The most important, timely stand-up special of 2014 has come from Katt Williams.
Forget the opening with the hype man saying “let’s get ready to chuckle!” and the smoke and the dancing girls and the set of thrones and his pimping jacket. Beyond all the pomp, the circumstances of this particular pimp have changed drastically since last he saw him at the top of his game. And even back then, nobody who hoped for a Katt Williams comeback might have guessed he’d do so quite triumphantly as he does in Katt Williams, Priceless: Afterlife, which debuted last weekend on HBO.
“I think we should come and discuss real issues, what’s happening, what are we talking about, how do we feel — that’s a whole different type of comedy,” Williams said in this backstage interview for HBO.
Onstage, he declares: “I had to get here. ‘Cause there’s a lot of shit going on, not just in the world. There’s a lot of shit going on…with me!”
Racism, religion, the relationship between the medical community and the pharmaceutical companies, sex and homophobia, escape through reality TV, and more racism — most pointedly, Williams targets the police.
Of course, Williams has much firsthand perspective with law enforcement over the past decade.
“They arrested me five times in five cities in five days!” he jokes in his opening minute, albeit only slightly exaggerating. He makes fun of himself in particular for running afoul of the law in a Target by punching the clerk who kept calling him “a pussy and a n—–.” Williams knows his part in that arrest. And he can smoke weed for his therapy to get over it.
But toward everyone else, he warns: “Police is on some different shit. They done figured out they can kill your ass today and come up with a story for the news tomorrow. They done figured that shit out!”
Priceless: Afterlife debuted last weekend during the height of rioting in Ferguson, Mo., where a local deputy shot and killed a black teenager in the street, nobody knows exactly why just yet, and in the aftermath, racial tensions were exposed and inflamed by other citizens and the media rushing in to expose and/or exploit the situation. Law enforcement armed up even more in military fashion.
Williams wasn’t broadcasting live from California, though. Rather, director Spike Lee captured Williams in concert this spring in the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.
His first but not about himself was about Oklahoma tornadoes, and how we move on from them.
“America don’t give a fuck about a tragedy. I’m not saying we the greatest country in the world, but we the greatest country in the world. And everybody knows it. Not because we are. Not because of that. Tragedy happens to everybody. But as Americans, we don’t give a fuck about tragedy. Our motherfucking motto should be ‘Fuck outta here!'”
Americans from New York to California and in between, no matter their skin color, are “going through the shit,” he said. So it’s tough to care about what race you are.
He then takes it a step further:
“If we really are the greatest country in the world, then we need to decide that we going to get rid of racism, if possible, in 2014, while we have the opportunity. Just saying, we all need each other. The new racists don’t even hate all minorities. They just hate the ones they can beat! That’s why they ain’t mad at no big swollen black n—– with dreads and shit. They ain’t fucking none of them up, at all. It’s always some 17-year-old light-skinned n—– that look like he just had a backpack on, and got a belly full of Yoo-hoo. And he end up dead. I keep saying, praise Jesus, let one of these racists run up on me at a gas station, bless God, and tell me my music is too loud, and see if I don’t shut off the music for the both of us. Bl-bl-bl-bl-blatt! What the fuck you shooting n—– for in the back seat? They can’t even reach the radio!”
Williams saves his venom for the dangerous racists, too; sparing the folks who are mad at an interracial Cheerios commercial or even Paula Deen.
“I can’t be mad at everybody!” Williams said. “I’m on my fifth second chance right now! What did you think I was going to say (about Deen)?”
To lighten it up, he says we all have to laugh.
And he points to his own “white heroes” as inspiration. Cases in point: Diana Nyad, swimming solo and getting stung hundreds of times by jellyfish, without any hope or cause for cash; and Swamp People, one of his two favorite reality TV shows, where the rednecks are in their natural habitat and going after alligators instead of minorities.
“You have to laugh!” he says again and again.
And to make sure you do, he works up a full sweat and then some, bounding on and off the stool, throwing himself to the floor, acting out most of his scenarios. He tackles the nature of homophobia in sports, flatly questioning Jason Collins status as the first openly gay basketball player, and fitfully enjoying the prospect of seeing Michael Sams as the first openly gay NFL player.
Williams takes on all churches, he said, for their recent decision to avoid taking stands — although he loves the way “the new pope” is handling it — and then turns on all atheists for questioning his faith.
Here’s what Williams had to say about the medical community:
“We used to think our doctor gave a fuck about us. We used to think our doctor wanted us to get better so we would be better. Our doctor don’t give a fuck about us. That motherfucker is making money and that is it! He is a drug dealer just like the drug dealers! There ain’t no motherfucking difference. It’s fucked up! It’s fucked up.”
To lighten the mood once more, Williams illustrates how brash the drug commercials have become in revealing just how harmful the side effects of their pills are — and he takes it to colorful extremes.
Taking a cue from Bill Hicks, who knew you couldn’t hammer home too many powerful messages as a comedian without a solid dick joke, Williams segues late in his hour into several minutes of jokes about sex gone wrong.
But before doing that, Williams
“The police is on some different shit. I know you’ve noticed it here. I want you to know it’s like that everywhere! The police is on some different shit. Now, I know there’s some cops in here. We do not mean you’all. You all are doing a great job, we appreciate it, just doing your job, keeping us safe out there, and thank you so much. It’s the ones outside we talking about. They on some different shit! The police used to be serve and protect. Used to be you are presumed innocent, until you are proven guilty. Police is on some different shit. They done figured out they can kill your ass today and come up with a story for the news tomorrow. They done figured that shit out! They done got so good, they can show us the truth and we can see the truth with our own eyes, and then they can lie to us at the same time and confuse us about the truth we just saw with our own eyes.”
Could have been talking about Ferguson, and he was, and is. He’s talking about the tragedies we’re seeing play out in small towns and big cities across the country, swept under the media rug and out of our conversations for social justice by government agencies.
This is not the Katt Williams you saw when he emerged as the little big pimp in stand-up eight years ago with his first HBO special. Nor is this the Katt Williams you know only through gossip headlines and police reports over the past five years. This is the guy with something to say about something that’s happening right now that we all need to talk about.
This is truly priceless. This is truly Williams’ afterlife in comedy.