“Daily Show” Correspondent Jessica Williams encourages minorities and women to share their voices at KPU event
Comedian Jessica Williams spoke to a crowd of nearly one thousand students and faculty in Bender Arena on Thursday night about her career, urging those who are racial or sexual minorities to share their stories and break into the world of arts.
“Now is a good time to be any sort of minority or however you identify,” Williams said. “Because the stories right now are fucking old. They need you. You have something to offer. You are valid.”
Williams’ remarks ranged from light to serious, often eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd. She spoke about her journey from being raised in a black, middle class, conservative Christian household to becoming the youngest correspondent in program history on “The Daily Show.”
“I feel like I sort of grew up on ‘The Daily Show,’” Williams said. “It was the first time that I was really exposed to things that were just racism and pure hate.”
The writer and performer was hired for the show in 2012, while she was still in college at California State University, Long Beach, and has been a correspondent for the past three years. She said she originally gained her sense of humor from her grandmother, who was physically immobile and watched a lot of television. Williams remembered watching comedic programs like South Park, Conan O’Brien’s late night show and Saturday Night Live while she was growing up.
“I saw that this was something that took her out of this prison that her body became, and I knew I wanted to do something like that,” she said.
Telling stories about her experiences with race, gender, mental health and religion, Williams said that her character as a correspondent is driven by raw emotion, especially when a tragedy or instance of police brutality has occurred.
“It's just the same circus, and the media perpetuates it, and we're supposed to just sit here,” she said. “A lot of times I feel like I am walking around just mad. I'm angry all the time. Sometimes I feel like I can just scream at any time because I'm walking around with this nuggets of pure anger [in me].”
During her remarks, Williams shared a clip of one of her more popular segments from the show, called “Frisky Business”, which mocks “stop-and-frisk,” a police tactic in New York City often used to profile young black residents. She said that piece was the first time she truly found her character.
Afterwards, Williams took questions from the crowd, including one from an Eagle reporter about where she draws the line between freedom of speech and sensitivity towards others when making jokes.
“I can only draw that line for myself personally because, at the end of the day, the only thing I can control is me,” she said. “Where I draw the line is things that push on or oppress people that don't need it.”
The event was sold out after 1,000 tickets had been made available online to the AU community. Williams ended her appearance on a positive note, saying that she felt less alone in her work because of other people of color and women who have told her how much they connected with her bits on “The Daily Show.”
“We all feel that sort of craziness, we feel that we are in this word where things are out of control,” she said. “What helps me sleep at night is knowing that I am not the only person, and if that is the case then I can create something or create art that people can identify with.”