Toronto-born actor Will Arnett, 41, will host Laughter Is The Best Medicine, a comedy gala in support of the Toronto East General Hospital at the Allstream Centre on April 12. Best known for his role as George Oscar Bluth (G.O.B.) on the cult favourite Arrested Development, the die-hard Maple Leafs fan now stars on the NBC sitcom Up All Night.
Hosting a hospital fundraiser has got to be a tough comedy gig. Are you going to make a lot of Seinfeld-esque “what’s the deal with cancer” jokes?
Jerry is headlining, I’m just a facilitator. I’m just the grease for the wheels. First of all, I’m not a stand-up comedian. I never pretend to be. But I’m excited. It’s for a really great cause and I’m happy to help any way I can.
I hear you have a personal connection to the hospital.
Yeah. I’ve had members of my family receive care there. And really good care. On top of that, my dad worked at the hospital for a number of years.
Right, your dad, James Arnett, was chairman of the hospital board from 2006 to 2008. So he made you do it?
He forced me. At gunpoint.
He was also the CEO of Molson Inc. Did you get a lot of free beer growing up?
Are you a lawyer? Sure. If your dad’s a barber, you’re going to get a free haircut, right?
Your dad was also chairman of Hydro One, where my dad worked. But we didn’t get free electricity.
Didn’t you? We were actually off the grid. We just had a series of hooks and pullies and solar panels.
The lesser-known Mennonite Arnetts.
That’s right, right in the heart of Toronto.
Where in the city did you grow up?
We moved a couple of times, but close to Yonge Street by St. Clair and no further south than Bloor. Right along that corridor … Rosedale, okay? Goddamn it.
Did you really get kicked out of Lakefield College School, in Peterborough?
Well, I was a thick kid, so throwing wasn’t really an option. But I was escorted out by security guards. No. That’s one of those things that’s taken on a life of its own. I was just asked not to participate in any further curriculum. It was a tough negotiation but we hammered out an agreement that I would not return.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from your high-school days?
I do. Like anybody, there’s a few guys I’m still close with. When I first moved to New York, my group of friends weirdly were all Canadian. One was from Montreal and the other was from Vancouver. Although that wasn’t their fault. We bonded over a love of comedy and hockey.
I hear you’re a Leafs fan. Is that due to homesickness or delusion?
It’s a form of cutting. No, listen, you have to look at it as a kind of eternal hope. I know a lot of Toronto people like to be pessimistic about it but you have to believe, or else it would be way too bleak. My son shares a birthday with Wendel Clark, who I consider to be the greatest of all time.
Have your kids spent much time in Toronto?
We do come back, yeah. My oldest one is 3 1/2 so this is the first time that he’ll have a better sense of what it is.
Are there places you like to hang out when you visit?
Yeah, absolutely. I love to go to the Queen and Beaver. It’s owned by a friend of mine. He owned Crush and now he opened this place. It’s a gastropub. It’s great food, a great idea. There’s nothing like it, really.
Do people approach you on the street or do you mostly get left alone?
My fans are a very specific group. I don’t tend to be recognized by the sort of mainstream demo. It’s usually people who are very into Arrested Development. Which is great. It was a great show so I appreciate that people enjoyed it.
Are they more likely to reference your Arrested Development character, G.O.B. or Devon Banks, from 30 Rock?
Oh, definitely G.O.B.
You recently co-produced with Jason Bateman a documentary about male grooming called Mansome, directed by Morgan Spurlock. Did you know that Toronto is a huge supporter of Movember?
I did know that! It must be a cold-weather thing. People here need an extra layer of insulation or something. It was a really fun project. Morgan’s a great documentary maker and it was fun to see him getting into something he could really enjoy. We’re not solving anything with this, but it’s such a bizarre and fascinating world. What makes a guy grow a beard down to his belly? There are guys in Germany who talk about the work they’ve put into their beards like they’re building a nuclear reactor or something.
Your wife, Amy Poehler, stars in Parks and Recreation, a show about city politics. You should tell her about Toronto council, which was recently given a performance by a pole dancer.
So that sounds like everything is going really well…
Is there any chance that she could bring her improv group, Upright Citizens Brigade, to Toronto?
That’s a good idea. If they ever do a tour they should definitely bring it here. Toronto’s such a great place for comedy and music and performances of all kinds. I’m really excited to be coming back.
This interview has been condensed and edited.