Brad Williams previously teared up “in, like, Cleveland” when performing his closing chunk. But Saturday’s taping for his sophomore Showtime special – his second hour in a year – was the first time his family would see the weighty material on his father’s prolonged battle with cancer. His emotions might get the better of him again. Would it bring the taping to a halt? As he and About Last Night cohost Adam Ray recorded a podcast episode with manager and repeat special guest Barry Katz, Williams looked around his dressing room with apprehension: “I just can’t tell what’s going to happen.”
Ray opened the evening at Glendale, California’s historic Alex Theatre with seven minutes on driving in L.A., flying stoned and parents’ lack of computer skills. A dozen cameras then captured B-roll of the 1,400-capacity audience laughing and clapping, and Williams finally emerged, smiling confidently in black leather jacket and dark purple pants.
The Southern California native and KROQ’s Kevin and Bean Show favorite started stand-up at 19 and broke out as a regular on Comedy Central’s Mind of Mencia. Like 2011 debut album Coming Up Short, Fun Size tracked the day-to-day idiosyncrasies experienced by a comedian born with Achondroplasia dwarfism. Fun Size also ended up being Showtime’s highest-rated comedy special of 2015.
Kicking off his follow-up, Williams again kept his animated, mile-a-minute stage presence at the foreground. Discussing his firing from a San Diego radio gig, he gasped, “I’m not gonna wear a jersey that says Giants on it!” Williams mimicked leaping into the air to reach a urinal (“I will go full R. Kelly on your leg!”), hoisted the mic stand aloft and incorporated the ol’ Microphone-Dick Thwacked on Forehead crowd-pleaser.
At his loudest, Williams is also his most earnest. Tight, R-rated material and audience expectations work heavily in his favor. He’s granted license to be politically incorrect, incorporating voices and accents into differences between white versus black laughter and the irony of an Indian desperately in need of customer service. And as he put it, “Here’s why I can say things that you can’t: I’m cute.”
Williams also knows he’s got to sell more than mere physicality over the long run. Throughout his new hour he introduced social commentary from, not surprisingly, a place of inclusion. For every gag about motorboating Katy Perry, there was support of gay marriage. An easy dick joke evolved into praise for the transgender movement. Recounting a casting session insultingly requiring Williams to “Bring your own elf costume from home,” he bemoaned the failed altruism of people who claim offense on behalf of another group.
As Williams reached his closer he did grow notably, inevitably choked up. Recalling how kids made fun of him in school, Williams explained how his father – currently sitting in the Alex’s second row – taught him how to conquer adversity with his wit. “Life has an undefeated record: No one gets through it unscathed,” Williams admitted, including a special shout-out to UC Irvine Medical Center. “But nothing on this planet is scarier than my dad. And now cancer knows it, because he beat that son of a bitch.”
Williams had turned 32 three days prior. Ensconced backstage once again following the show, friends and family sang in unison as he blew out the candles topping a red-velvet cake. Despite celebrating both his birthday and the successful taping, it was sharing the moment with his father that carried the most pride.
Brad Williams performs at the Moontower Comedy Festival This April. His new Showtime special debuts this spring.