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Katt Williams knows how to pluck a nerve. His new Conspiracy Theory tour kicks off next month in South Carolina, what has arguably become the epicenter of racial upheaval in America, and the starting location is no coincidence.
In this conversation, Williams tells The Hollywood Reporter how the culmination of racial tensions in the South — and beyond — inspired his upcoming national circuit, but he doesn’t stop there.
The Conspiracy Theory tour. How did you come up with that name?
Everything that I wanted to joke about was somehow a hot-button topic, which means we have this list of eight to 12 things that all of our conversations are boiling down to. I went back as far as I could to try to figure out how long we’ve been trying to get answers to certain things. It’s not that it’s an homage to conspiracy theories, but generally those are the first benchmarks you reach when you might be headed to new information.
What are some examples of these conspiracy theories?
I shall give you no examples of conspiracy theories. … We know what they are.
Are they related to South Carolina? You’re starting your tour there. I can’t help but feel that was intentional.
Right. We keep getting to certain points where everybody knows what the conversation is going to have to be. … [South Carolina] has been the place where the conversation has been brought to the forefront on multiple occasions in the past 12 years, whether it was a police brutality conversation or whether it was a confederate flag conversation. It keeps coming back to this flash-point place.
And why do you think that’s the case?
The question is whether morality trumps economics: Is there something that can be so good economically that it changes our morals? That was what was being dealt with for a 400-, 500-year period right there. So now [South Carolina] is a success story on all behalf. On the white-half of things, on the black-half of things, we learned on both sides from that.
We’re talking about South Carolina’s history of slavery and its relationship to recent events, like the Charleston church shooting.
Precisely. It needs to be addressed fairly on both sides. The white audience needs to hear and be reminded of the fact that even something that somebody tried to do to start a race war can in no way start that, because it has no footing. Without giving away too much, the reason that it’s important to start [in South Carolina] is because that’s where the focal point is.
What sets your message apart?
We’ve been on the top 100 tours for a decade so it’s not about whether we can say something so thought provoking that people would want to come out and see it. We already have that much faith that the people are coming out. What it is is being able to deliver something that is completely heads and tails of just trying to deliver jokes for the sake of jokes.
Since you won’t give me examples, I’m going to throw out some names and you’re going to tell me what you think. OK? Great. Dylann Roof.
Historical figure. History marks things that provoke change whether they are on the good side of history or whether they are on the bad side of history. … He’s going to be a historical figure no matter how it goes. That’s how I view him.
Would you be going on this tour if Dylann Roof were never born?
This tour has nothing to do with him. His viewpoints have been around as long as race has been an issue.
Yes, but race relations have become more topical in light of recent events. Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.
I disagree with that only because it wasn’t anything that [Roof] did that made anything happen. It was the response that did. He gets no credit for being an animal.
It’s the response of the people that were victimized and their families. … I feel the same way about the theater shooters. We don’t make these people heroes in any way, shape, form or fashion. It’s about the response after what they do. That’s what is bigger than race and every conversation: It’s the decency of people and how wonderful people are in terrible situations.
What about Black Lives Matter?
I don’t believe that [Black Lives Matter] is something that you say unless a certain percentage, a large percentage of your population, feels like this might be news to people. I think it’s not something that is ever said unless the situation is at such a critical point that you would need to say something as remedial as that. Our history proves that you might need to say that.
Why do we need to say it? Are we at that critical point?
Because there are people who are going to still come out against it. And it should’ve lost steam because nobody needed that message. Go have a #friedchickenisdelicious and see how much of a storm you can get people into. No, sorry, that’s just a fact that everybody knows. We have to move on as people.
The only reason that this is important is because it’s an important conversation and it does have to be acknowledged that [black lives] do matter. There are too many circumstances that I could list that it would appear like they don’t matter. They certainly don’t matter equally.… As soon as they matter enough, nobody will feel the need to say it.
Talk to me about Kim Davis.
We’re conflicted on the Kim Davis case. Who’s a hero? Who’s a victim? [Gay people] are supposed to get their rights and they’re supposed to get this and this person believes this and they shouldn’t have to alter their rights. These are the natures of the conversations that are taking place.
Does Kim Davis belong in jail?
No non-criminals belong in jail.
Is Kim Davis a non-criminal? Did she break the law?
Certainly not, or the law has to be investigated because part of freedom is having the ability to base your decisions on something that you already believe, no matter what your religion is. That’s the same conversation that’s taking place about whether the Muslim lady should be suspended from her job because she’s not allowed to serve alcohol. Same conversation.
Natural part of evolution. It’s the next process. … The only thing that could trump [Barack Obama’s] type of cool would be deep pockets. It makes perfect sense. That’s what America is saying. They didn’t say that they wanted Trump. They said they wanted somebody who could not be bought off in a situation for peanuts. They said they wanted somebody who has an allegiance to something other than the current political system.
Do you think he’d be a good president?
I think we are closely getting to the point where a good president is not going to be good enough. We’re at an interesting period because we just learned from Obama’s last two terms that you can still be stopped in your mission by the opposition. I believe that he could be a good president in the same way that I believe that Bernie Sanders could be a good president and Ben Carson and to some respect Carly Fiorina.
Is Donald Trump a racist?
I’ve seen no evidence of that whatsoever. In order for Donald Trump to truly be a racist, he would have to not be the capitalist that he is.
He said that Mexican immigrants are drug traffickers and rapists.
I believe that everything that Donald Trump says is based upon the ability to make good financial sense. I don’t think that his motivation was racism in that. If I thought that naively, then I would also have to feel like Israel is racist because they’re building a fence between them and Jordan for an upcoming airport.
He is someone I will be discussing. I’ll put it that way.
I hope to not have spend very much time on a topic like that [on tour], but he does have to be addressed only because of how depraved he was with it. How far he went in his direction and how we far we allowed him to go as a spokesperson.
It’s a person getting bit by a snake. Snakes are wonderful unless they bite you. The higher you deal with snakes, the higher your percentage that you’re bit by one. That is the world that we live in, where not many things are secret.
And the users who were outed?
I think it’s far less damaging for the guys than it is for the girls.
What about Josh Duggar?
It’s crazy that all the things you’re saying are leading a conversation in a very dark place. It’s indicative of why people still come out to see comedy shows. If you and I just as two intelligent people were to discuss what the hot-button items are, we’re talking about rape and child pornography and molestation. If you were just fed a steady diet of that as your headlines, how refreshing would it be to go somewhere where those are not discussed in that frame of reference? Humor is the catalyst.
Is that how you would characterize your tour? A humorous take on dark themes?
Comedy goes two ways: We can either get together and we can talk about absolutely nothing for an hour, or we can make the attempt to have a little deeper conversation while still getting those same laughs in. That’s the goal. … If I had better answers, I wouldn’t be a comedian anymore. I would be a civil rights activist or some type of leader or something.
Do you think black comedians have a greater responsibility now to address race issues?
Absolutely not. Comedy is hard without all of that. Nobody expects Jim Gaffigan or Louis C.K. to do that, Nobody feels that Jeff Dunham should put those puppets down and really hit these hard notes. You’re not going to get the benefit from doing that unless that’s really what you do. … At the end of the day, these people are paying you to hit those endorphins in the right way so you get the release. The end goal is their laughter.
Who is the most influential comedian out right now?
We have the ability right now to see Chris Tucker, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, Eddy Griffin, George Lopez, Cedric the Entertainer. All these people out on the road. That’s a good thing for urban comedy. On the other side, comedy has kept on moving as well. It’s a fantastic platform, but you only have to be influential once. Influence isn’t something you have to keep having to have. I get excited seeing [Dave] Chappelle at any moment. That has always remained the same. I get excited when Demetri Martin is out. I like a thought process in a comedy conversation.
Big changes in late night. Stephen Colbert debuted this week.
I’m excited. Not that I’m excited individually, but I’m excited that we’ve reached this point where there’s a new regime coming in and so there are going to be some successful takeovers and some things are going to be flashes in the pan.
As a black-American comedian, it’s always interesting when the league starts again so we can see what changes are going to happen. For black artists, they’re doing importation now. There’s going to be eight new black faces, but they’re going to be from London or the U.K. That’s fine I guess. It gives variety. It’s an interesting time. I’m just glad that the musical chairs has begun. It’s when new ideas come out.
If we line up the late night hosts — Colbert, O’Brien, Kimmel, Fallon, Meyers, etc. — who do you think will come out on top this season?
I like Stephen Colbert’s chances just because he was the one who was the underdog the entire time, so for him to get even footing is just a testament to him. He didn’t get handed the cake at any point.
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