Jessica Williams Shares Her Story, And Plenty Of Laughter, With Alumni Hall
Not only did Jessica Williams grace the HUB with a hilarious stand-up routine Saturday night, but the world-renowned comedian and actress also imparted some wisdom and encouraged students to “tell their story.”
Decked out in white Vans, pizza-festooned socks, and a black shirt bearing neon sharks, Williams took the stage in Alumni Hall for SPA LateNight just after 10:00 p.m. She would treat the large student turnout to 90 minutes of laughs, plus her thoughts on everything from “The Sims” to “not being a garbage, trash person.”
The 27-year-old Los Angeles native rose to fame in 2012 as the youngest correspondent ever on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Williams filled the crowd in on how she first heard that the producers were interested in having her fly to New York to audition. Interestingly enough, she was sitting at the Panda Express at Cal State University, Long Beach when she got both the initial — and later, congratulatory — call from her manager.
Williams noted how her relationship with her grandmother, who loved watching shows like South Park and Saturday Night Live, initially sparked her desire to pursue comedy. “I remember thinking as a kid, ‘Oh my gosh, if this makes her laugh, then this is a valid art form that I wanna do, and I wanna be able to keep someone like this company if I can,'” Williams said.
For instance, she explained how she came to an epiphany about her hair, and her identity as a black woman in general, during her teenage years.
“Because I didn’t wanna get my hair done, because I didn’t want it relaxed or pressed, then I was teased a lot. And I was like, ‘Oh, shit, am I not the right black? Am I not black enough? Am I not this idea of what a black woman is supposed to be? Will I ever be that?’ And that was from my own people,” Williams said. “So I felt disconnected from my religion and my womanhood, and I felt disconnected from my blackness.”
Both of Williams’ parents are ministers, and she discussed how one lesson her mom (an Ohio State grad) taught her in middle school following an “average” report card really stuck with her.
“You will never be average, because you come from me,” Williams recounted her mom saying. “And because you look like me, because your skin is like mine, you are never allowed to slack. There are people who do not look like you that will get more than you have for doing way less work, so don’t you ever walk up in my house again and talk to me about being average.”
Williams went into further detail about her mindset heading into auditions for The Daily Show. “I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? How am I gonna be a correspondent?’ Well, I have all these emotions and all this energy — I’m gonna try and be the most myself that I can be for this audition, that’s it.”
She recalled a piece of advice Jon Stewart gave her when they met for the first time, just before going over the script together. “Just to let you know, I’ve already seen your tape. I think you’re very funny, I already like you. All you have to do is focus on being present with me.”
Williams continued by highlighting another insightful comment Stewart made to her in his office. “The next time you watch the news, wait until you feel something — you feel an emotional connection,” Stewart said. “Then really examine all sides of it, and that’s where you’ll get a comedy bit, that’s where you’ll get your correspondent persona.”
Before exiting the stage to a standing ovation, Williams left Penn State with one last piece of guidance.
“Please start telling your stories,” she said. “Please know, when you get that helpless feeling, there’s something you can do with it. Let it motivate you and move you, because you can make someone else feel a little less alone, and that’s kinda the biggest reason why we’re here, is to connect.”