Harry Shearer has been making fans laugh for decades, but a co-star was the one who made it difficult for everyone to keep a straight face during filming for the beloved 1984 comedy This Is Spinal Tap.

“As long as the late Fred Willard was alive, playing with him and working with him was the most challenging in terms of not laughing,” Shearer admits to UCR. “He was so unexpected, and he was digging in a whole different well.”

Shearer says the scene which was “hardest to not laugh during” was the moment that Spinal Tap arrived for a gig at an Air Force base and was greeted by Lt. Bob Hookstratten, played by Willard.

“He was just astonishing, the stuff that he would come up with,” Shearer recalls. “It was always surprising and really, Chris[topher Guest], Michael [McKean] and I, after that thing was over, we said, ‘That was hard work, not laughing.’”

Watch Fed Willard in the Air Force Base Scene From 'This Is Spinal Tap'

Willard, who died in 2020, is one of several This Is Spinal Tap actors to have passed away. Most recently, Howard Hesseman, who played Duke Fame's manager Terry Ladd, died in January. Shearer admits he was a fan of Hesseman long before they shared the screen.

“When I was just out of college, I’d go up to San Francisco and see this amazing improv group called the Committee, of which Howard was a member,” Shearer explains. “He had a pseudonym. He appeared in the Committee as Don Sturdy, which I loved as a stage name. He was brilliant every time I saw him. He came down to L.A. and would play with the comedy group that I was in on the radio called the Credibility Gap.

“So we’d work together from time to time,” he continues. “He came on Saturday Night Live and we did a sketch together. He was one of those people who we thought, ‘If somebody’s going to be in this movie [This Is Spinal Tap], it’s got to be as funny as Howard Hesseman – so let’s get Howard!’ He was improvising all of the way. He was a great, great improviser. He was really clever, really smart and really funny.”

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