What makes Katt Williams great? It's not the jokes, it's the performance

Katt Williams understands the importance of an entry. In “Third World War” his new stand-up hour on Netflix, you first see him running...


Katt Williams understands the importance of an entry.

In “Third World War” his new stand-up hour on Netflix, you first see him running across the stage like Tom Cruise jostling to save the world. His previous specials have been equally cinematic, with Williams strutting around in a huge fur coat and flanked by beautiful women or striding through the crowd in a cape as a voiceover tells you his thoughts.

But his most spectacular introduction had to be “Priceless” in 2014 when the curtain fell to reveal a smoky stage with two women dancing on either side of a cage containing a lion. Not a sleepy one, mind you. This beast was nervous. After an audience shot, some clever misdirection from director Spike Lee, attention returned to the scene where one of the women opened a cage door slowly enough to let your mind wander to worst-case scenarios. Then another Katt emerged.

It’s the kind of showmanship (not to mention puns) you can expect from Katt Williams. In a recent interview with Arsenio Hall, Williams, a prolific performer, said his legacy would not be the greatest comic, but the most original. He has a case. In a landscape filled with stand-ups trying to go against the grain, carving out brands like renegades, Williams is a true oddball.

What other superstar would open his first special on Netflix, a famous global platform, with 10 minutes of local material about Jacksonville, Florida, the city in which he was performing? Or say with such conviction that there is nothing like cancel culture. (“I’m on my fifth second chance“, he once joked.) Or getting into so much beef with kind peers. He called Cedric the Entertainer and Tiffany Haddish, but his fiercest feud is with Kevin Hart. The substance of their conflict is difficult to understand, but in terms of style, Williams always has more flair: he has already used a video that any boxing promoter would appreciate challenge Hart in a comedy battle for $5 million.

But its distinctiveness begins with its cadence, a high-pitched, swaggering voice that evokes Easy-E’s flow more than any comic. His delivery has a rhythm, an accelerated pace that, once you get the hang of it, can make anything funny. With his live physique, that’s what makes him the best arena comedian around. His act does not consist of carefully honed jokes. In his new special, which isn’t one of his best, his take on Joe Biden is that he’s old and the global title war is a vague battle between truth and lies that never quite matches up. to full thought. He mocks Anthony Fauci and makes half-baked jokes about Adam and Eve being incestuous. Williams said he stopped performing in clubs and instead developed jokes in front of thousands of people. You can say.

The lukewarmness of his material here almost feels like a challenge, as if he’s saying: Look how I can make even these jokes work.

The first 10 minutes of his new hour have maybe two good punch lines, and both are about chicken wings. The remarkable part is that they are completely disconnected. Most comics would have at least used a transition to tie them together and build momentum. But while there are plenty of comedians who can write a tight joke, there’s only one Katt Williams. He brainstorms ideas and then, through the force of his charisma and performances, makes them fun like no one else could.

In the first chicken wing joke, the setup leans into his preacher voice, adopting a tone of religious solemnity to explain that the world is in serious trouble, convincing you that he is about to move on. before switching to a punchline that delivers the news with apocalyptic exasperation. : “Taco Bell sells chicken wings.”

In the other piece of chicken wing, the configuration and the punchline are almost incidental to what lies between the two, which he takes pleasure in stretching: he repeats lines like incantations, asks the public to imagine a chicken, does an imitation of a chicken, and throws the disclaimers (“Look, I’m not a farmer”) and tangents. Part of what makes this so fun is the sense of improvisation he creates, the way he works on crowd response, but it’s also how quickly Williams goes from silly to serious. . As wonderfully goofy as his chicken impression might be, what’s truly unusual about Williams is his seriousness. Even in its funniest moments, it has an intensity that makes for comedy drama. Donald Glover saw it clearly when he cast Williams in a dramatic role in “Atlanta,” for which he won an Emmy.

In a typical special, the comic spends time warming up to the crowd, digs into race and racism, pokes fun at any president who occupies the Oval Office, and tells elaborate sex jokes. Williams, who sweats as much as any comedian who has ever gesticulated, attacks the sex jokes with his whole body. In one of my favorite songs from “It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin'” (2008), he describes his characteristic sexual gesture as a try-everything maneuver, mimicking a kind of Rube Goldberg one-man device.

Last year, attending my first arena show since the pandemic, I saw Williams at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, doing much of the same material as in his new special. It hit harder live. Maybe it’s because no actor is better placed to remind you of the joys of laughing together.

Like only a few other living comics, Williams knows how to turn a huge crowd into a family affair. He buttered us up, then pressed buttons, gushing about having successfully put together a show of this size during a pandemic: “They said it couldn’t happen in New York,” Williams said. Of course no one said that, but it felt good to hear it and we all cheered.

Katt Williams may seem uncomfortable with the little collegiate talk of show business, coming across as shy in interviews and seeming a bit awkward while hosting a Flavor Flav roast. (In a later stage, he did a very funny and little research about feeling embroiled in the racism of some of the jokes written for him.) But alone on stage, speaking to a crowd, he’s as sweet as can be. An alluring presence, he has that ineffable quality of celebrity: an uncanny ability to connect.

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Newsrust - US Top News: What makes Katt Williams great? It's not the jokes, it's the performance
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