Editor’s Note: This article contains profanity.
“I am a black woman and I am a feminist and I am so many things. I am truly honored that people love my work. But I am not yours.”
This is Jessica Williams’ pinned tweet on her Twitter page.
Many people know her as a former correspondent on The Daily Show. Many fans of the show adored her strong-willed, sarcastic personality so much they wanted her to replace Jon Stewart as host when he announced he was leaving. The above tweet is a sincere response to her fans, a reminder that, while her work is important to others, it is ultimately hers and it is unfair for people to put her in a position she does not want.
So what does Jessica Williams want?
Not having ghosts haunt her, having doctors be a little more considerate when giving an ultrasound on her left breast and for the world to be a little less harsh. Williams came to Stamp’s Colony Ballroom Oct. 13 for a lecture titled “For More We Turn To Jessica Williams.”
If more lectures were like what Jessica Williams produced that night, I would have a 4.0 GPA. Her lecture was a mix of comedic stand-up, childhood stories with a deeper meaning and advice applicable to all college students.
She talked about a range of things from her obsession with SIMS, depressing pictures of Billy Bush in sweatpants and how she interacts with smokers (of substances other than cigarettes).
When Williams was hired for The Daily Show, her job was to cover the 2012 presidential election. So, obviously, she had a few things to say about the past few months, and, more specifically, what occurred in the last week.
“Sojourner Truth did not say ‘Ain’t I a woman’ for Trump to say ‘Grab her by the pussy.’”
With as many jokes as she told about the way her mom always takes pride of Williams coming from her “coochie” or how she can’t get past Day 9 of Jillian Michaels’ “30 Day Shred,” her most inspiring bits were when she left the audience absolutely silent.
She encouraged the audience to vote, to explore themselves in college while they have the opportunity and to take advantage of the free mental health services we have on campus.
Williams said the hardest part of coming to college was realizing the world was not fair. She said, while we live in a world that isn’t fair, and we see injustice on TV, we are shown the left side and the right side, and we tweet and talk about it, but we don’t actually do anything.
“We fight and we argue and nothing changes.”
Tears filled her eyes, as well as the spectators’, as she screamed about elementary school children getting killed, and gun control laws still not being passed.
She talked about her start at The Daily Show and how she was torn between being black and being a woman and trying to find her niche as a correspondent. Jon Stewart told her simply, “There’s something there for you to express.”
She said the pit in your stomach you get when you hear something awful in the news, another black person’s death at the hands of police, a horrible comment from a politician, use that to drive your art or whatever you do.
“So much art is created out of controversy,” she said. Use it to make a better world.
For More We Turn To Jessica Williams (For a Backstage Interview)
Before we started with the interview an hour before the show, Williams came into Stamp’s Colony Ballroom with purple hair, pizza socks, jeans and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, looking like someone you would see walking casually to class.
She introduced herself to all the SEE staff, asked them each for their name and thanked them when they told her how the show was going to run or got her a cup of tea. I have not met many celebrities, but I do not think everyone is as polite and welcoming as Williams is.
A: How has the transition been from being on The Daily Show to hosting your own podcast (Two Dope Queens)?
J: That is a great question, the transition has been pretty easy because I was doing the podcast while I was doing The Daily Show, so when I stopped doing The Daily Show, I went to go shoot a movie and now I’m working on my own show and I’m doing Two Dope Queens, so it just gave me more time to do [the podcast], and at the moment we’re doing shows … but they keep selling out so we’re not doing as many shows as we want to be doing.
A: You landed your first lead role in a Jim Strouse film, can you tell us a little bit about your character?
J: Yeah, I just wrapped that movie. Jim Strouse was the writer and director of this movie I did a couple of years ago called People Places Things, hash tag watch it on Netflix. But we really enjoyed working together so much that he wrote a movie for me in particular. And that was really amazing and I love it because he’s this older white dad and he wrote something for this black lady in her “mid-twants,” so I’m very thrilled.
So the character I play, her name is Jessica James, and she is a 25-year-old playwright in New York City just trying to make it. Her day job is … teaching young elementary school kids how to write and produce plays, and she is just going through a really bad break-up.
A: Is there any more news on your solo-series on Comedy Central? (I tried.)
J: Not at the moment. But it’s going to be, like, very funny and very exciting. And I’m working on it with Naomi Ekperigin, who wrote for Broad City the first couple of seasons, and she’s this really amazing, talented stand-up who’s been on Two Dope Queens a couple times. She’s a damn delight.
A: Going back to your podcast, you bring many of your favorite comedians on the show, many of them women, people of color and many of them non-mainstream. How do you think Comedy Central and comedy shows in general have evolved in terms of diversity and bringing up social issues over the last few years?
J: I feel like it’s a great time to be alive right now because there’s a call for new voices to be heard. I think, for me, I’m sick of the same stories being told over and over; and I think it’s not just me, I think that it’s a lot of people that exist in the world. Especially with social media and the internet and how there’s so much immediate access to different forms of art, whether it be like song-writing, performance art, comedy, anything, I feel like now there’s room.
I’m ready and I think the comedy community and so many different kinds of communities are ready to hear different voices, like I want to hear voices, stories from a transgender Latino person, I want to hear more stories from more lesbians and gay people and gender-nonconforming individuals. And I think it’s not just me and I think that now is a beautiful time to start telling those stories.
A: Many people voiced that they wanted to replace Jon Stewart with you on The Daily Show, and you voiced that you were under-qualified and did not want to take the position, is this something you want to do in the future?
J: I don’t know. I think that part of my issue with that was that nobody asked me what I wanted to do, and people insisted that I do a certain thing. And also … I’m very flattered that people wanted me to do it, but also it was like I should be able to choose what I want to do and I know what my skills set is and what I can handle stress-wise. And I feel like, right now, I just am trying to figure out what I want to do and I think what I want right now is the room to do that. I think I want the room to wake up one day and start a band. I want the room to make my show however the fuck I want to make my own show.
A: On The Daily Show, you were confronted with many uncomfortable situations with many groups and people who were bigoted, racist, homophobic, sexist, the list goes on and on – how did you keep your cool in those situations and still be funny?
J: That was kind of the hardest part and scariest part of the show … interviewing people who were cray-cray-banay-nay. But I find that usually, no matter how cray-cray-banay-nay people seem to be, there’s always a justification for something, even if it’s complete bullshit, there’s still justification. And I think a lot of the time, doing those interviews, like once I had to go to Supreme Court when they were doing the gay marriage ruling and I was sort of boots-on-the-ground, front steps, there were people just like pleading the blood of Jesus around, crying, it was nuts, and there were people who were wearing “Go Home Homos” signs and t-shirts … And I think that was probably like the scariest time I ever had, but mostly I just learned that the audience is going to get it at home.
And I think that that job, you serve as an extension of the audience and the viewer and I think that somebody saying things to you that you know that you don’t agree with, it’s not about yelling at them and having a screaming match. It’s about letting that land and really just listening because now even after all of that, I know the stupid, bullshit, fucking cuckoo-bananas reasons why that would make someone do those particular things like [at] the Supreme Court, I think just knowing I was doing it to share with the viewer at home so I can show them what it looks like here, I think was what kept me from being so afraid.
Featured Photo Credit: Jessica Williams speaks to SEE staff during her soundcheck (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Reporter)
Allie Melton is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.