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Interview Wed Mar 24 2010
Comedian Damon Williams has been making audiences laugh for a long time; with an affable style that appeals to all ages, this Chicago-born comedian has appeared on BET's "Comic View" and "HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," and enjoyed a successful run as the opener for the "The Original Kings of Comedy" tour. Definitely considered one of the hardest working men in comedy, here, we see just why Williams' motto is "Don't stop and don't quit."
When did you know you were funny--when did you say, "I've got something here."
People always laughed at my observations, but actually, I didn't really know until I tried an 'open mic' night. And when [HBO's] "Def Comedy Jam" was on, opportunities to do open mic were available in Chicago. I taped mine and folks laughed. That was when I knew.
Describe the Chicago comedy scene--is there a certain "style?"
Well not so much a style, but I would say that Chicago comics shoot for big reactions from our audiences--we call those "blowups." Because so many comics are funny, you have to make a name for yourself by getting those blowups.
I've been to your shows and have noticed your comedy appeals to both young and mature adults.
Well I do shows at universities, too, so I've got to be abreast of current events and hip hop topics and stuff. I can also relate to older folks because I always hung around them. I speak with elderly people and listen to them for their wisdom and humor.
So you learn a lot from them.
Yes. And with older comics, they had to have more of a skill set; they sang, danced and acted because the comedy circuits required that.
The black comedy scene in Chicago boomed during the 90s when All Jokes Aside was open; when it shut down, it was a major blow for black comedians in the city. What was that void like?
My business partners and I worked very hard to keep the circuit alive in Chicago once All Jokes Aside closed. We would hold shows at suburban venues near the city to keep things moving. Once that happened, I then passed the torch to [fellow Chicago comedian] DeRay Davis at Riddles Comedy Club and that worked for a while.
In Chicago, there seems to be two "worlds" when it comes to comedy--one for black audiences and one for white audiences.
Actually, comedy is culturally segregated--it's not segregated by racism or anything like that. Black comics have a different culture, so they talk about that on stage. Then again, there are comics who consciously make sure they are relevant to all people.
How do you see the comedy scene now in Chicago? Are things now more "crossover?"
It is more difficult for black comedians who don't have major television credits to get into mainstream comedy clubs. Despite my credits, I still can't secure booking at the new Improv in Schaumburg. You simply have to have major credits or at least be on the mainstream circuit.
There is something I've noticed about you: You always dress well at your shows. Is that conscious on your part? Is there a message you're trying to send?
It's a combination of that. This is still show business and I feel that if people pay money to see you, you should be dressed well. Dressing well sets precedence not only with the audience but also with promoters. The "Kings of Comedy" all wore suits, and that's how I was able to secure the job of opening for them because of my look and my image. Even Steve Harvey said, "Damon has a tailor--that's why he made the tour!" But of course, I had the jokes, too!
What's next for Damon Williams?
I will be featured in Martin Lawrence's "1st Amendment Standup" on the Starz network. It's coming to Chicago and I've been selected as one of the comedians for the show. At Jokes and Notes comedy club on April 29, I will be receiving the key to the city from Alderman Walter Burnett for various work I've done.
And we'll also be celebrating the fifth anniversary of "Funny First Saturdays," on Saturday, April 3; the show will feature members from the Chi-Town Laugh Fest, an all-Chicago comedian lineup dedicated as a tribute to the late Bernie Mac.
Join Damon Williams as he hosts Funny First Saturdays at Showtime, 13343 S. Cicero, in Crestwood. The show begins at 9pm; tickets are $20-$40. Contact 708-371-9900 for more information.