This past Thursday, the College of William and Mary hosted sitcom legend Peter Bonerz for two lectures on careers in television and comedy. Bonerz is best known for his performance as Dr. Jerry on “The Bob Newhart Show,” as well as for his directing chops on shows like “Friends” and “Home Improvement.”
Bonerz was asked to visit by his previous mentee, Kevin Smith, who is a film and media studies professor at the College. Smith reached out to Bonerz to provide experienced insight for students in his “Writing Low Budget Film/Series” class.
After his time as an actor, director and comedian, Bonerz spent some time as a professor, but ultimately decided his students were too young to relate to his humor. Since then, Bonerz has been casually speaking at different universities about his time as a performer and director.
“They were just so out of my humor range … they were too young,” Bonerz said.
Bonerz’s first performance debut was in 1960 when he joined an improvational troupe, The Premise, in New York City. From there, Bonerz pursued a career in film and television, landing roles in series like “The Addams Family” and films such as “Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?” and “Catch-22.”
“We didn’t go into [comedy] as much as it went into us,” Bonerz said. “It’s about all we could figure out at certain points in our life that we did with some enthusiasm and some positive feedback.”
Bonerz believes that he has a lot to offer younger generations when it comes to careers in “show business,” as he frequently put it.
“Over the years of my experience in show business … I made a lot of mistakes, and I developed certain theories that I thought I could pass on,” Bonerz said.
One of the pieces of advice that Bonerz gave was to offer up good ideas for free in the interest of advancing one’s career. He uses this as one of his main philosophies for staying afloat in show business.
“If you’ve got something you think people want to hear, give it away,” Bonerz said. “You’ll come up with more good ideas, so just give it away.”
In the interest of directing, Bonerz insists that the best way to keep a good reputation in the industry is to make sure the production crew is happy.
“Half the battle is developing and maintaining a positive attitude for the crew,” Bonerz said. “You have to energize the crew; everyone is necessary to the process.”
Bonerz says that a lot of times, actors get the most attention because they are the faces of the series, but to make a good show, keeping the crew happy is what will build a good reputation as a director.
For the later part of the lecture, Bonerz and Smith opened up the discussion for questions from the audience. One student asked Bonerz about directing the movie “Police Academy 6.” He said that he accepted the job because it appealed to his ego rather than his artistic integrity. He encouraged the audience to make decisions based on artistic credibility rather than money and greed.
Bonerz also spoke of his time directing “Friends.” He is responsible for directing the episode with the infamous Ross and Rachel kiss in season two of the series.
“The writing staff was phenomenal. They knew how to write for the actors,” Bonerz said. “[The actors] knew how to work with each other … like a team.”
Emily Fernandez ’18 found out about Bonerz’s lecture through her film studies class with Smith and attended the afternoon lecture. Fernandez was grateful for his honest advice about how the industry can make or break you.
“I thought it was really cool to hear from someone who traversed the film and TV industry with real life experience and candor,” Fernandez said. “But, also, I had to take his perspective with a grain of salt because his views, opinions and experiences undoubtedly were very different to experiences today.”
John O’Neill ’18 was also in attendance of the afternoon lecture. He is also in Smith’s film studies course, and is interested in pursuing a career in either comedy or television production.
“[Bonerz] talked about how important it is to have a good attitude and be able to work well with people, and that was exciting to hear,” O’Neill said. “He emphasized that if you have less experience or knowledge than someone else, but are more passionate and excited about a project, people will see that and want to work with you.”
Smith expressed his content with Bonerz’s visit and the impact it had on students.
“Peter’s visit was a huge success,” Smith said. “The students found him very interesting and engaging. Peter is a great talker, funny and interesting and full of great stories and insights about his experiences.”