Willard Scott, the Class Clown with class
By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News
Willard Scott is the ideal restaurant companion.
If he gets the chance to insert a one-liner into a conversation, he does it.
If he feels an amusing anecdote (Soupy Sales’ shenanigans, meeting the Pope, Mayberry’s Aunt Bee and her purported potty mouth, etc.) would add a little sparkle to the topic in question, he shares it.
In fact, Scott is such a masterful storyteller that prior knowledge of his subjects is not required. Through the twinkle in his eyes—yes, they truly twinkle—and his quite literal gift of gab, you appreciate his tales as if you had been there.
And yes, if he happens to accidentally overhear something at the next table that suddenly inspires him to croon “Indian Love Call,” just sit back and bask in the glow of a master entertainer at work.
“When I’m calling you
Will you answer too?
There’s something funny about those who are funny. Some of our most memorable jokesters have been motivated by wildly different factors, including a desire for attention and/or to overcome feelings of insecurity.
For many of us “class clowns,” our often disruptive behavior is intended to rebrand our social image—to cast ourselves as socially relevant in the reality show that is puberty (and life).
Yet, for a lucky few, humor seems to come as natural as breathing.
Looking for the fun in life is second nature to Willard Scott. Above all, he lives simply to share that happiness with others.
Scott’s personality is not forced, it’s effortless. What’s more, the yucks come from the huge heart of a man who accepts himself lock, stock and barrel: “I am hokey and I’m proud of it.”
For Scott, his comic timing not only defines his career, it refines it as well: “A sense of humor goes a million miles, breaks the ice and makes people comfortable, suggests Scott. “As Popeye says. ‘I yam what I yam.’ I am accessible. People come up to me.”
Scott began as a page at Washington, DC’s NBC station in 1950. That same year, he formed The Joy Boys broadcast team with lifelong friend Ed Walker. A comedy fixture on DC radio, The Joy Boys remained on the air until 1972.
During this time, Scott often portrayed Bozo the Clown at DC-area events but, as he explains, “there were other Bozos all over the country.” He then pauses, cracks a wry smile and goes in for the kill: “most of them are in congress now.”
Scott also famously created and appeared as the very first Ronald McDonald in TV commercials in 1963. As for the inspiration behind the now infamous redheaded pitchman, “I had such great luck with Bozo, I said, ‘Let’s stick with a clown.’”
In many ways, “sticking with the clown” has become a glorious metaphor for Willard Scott’s career.
Perhaps most noteworthy, Scott made his debut as TODAY’s amiable weatherman in March 1980.
“The TODAY Show was having ratings problems. They brought me up from Washington to liven up the show,” recalls Scott. “The first couple of weeks were touch and go—a couple of people wanted to get rid of me because I was too hokey.”
However, the ultimate validation came years later when TODAY Show creator Pat Weaver told Scott: “When I created the show, you were exactly what I had in mind for a communicator.”
CNBC’s Tyler Mathisen has known Scott for the majority of his life: “When I was growing up in Arlington, Virginia, Willard Scott was our neighbor. He’s a great entertainer and, if possible, an even better guy. No one has a bad word to say about Willard.”
Why? Perpetual “Joy Boy” Willard Scott looks for the JOY in everyone and everything.
This, of course, raises the question: can unaffected celebrities like Willard Scott continue to exist?
Sure, even before the internet and social media, “bad press” existed. Scandals, lawsuits and public heartache were common. However, there was also a somewhat greater sense that, on the other side of the turmoil, stood a human being—not just an impersonal meme, hashtag or punchline.
Are we now forced to be so aware of other’s interpretations of who we are that we have ceased to be who we are?
After all, #willardscottisnotontwitter
Willard Scott rose to fame when the public was much more likely to accept people at face value—especially those who wouldn’t care if they were “trending” due to allegedly offending, defending or pretending. Those like rubber-faced Scott who understood only the concepts of laughter, benevolence and authenticity.
However, Scott’s greatest contribution may well be his time-honored commemoration of advancing age as a well-deserved badge of honor. Over three decades later, he still appears on TODAY with his wildly popular 100th-birthday salutes.
“Thank God for birthdays. If it weren’t for birthdays, I wouldn’t work,” jokes Scott.
Come to think of it, the above comment pretty much applies to everyone.
However, the big question is, what will happen on March 7, 2034—Willard Scott’s 100th birthday?
Here’s a thought: a national holiday, a televised parade, free Big Macs and Smucker’s Jelly for everyone and 24-commercial-free hours on NBC dedicated to the legendary career of a national treasure—our communal Class Clown with class—Mr. Willard Scott.
After all, this is the man whose whimsical reply to my question “What’s special about you?” was a powerful, all-encompassing and profoundly enviable one-word response: “Me!”
We should all be so lucky.
Marketer, publicist, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.
Photos: TOP — Willard Scott and Randall Kenneth Jones (photo by Kevin Randall Jones); Photo 2, 3 & 4 — Willard Scott (photo by Kevin Randall Jones); BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.