If you don’t recognize the name Timmy Williams, you might recognize the man if he were doing the Timmy Dance, re-imagining the Civil War as a war on marijuana or impersonating a phone sex worker covered in baked beans.
These were just a few of the popular sketches from the comedian and writer on the comedy television show “Whitest Kids U’Know,” which ran for five seasons from 2007 to 2011 on IFC. The troupe won the award for Best Sketch Group by the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in 2006, the Best Sketch Comedy Troupe Award at the 2006 Aspen Comedy Festival and was recognized by Variety magazine as one of “10 Comics to Watch.”
Born in South Dakota, Williams moved to New York in 2001 where he met the rest of the Whitest Kids troupe. He now lives in Portland as a stand-up comedian. Currently on tour with Los Angeles comedian David Venhuizen, Williams will perform Monday at the Waiting Room Lounge in Omaha and Tuesday at Spigot bar in Lincoln. He spoke with the Daily Nebraskan about the transition from screen to stage, his approach to darkly absurd humor and his advice to aspiring comedians.
Daily Nebraskan: What’s been the biggest change from writing troupe comedy with “Whitest Kids U’Know” versus doing stand-up? Is there certain humor that works in one medium but not the other?
Timmy Williams: The great thing about stand-up is that it is purely you. All of my jokes come from me and it’s fun to be on stage and spout this nonsense and have it connect with an audience. It’s almost haughty to think “my thoughts are so much funnier than the average person’s that I should perform them alone on stage,” but when a joke or story works and you and the audience are all on the same page, it’s a great feeling of joy and community.
Writing with a group is completely different but also great, because you’re all throwing in different ideas and what comes out is sort of a Frankenstein of five different senses of humor, but again, when it works, it’s really fun.
As far as what works specifically for stand-up, obviously crowd (interaction) doesn’t work for a sketch group as well (although Zach Cregger pulls it off pretty well at our shows), but as far as what to joke about, it’s all game. In “Whitest Kids” we believe that everything deserves to be mocked, and I follow those same guidelines in my stand-up.
DN: How has your humor evolved since you started doing comedy?
TW: When I started writing with “Whitest Kids,” a lot of the stuff with me in it was not written by me, but poked a lot of fun at me. I used to secretly hate that but have become OK with it to the point where I’m writing self-deprecating stuff some times and I love doing that. When I first started stand-up, it was all stories. As I grew in confidence and skill, I became more okay with moving away from that and not boxing myself in to one format. I’m a little more “ranty” and absurd now I think, but I still pepper the stories in there. I don’t think I’ll ever stop telling the story about my grandpa taking me fishing for snapping turtles. It’s too weird.
DN: In an interview last year you mentioned pitching comic books. Can you talk about where you’re at with that? Have you always drawn comics?
TW: I drew comic books in sixth grade. They were awful. This one is not awful because I am not drawing it. I’m writing it with my friend Casey Van Heel, who is a childhood friend and fellow sketch comedian. We are about to pitch it to a well-known independent publisher and have recently found our artist. Turns out artists are expensive though, so we’re starting a Kickstarter page. I’ll be making a short silly video to promote it, so watch for that soon.
DN: How has having a family influenced your comedy?
TW: Well, I think every comedian who has children wrestles with the “do I or don’t I?” problem with baby jokes. It seems a very cliche thing to do, but then you have a kid and you realize that you spend so much of your time raising them, and thinking about them and laughing about different things, so it makes sense. I have a smattering of baby jokes in my set and am proud to say I’m not ashamed to tell them!
I’m also going through another cliche comedian experience called “divorce.” It’s a similar thing where I don’t want to inundate the audience, but since so much of my headspace is occupied by it, I do have some jokes about that, as well, mostly dealing with how horrible it is to suddenly not have someone to have sex with anymore.
DN: It seems you wear drag in most if not all episodes of “Whitest Kids U’Know” – which you pull off impeccably, I might add. Was this usually your idea or the others in the troupe? Are there any interesting backstories behind those sketches?
TW: Aw, thanks! I don’t think the drag stuff was anyone’s “idea” really, because by the time we came along, groups like Monty Python, the Kids in the Hall and SNL had pretty much established that sketch and drag are connected at the hip. I think Darren (Trumeter) was doing the most drag for the first few seasons, but then we started writing more “frumpy housewife” characters, which fits my personality and body type, so I kind of became the go-to mom.
DN: A lot of your stand-up explores awkward and sometimes absurd situations. Is it challenging to utilize the tension of those topics while knowing when how far is too far? Do you “read” the audience for that sort of thing?
TW: I can’t read an audience. The way I talk and move when I perform is kind of like rolling a snowball down a hill – it starts off manageable and then just goes crazy. I’m often out of breath when I’m done. I don’t really consider the audience’s tendencies before I go into a bit, I just go and try to carry them along in my current and drown them in my energy. That sounds a lot more brutal than it is.
DN: What advice you would give someone starting out in stand-up?
TW: Be yourself. I go to open mics whenever I can and I like to watch people try stand-up for the first time. If you’re starting out, do not worry about being offensive. Way too many newcomers try to go right in with really dark jokes to seem edgy and it just feels forced and empty and fake. The most important thing to develop is confidence. Be confident that who you are is funny and go from there.
DN: The ending “sex scene” of the ‘giants going to a bar’ (“WKUK”) sketch (wherein your mouth becomes a vagina for Darren’s arm) was I think the hardest I’ve ever laughed watching television. How was that?
TW: (Laughs) Yeah, that was gross. Sam (Brown) dipped his fist in Cheetos dust to try and make it more palatable for shoving into my mouth. Really gross.