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Interview Sun May 09 2010

"1st Amendment Stand-Up": An Interview With Doug Williams

Thumbnail image for doug_williams_01.jpg

If you like your comedy uncensored and uncut, you definitely won't want to miss the Starz Network's "Martin Lawrence Presents: 1st Amendment Stand-Up." Comedian Doug Williams, the show's co-creator and executive producer, talks about everything from the show's new host, the reason the show was brought to Chicago and of course, the First Amendment.

The show's fifth season will be taped in Chicago. What was behind the decision to bring it to the Windy City?

Chicago has been known as a comedy town and we wanted to do something different. A few members of our production staff are from Chicago and we thought it would a great city to come and do some stand up comedy.

The lineup features seasoned comics, including legends like Jimmie "JJ" Walker and Sandra Bernhard, as well as comics who are on the rise. Talk about the mixing of the old with the new.

Well we always wanted to do that. That was always our intention to combine veterans with newcomers, you know, people who have been doing it for a while, but haven't had the national exposure really. We always want to mix it up and bring together the new, the old and even the middle of the road. We think that makes for a good show.

Chicago is indeed loaded with lots of comedic talent, including the late Bernie Mac.

Of course! I had a guest starring role on the last season of "The Bernie Mac Show." I was on around two episodes before the last show he ever taped. It was an awesome experience to work with him. He was just an all-around great guy. He really took a liking to me and had the show returned, I would have had a recurring role on it.

I see there will be lots of local Chicago comedians on the show, too.

Yes, Deon Cole will actually host a couple of episodes, and then there's [WGCI's] Tony Sculfield and Damon Williams. We scooped up a lot of the local talent from Chicago, well, nationally known talent from Chicago, because a lot of them are national tour headliners, too.

"1st Amendment" obviously fills the void left by HBO's "Def Comedy Jam" and BET's "Comic View." How important is that?

I think it's very important because those shows were vehicles that launched the careers of a lot of comedians. Black comedians, in particular, have had a great track record in Hollywood--when you look at Chris Tucker, Bernie and Cedric [the Entertainer]--all of them were a product of "Comic View" and "Def Jam." You need that. We need a place to showcase our talent to the nation because a lot of comics that we present, you won't see on "Jay Leno" or on "Conan."

So "1st Amendment" is definitely necessary--to provide those opportunities for those who might otherwise not be seen.

Where else would you see them? You know, that was one of the great things about "The Arsenio Hall Show" when it was on TV. For the first time, America had a chance to see urban acts that at that time, you wouldn't see on "Johnny Carson" or what have you. We give America an opportunity to see this untapped talent that they wouldn't normally see because "Comic View" and "Def Jam" don't exist anymore.

That's one of the things many people love about "The Mo'Nique Show,"--that its guests are African-American entertainers you may not get to see on other shows.

Exactly. And it's the same concept with us. It's been a pleasure--we're going into our fifth season now, so we've really been blessed to say we've been around for five seasons.

You have hosted and executive produced the show since its inception, but effective this season, you're only wearing the producer hat. Why did you decide to stop hosting?

Well, I've been an executive producer all seasons of the show and I'm also a co-creator. I'll still be behind the scenes doing funny sketches with the comedians and talking to them and stuff--I just won't be out on the stage. It was just time to move on to something a little different. We have a female comedian now who will be hosting to give it a different flavor. I'm still very actively involved with the show, but I am just playing a different position now.

And that female comedian is Sheryl Underwood?
Yes, Sheryl Underwood will be hosting this season.

Aside from Sheryl as host, only a handful of women are in the line-up. Is comedy still a "boys club?" Are female comics still fighting to be recognized on the same level as their male counterparts?

I actually wanted a few more female comedians on the show, especially since we have a female host this year. I kind of agree with you in the sense that female comedians, especially urban, female comedians, have it a little harder. And that's unfortunate because Hollywood will depict what they think is acceptable or what they want to push as a black, female comedian, which a lot of times, has been big, black women. But there are so many variations of black, female comedians out there. We'll be presenting a few of them that haven't been seen that there will be high expectations of who I think will make a lot of noise in Hollywood. We really need to step it up and put on more black female comedians--but more females in general, actually. We're working on that. This season, I think we've put on more females than we've ever had and hopefully that will continue and we'll present more and more. We made a big foray into that this season by having a black, female host.

"1st Amendment's" tagline is "Protect your right to laugh." What do you think about society's current climate of political correctness where comedians and stand-up are concerned?

That's a great question and that's exactly why we call this show "1st Amendment"--freedom of speech. This show has a purpose behind it--freedom of expression--to come out to say what's on your mind regardless of your views on politics, the government or society as a whole. That's the thing Michael Richards took a lot of heat from. Oddly as it may seem, I respect that, because I think the problem is that people don't speak their mind; they operate on actions, and that's why you're so surprised [when they say something shocking]. But I love it when people speak their mind because whether or not you like them, or not, at least you know exactly where they're coming from. I feel that it's a great title and that's what this is about: Artists should be allowed to speak their minds whether what they're saying is correct or politically incorrect.

Speaking of political correctness, I've heard many comedians defend other comedians who are accused of going too far. What do you think about this?

Again, I think people have the absolute right to say what they feel, but I do feel there are limitations and it should be in the appropriate settings. But for me, the freedom of speech translates to the freedom to listen. If you don't like what a person is saying, then don't go hear that person speak. If you're watching television, you have the freedom to change channels if you come across a movie that's too violent--change to something more suitable for you. So I think it's checks and balances. I don't think anybody is forced to listen to anything, especially since you have the ability to choose what you want to hear, what you want listen to, or what you want to see. Again, it should be in the right situation, though; I don't advocate saying anything in front of children.

This fifth season of "1st Amendment" will be taped at The Chicago Theater this week. Will you get a chance to take in the city a bit?

Yes! I'll be in town Monday to begin promoting the show, and Sheryl and I will do a live remote on Tuesday, May 11 at Jokes & Notes Comedy Club.

As far as taking in the city--you know, I did a show on HBO called "The Mind of the Married Man" and the exterior part was shot in Chicago. There was this place that had the best barbeque--an old place that's been around for a long time. I can't remember the name of it, but they had the best barbeque! I've got to go back to that restaurant!

So comedians will descend upon Chicago in a major way this week!

Yes. Our presence will definitely be felt in and around the city this week because we'll be promoting the show on radio, morning news shows, and things like that.

Well, thank you for bringing "Martin Lawrence Presents: 1st Amendment Stand-Up" to Chicago!

We are really looking forward to coming to Chicago. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about the show. It's like my baby. I've been with it from the start and I co-created it, so it's really a labor of love for me. I also want to let people to know that this show is watched by everyone--it's not just for one kind of audience--so we want everybody to come out and tune in.

"Martin Lawrence Presents: 1st Amendment Stand-Up," will be at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Thursday, May 13 through Sunday, May 16. Show times vary; tickets are $18-$28, and can be purchased through the box office or Ticketmaster. Contact the theatre at 312-462-6300 for further information. Note: Because this event is a live TV taping, no late seating will be allowed.

Photo: Starz Network
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Tamu / May 9, 2010 4:36 PM

Great interview, but Doug contradicts himself. First he supports Michael Richardson right to his outburst. Then he says but there are limitations. Which one is it?

"But for me, the freedom of speech translates to the freedom to listen. If you don't like what a person is saying, then don't go hear that person speak."

I don't think those folk who came to see Michael Richardson intended on being called n-words. Comedians get heckled all of the time. He could have chose another way of combating it.

By the way, I love how you end your interviews with the "Where to See" info.

Doc / May 10, 2010 12:05 AM

Great interview! It's good to see Doug Williams back on the scene after that Jamie Foxx incident (on youtube).
I hope the show is a success because he's right, The Tonight Show won't be airing many comics that 'we' like so we must do it ourselves.
As far as the "freedom of speech" issue: Micheal Richards showed his true colors and now we know exactly what he's about. I'm personally glad it happened because now any black actor who works with him is a true sellout, we need more people to speak freely so we can weed out the good from the bad.
Much respect to Doug and martin Lawrence!

Duane / May 10, 2010 11:50 AM

Really good interview. I'll be setting my DVR tonight!!

LaShawn Williams / May 17, 2010 8:25 PM

Whoohoo--LITERALLY brushed up against the one and only Martin Lawrence at The Chicago Theatre Saturday night!

cathy jefferson / October 9, 2010 1:50 PM

looking for the dvd or video 1st amendment stand up may 14th 7pm at the chicago theatre is it on dvd yet.thank you

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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