturday matinees at the now long-gone Beach Theatre, “the closest thing to a dream palace for a Beach girl.”

Williams also recalls yo-yo contests at the Fox, the Family Theatre at Queen and Lee with its decadent pool hall, the Ideal, the Palace, the Manor and the Gerrard, as well as the big, ornate theatres downtown.

The good Catholic girl from the Beach became “intrigued with the limitless possibilities of the human mind” after watching psychological thrillers like Laura (1944) and Spellbound (1945). Williams went on to a distinguished career in the field of psychiatric social work.

To my surprise, this elegant woman of gentle humour is the mother of the outrageous comic actor Harland Williams.

“The lights dim, the velvet curtain rises and the feature film begins. Within the first minute the screen blazes the words, ‘Starring Harland Williams.’ My husband and I squeeze hands at the thrill of seeing our son’s name fill the screen,” she writes in Memories of the Beach.

reel beach-Harland Williams-web
Harland Williams, left, tries to convince Ben Stiller of the superiority of his seven minute abs workout in a scene from There’s Something About Mary.

The film was Disney’s Rocket Man (1997), but Harland might be best remembered for his hilarious cameos in two comedies from the Farrelly Brothers. He played the pee-drinking cop in Dumb and Dumber (1994), and the crazy hitchhiker in There’s Something About Mary (1998). He created wacky characters like the stoner in Half-Baked (1998), which also featured the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant.

Harland has written several humour and children’s books, including What You Don’t Know You Know. Check out his style of comedy at harlandwilliams.com. (“Did you know you can’t throw away a garbage can?”)

His sense of humour may not be to everyone’s taste, but he is definitely an original. Harland’s next movie is called Back In The Day, out this month.

This year’s big sequel, Dumb and Dumber To (sic) comes out Nov. 14 and reunites our beloved idiots Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey). The Mutts’ Cutts van will return, but there’s no word on whether Harland will be back. I hope so – Nov. 14 is his birthday (born 1962). Who can keep a straight face while watching his motorcycle cop drink what he thinks is beer? We all need a laugh, even if it’s a dumb one. Remember: no learning!

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Thanks for the great tribute to Harland. We just found out his CITY TV sit-com, “Package Deal” has been renewed for another season! It’s on on Thursday nights, 9.30pm and is zany and funny – sometimes a bit risque for this daughter- of – the beach ,but none the less very clever. Loved your article.

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