William Stephenson and I once shared 50 straight hours together inside The Comic Strip.
Stephenson was hosting. I was live-blogging. We may have been the only folks in the joint to go stir-crazy and still keep a friendly sense of humor about the 50-hour stand-up comedy marathon that set a Guinness World Record at the time in June 2008. You could always count on “Weeeyum” to get the crowd going and keep it going at any comedy club around New York City.
Most nights in recent years, Stephenson could be found onstage at The Comedy Cellar or out on the sidewalk, where he’d always be quick with a smile and a hello, and for me, some fun curmudgeonly conversation about the state of comedy these days. We’re all going to miss him. Stephenson has died suddenly. He was 61.
Born March 11, 1957, Stephenson grew up in Detroit, graduating from Northwestern High School in 1975. He went on to get an associate’s degree at Wayne County Community College, then headed to D.C., where he first went onstage at an open mic in 1982.
“After a few months they started letting me host. After about two years I hosted a show with two comedians from (NYC). It was Bill Scheft and Adrianne Tolsch, both of them told me ‘Hey come to New York’ and got me a spot at Catch a Rising Star and a few months later I moved here and have been here ever since,” he told Best Comedy Tickets.
His first major break came in 1992, performing on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.
When Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show on Comedy Central in 1999, Stephenson earned himself a few appearances with a recurring segment called, “What I’m Saying.”
Louis CK also had cast Stephenson in one of his early short films, and kept coming back to the big guy, making him a fast-food cook in Pootie Tang, and several different roles in Louie on FX.
Amy Schumer also cast him twice as a judge for sketches on Inside Amy Schumer.
But you more than likely could always find Stephenson front and center at one or more comedy clubs across Manhattan.
Stephenson’s last major film credit wasn’t exactly glamorous. You could see him in the hospital waiting room in The Big Sick.
But from the poker table at Eddie Brill’s to the multiple rooms at the Cellar, Stephenson was someone you just figured you’d keep seeing, until suddenly, we couldn’t. He looked and sounded in good spirits just two weeks ago. Rest in peace, William. You will be missed.