Mr. Bill's Magical Wetlands Tour
9 p.m. Wed., Aug. 5
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net
Since Mr. Bill debuted on Saturday Night Live in 1976, the Play-Doh character's growth has been measured in millimeters. Walter Williams' original audition piece was a home movie shot on Super-8 film. When Mr. Bill became a cast regular, he graduated to 16 mm film. And for last year's "Priceless" series Master Card ad, Mr. Bill was still an immobile and mishap-prone clay man, but he was living large on 35 mm film.
"Mr. Bill is holed up in a Beverly Hills hotel room looking at scripts," Williams says, joking via phone from his French Quarter apartment. "I can't even get face time with him."
While Mr. Bill's popularity continues to grow slowly but steadily after more than three decades, Williams' new focus is wetlands restoration, and he hopes to measure success in square miles. He's used Mr. Bill's notoriety as a calling card to leverage support for environmental action. He also has devised his own master plan for rebuilding the coast, which he promises to unveil in a showcase of new films, stand-up comedy, music, special guests (including Mr. Bill), and more at One Eyed Jacks on Wednesday.
After moving to Manhattan to be a staff writer for SNL, Williams spent 25 years as a filmmaker, writer, director and comedian living and working in the coastal meccas of New York and Los Angeles. Mr. Bill appeared in TV programs, movies, commercials, and Williams-released DVD compilations. (Some films are posted on the Web site www.mrbill.com.) In 2000, Williams returned to his native New Orleans, and last year, he persuaded an advertising firm to send a crew to the Big Easy to shoot a Subway commercial featuring Mr. Bill.
When he moved here, Williams wanted to make films about music and culture. Instead, he was swept up in the issue of coastal erosion. "I was watching the Super Doppler on TV," he says. "It shows clouds, but it also shows the land. I was like 'Where did all the land go?' There is no [Louisiana] boot anymore."
Williams spent several years making documentaries about the wetlands, including an hour-long piece on New Orleans' natural history, which aired on PBS. Ominously, he made a short film in 2004 about the danger of hurricanes. In it, Mr. Bill is forced onto his roof, and when a storm strikes, he is washed out to the Gulf as he famously exclaims, "Oh nooooo!"
Williams has become an environmental activist in the past several years. He's reached out to Al Gore and the Obama administration with his films on coastal erosion. He's also had a public spat with Shell Oil over Mr. Bill's participation in an environmental awareness campaign supported by the company.
As for his plans to restore the wetlands, Williams isn't interested in levees. Instead, he hints at his forte with simple, earthen materials.
"We have the biggest land-building machine on the planet," he says. "We have the tools to fix it."