Comic relief: Jessica Williams takes Comedy Series stage

Williams infuses comedy into her discussion of racism, feminism

According to Jessica Williams, the personification of hell is TMZ comments.

Williams, who used to frequently Google her own name, thinks the overt racism the popular celebrity gossip site contains isn't only offensive but abundant in today’s society.

Williams, a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, performed at the Center for the Arts as part of the Student Association’s Comedy Series Thursday night. Her act was a comedic lecture, or an hour and a half of tales from her life weaved together with social commentary.

“She was really genuine about everything she was saying,” said Olivia Frank, a junior sociology major. “She was funny, but also talked about important issues in a way that was relatable.”

Williams opened her act discussing her recent college tours, her love of The Sims computer game and growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Her colloquial language and comedic spin on her life was lighthearted and funny. Her delivery was on point, which is one of many reasons she found success at a young age on The Daily Show.

Her stories were offset by her thoughts on growing up as a black woman in today's society. Her feminist ideology combined with her Christian upbringing caused her internal conflict as she grappled with growing into her womanhood. She discussed how racism is subtler today, but how, as a minority she is a recipient of racism on a regular basis.

Williams had an ease about her that made her relatable to students. Her topics were relevant to her audience, discussing marijuana use and making a slew of ’90s references. Her appeal was obvious, as the audience laughed and clapped at her comments.

“I watch The Daily Show so I knew who Jessica Williams was, and her show was unexpected,” said Micaela Sanna, a senior from SUNY Purchase who attended the show. “I knew she’d be funny but I like that she talked about real things that are going on.”

Williams talked about how her mother and her grandmother influenced her as she grew up. She attributes her sense of humor to her grandmother, who she described as “not the ‘milk and cookies’ grandma.” Williams spent a lot of time with her grandma growing up and described the woman as the type of person she would want to make laugh.

The comedian explained a “high thought” she had, in which she realized her mother has taught her everything and helped shape her into who she is today. She makes jokes about the difficulty of childbirth, but expresses genuine love about the woman who raised her. The two have given her the confidence to break into her business, she said.

Williams had an interactive show, using a clip from The Daily Show to explain her role on the program. In the clip, Williams flipped racial profiling on its head by standing on Wall Street and talking about the danger of corporate criminals. Her bit was funny and accurate, commenting on the issues with racial profiling while bantering with correspondent John Oliver.

Williams also took the time to talk to members in the audience, asking anyone who spoke during her show to speak up and repeat their comment. She appeared unafraid of potential criticism and laughed off any missteps in her own speaking. At the end of her show, she took questions from the audience.

“The show was good and she was funny, but she pulled it back by talking about news and serious topics,” said Dan Falcone, a junior industrial engineer. “I watch The Daily Show, and I keep up with the news, so I appreciated it.”

Williams’ performance at UB almost didn’t happen after a conflict in her schedule forced her to cancel the original date for the show, March 12. The show was rescheduled in late March for April 2.

Williams records every show she performs – she believes it'll help her improve as a comedian. The 25-year-old has achieved success at such a young age, that she serves as an inspiration for students and young people alike.

Tori Roseman is the senior arts editor and can be reached at