When Bill Maher recently talked about the current state of entertainment, he chuckled condescendingly and implied we’re at our nadir in terms of the wild and unpredictable.
“It’s just so safe and sanitized,” Maher says. “Compare current musicians and comics from now and the ’70s and it’s just two different worlds. Few are going out on a limb these days.”
Comedian Katt Williams, who will headline Friday at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, is one of those few contemporary performers who does go out on that limb.
Williams, 43, is an honest, unsparing comic who draws from an intense life – a life that has had more than its share of speed bumps. He has been arrested for suspicion of assault, hit with tax liens and has mixed it up verbally with members of his audience.
“You never know what you’ll get when you see me,” Williams says.
That’s part of the appeal. Where else do you get that kind of unpredictability these days?
“It’s not the most exciting time for entertainment,” Williams says. “But whatever. I’m just going to be me. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve also knocked it out of the park.”
That’s part of what makes Williams so exciting as an entertainer. The slight humorist – he checks in at 5-foot-5 – takes verbal swings like a baseball slugger. He is a volatile but brilliant comic.
Williams is known for engaging with audience members who he feels are disruptive or disrespectful. Some particularly notorious interactions took place in 2012. At a show in Oakland that November, Williams was dragged offstage by his own security after challenging a heckler to fight. A month later, Williams became upset with someone recording his show and hit him with his microphone. He was later sued.
Veteran comic Bob Saget applauds comics who defend themselves. “If security gets those guys, great,” Saget says. “But it doesn’t always happen. They can ruin your set. Not long ago, a drunken guy in the fourth row was messing with me. Fortunately, security pulled him out of there. But if a guy from the audience crosses the line, it’s great when a comic protects himself. I have nothing but respect for someone like Katt Williams if he’s out there doing what he has to do. The guy has guts.”
Williams indeed lays himself out there.
“I’m not like everybody else,” Williams says.
And that’s one reason Williams is on another comedic level. The Cincinnati native is an outrageous bad boy, but he’s consistently funny.
“There’s precious few of those type of comedians out there today,” Saget says. “You gotta embrace them.”
Who: Katt Williams
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh