Katt Williams Wants to Start a Conversation

Katt Williams views his live show as a conversation between himself and a room full of his friends, friends he’s made by touring the country and returning to cities again and again. In his new special Great America, which just dropped on Netflix, he opens with a masterful display of his particular art of conversation by engaging a theater full of his “friends” in an 11-minute discussion on Jacksonville, Florida. It may seem like an unusual move to devote nearly 20% of your special to local references, but for Williams, Jacksonville represents something much larger. The city and the people of it who filled the seats of the Florida Theatre represent America: a diverse region going through a rough patch, but headed for greatness. “You can only be down so long. It’s only going get so bad and then it’s going to get better. It’s about who believed it was going to get better.” This outlook obviously resonates with Williams’s personal life, which has included some odd and embarrassing public dust-ups in recent years. In the special, he makes reference to jail time and says he’s now committed to staying out of trouble. It’s heartfelt and believable. You get the sense that everyone is rooting for Williams, including himself. I talked to him the morning Great America premiered about his dual personalities, the importance of intimacy, and how he just wants the work to speak for itself.

I needed that special, man.

You promise?

Yeah. So much fun.

I haven’t seen it yet. I’m going to see it today.

Really?

I’m the guy up there doing it. How much nitpicking can I do? I just wait until it’s out and see it like everybody else.

Do you find it hard to watch yourself, whether it’s standup, a movie role, TV?

I’m not my biggest fan. I’m in a business relationship with Katt Williams, so I don’t always agree with how he’s doing it, but I’m always trying to get him better than he was in his last presentation.

About the duality of the performer versus the real you, or as you put it, the business guy…when people see you onstage, how much of that is the you that people get to experience when they hang out with you one-on-one?

None. Those are extreme opposites.

Where does the stage persona come from?

This is a conversation I started when I could really only guarantee about 30 or 40 people a show. I was doing show, after show, after show, all over America in the C-list places, hoping to be able to get to the B-list places. Once you’ve done that, you get to the A-list places and you’re coming back on a yearly basis and having this conversation. It’s a conversation that evolves because this is a group of friends having a conversation. That’s why they keep coming and why I keep coming. The reason it keeps being successful is because of the conversation that we’re having. It’s a conversation with 10,000 people and we’re all on the same page. That’s what makes the onstage conversation different than if you met me yourself.

The new special is interactive and inclusive. You make the audience look at themselves and who they’re sitting next to to point out that, “Hey, we’re a bunch of different people of different ages and backgrounds and we’re all here together.” You also go to the crowd a lot. You make sure they’re with you throughout the whole thing. You seemed to want everyone to know that they’re in a good place and made the right decision to be there.

Right, because that’s really how we feel. That’s the genuine emotion. There’s only one way that a room with 14,000 people in it can feel intimate, and that’s if it’s actually intimate. We have too few places where we’re all getting together sharing the same experience. More often than not, if you pick a white neighborhood, you can be in that neighborhood all day and not see a black face. By the same token, you can be in a black neighborhood all day and not see a white face. That type of segregation is what we’re against. Too much of this country is based on us all working together. None of this country is fueled by hatred.

In the special, and even now on the phone, you use “we” when discussing your shows or the message you want to put out. When you use “we” are you talking about what we got into earlier, which is you personally and you as a performer, or are you talking about your team of people that work and travel with you?

I’m talking specifically about the demographic that I speak for. My team and all the comics, all of them are a part of that. That’s why it looks the way it looks, because the intent is there. It’s not a group of comics that have been randomly thrown together who are going to come to your town, zoom in, give you this prepackaged thing, then bounce out. This is something that’s different, and it’s the only way you’re going to be able to take your standup show from small venues to arenas and be able to consistently have a conversation like we’ve been blessed to have. On this special I wanted to show how wonderful that experience is and let the people at the house get a chance to see why I’m still so blessed. You should be able to look at that audience and say, “This is not one stereotype that he’s talking to. This is America, a Great America at that.”

Nice work name-dropping the special.

[laughs] You like that?

It was slick. You chose Jacksonville as the place to film the special. As a teenager you took off to Florida for a while. Were you in or around Jacksonville back then?

No, I was initially in the Miami area. When I came north I was closer to Tampa. My experience with Jacksonville was solely through comedy. When I started coming there I started noticing things about the city. I wanted to do one there when it was time. I’ve done seven or eight specials in seven or eight different cities for different reasons, but I’m always picking a great city that’s right under the radar, that’s getting ready to do something. Just the fact that I was telling them how great the Jaguars were going to be…they were 2-16 when this filmed, and by the time it comes out they’re in the playoffs. That’s why we’re doing it. It’s not solely a football conversation. It’s the fact that you can only be down so long. It’s only going get so bad and then it’s going to get better. It’s about who believed it was going to get better.

Among the many things you address in the special is that you’re not getting in any more trouble, especially with the way things are right now under this administration. How do you feel you’re doing now? I know there have been a few things that have come up over the years that from a public perspective had people saying, “What’s Katt doing?”

We let the work answer most of that. Most of things that they say about the guy we happen to know are not factual because of those comedy specials that he keeps putting out. If we listen to them we would be thinking that there’s no reason to see this guy because he’s a crazy crackhead. But we’ve been seeing him in seven comedy specials, so we know that can’t possibly be the case. The difference between perception and reality is why it’s still exciting and fun. Nobody who had bad things to say has proven anything they were talking about. We don’t talk about the people who are really going through those issues. We don’t discuss them like that. So maybe we just don’t like this guy because of the topics that he chooses to discuss. If that’s really the case, I would look for that guy to keep on saying more of those topics, but to stop giving people a stick to beat him with. That sounds like growth to me. I would like to see his next special and I would hope he would be getting better.

Katt Williams Wants to Start a Conversation