After 25 years, lesbicomic Karen Williams keeps working for laughs
LAUGH IT UP
Karen Williams at
Youth Orchestra Hall,
4401 Trail Lake Drive,
Fort Worth. Feb. 13.
8 p.m. $20â€“$40.
Not all the single ladies are putting a ring on it — certainly not Karen Williams. Even with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, she’s just fine with being single. Then again, maybe she’s just mining date nights for her standup material. Real life is the best place to start when coming up with punch lines.
"I’m an opportunist. I just think there is always a comic sensibility to things, and I put a spin on it and put it back out there," Williams says.
Williams brings her spin to Fort Worth on Valentine’s Eve. And anyone with an achy-breaky heart or major relationship tension might find her comedy the ticket out of that funk. That’s because Williams sees her comedy as more than a joke; it has healing power.
"I want to share laughter with as many humans as possible," she says. "Even cats like me. I believe appropriate humor that empowers rather than denigrates is healing."
So much so, she’s even created her own International Institute of Humor and Healing Arts — the HaHa Institute for short. Finding early in her career that comedy brought forth a break from pain and suffering, Williams took it upon herself to head back to school to earn a master’s in adult learning and development at Cleveland State University. She then created humor workshops and laugh education sessions which nonprofits, colleges and private corporations hire out. Not your typical comedian.
"The highest cause that we can make in life is to be of service. I first started in San Francisco when AIDS was still called G.R.I.D.," she says. "We were raising money for people who were sick when this gorgeous blonde guy came up to me and told me he thought he’d never laugh again. His partner had died three days earlier. That aroused my activism."
At the time, Williams, Marga Gomez and Kate Clinton were at the forefront of gay standup. Now, the gay comedy landscape looks a bit different, with a new crop of LGBT comics in a fairly progressive society.
"I have a tremendous love and respect for queer culture because we are funnier than the rest right out of the box," Williams says. "You pretty much have to live what you’re doing. Your act can fail but if you’re living it, it’s you. Comedy is the one venue where you can say what you believe in as long as it’s funny."
After all these years, Williams is still on the comedy circuit and plans on branching out into acting. Like a smart performer, she’s working on keeping herself relevant. And if that doesn’t work out, she still has her children and grandchildren, who all think she’s funny.
"My grandson called to tell me that he and the family were gonna watch my show on Logo TV, I Need a Snack. I’ve never really come out to him. He called me later and was cracking up on the phone, ‘G-Ma, you were hilarious!’ I was crying because it really doesn’t get any better than that," she says.
The comic gene seems to run in her family. One of her three sons is a comedic actor who worked with Second City in Chicago for five years as part of the Defiant Thomas Brothers sketch duo and, like his mother, teaches comedy and acting, but in a performance-only capacity. He’s become good enough that when Williams performed in his venue, the Town Hall Pub, she was nervous to live up to his reputation.
"That was so tough for me because I had to blow the audience out of the water. My son was there producing the event! But I did it and he was proud of me," she says.
Now she has a Texas audience to work on but it’s old hat. She’s a long way from her snowy Ohio home in Cleveland but she’s played Texas before and the lack of snow (perhaps?) is probably a welcome reprieve. Or maybe the fact that she’s headlining this show solo is enough.
"I had to compete with fierce drag queens for my laughs in my early days of performing," she says. "And I do mean fierce! Even today, when I perform and I’m sharing a dressing room with the drag queens, I give them my utmost respect.
After all, they take hours to put on their makeup; this lesbian takes 15 minutes."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.