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Drinking Whiskey With Comedian Brad Williams

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In his latest comedy special ‘Starfish’ — now streaming free on Youtube — comedian Brad Williams takes on new territory, reflecting on his marriage and becoming a father, along with his observations about beer civil wars and how much more fun it would be if all product commercials took a political stance. I met with Williams at the Comedy Cellar in New York where we discussed whiskey, hanging with Robin Williams and why he loves the silences in his shows as much as the laughs.

You’re a whiskey fan?

I love whiskey, I love scotch. I was what I call a ‘frat house’ drinker — let’s do shots of tequila! — until I met my wife. And she likes her scotch smoky and peaty. I thought I hated scotch. Turns out I just hated bad scotch. And I’m actually part owner of a brewery in San Diego called Thorn Street Brewery. (Laughs) It takes a genius to figure out where it’s located.

What was your first drink?

The first drink that got me sick was called ’99 Bananas.’ That messed me up because it’s like you’re drinking candy. That was in college. I woke up in a bathtub. Thankfully no water. And also as a dwarf I could spread out in the bathtub (laughs).

What was your first ‘favorite’ cocktail?

Jack and Coke. But now I love a cocktail called ‘Gold Rush. It’s whiskey, lemon, honey syrup and ginger. It’s really good.

Comedian Brad Williams

Adam Morganstern

Tell me about the new special ‘Starfish.’

Look, there will always be dwarf jokes. I’m a little person. I don’t know how to write jokes from the perspective of a six foot guy. But on this special I dive into a lot of different topics and I’m really happy to leave my comfort zone. I’m at the stage of life where I’m a father and I’ve been married a few years now. I want to give something new. As a comic I love the laughs. I live off of those. But the moments that really get me excited are the silences.

What’s great about the silences?

Because if the audience is quiet and that’s what I planned — I’ve got ’em. There’s a moment where I reveal something about my daughter and the audience goes quiet. I can tug at your heartstrings a little bit knowing that I have a joke to bring you back.

I want you to feel everything when you come to my show. I want you to feel joy and laughter. But I also want you to think a little bit. And I want you to be sad. Then I want to bring it back and always have you leave happy. There was a famous speech by Jim Valvano at the ESPY Awards where he said something like ‘if you can laugh, cry and think on the same day — that’s a hell of a day.’ And I want to make people do that — but in just an hour.

Do you find it hard to work out the material for your specials in clubs while people are taping with their phones?

I call people out. Hey dude, I’m working on stuff. Let’s put the phone down. There’s a joke in my special that I’m the most proud of — about the Bud Light transgender spokesperson controversy. When I first told the joke it was horrible. And then I got it to a point where it was getting laughs, but those weren’t the kind of laughs I wanted. They were aggressive. So I keep tooling with it. And I finally got the joke to a point where it’s the right laughter. The message reflects my personal beliefs. Nailed it. And you need to be allowed that process.

Comedians more than most artists have to be allowed to fail. In order to find the right amount of what is funny and provocative you have to cross the line and be like ‘too far’ and then go the other way and say ‘too far back.’ You can’t practice in front of a mirror. A mirror won’t tell you if it’s funny or not. It has to be a live audience.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 26: Comedian Brad Williams of Mad Apple by Cirque du Soleil perform during … [+] the premiere at New York-New York Hotel & Casino on May 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Mad Apple)

Getty Images for Mad Apple

What surprised you about doing standup that you didn’t know beforehand?

One of the surprising parts about comedy is also one of the most beautiful. You can be Jerry Seinfeld and the process is still the same and the stages are still the same. Jerry still has to walk through the kitchen. He’s a billionaire and he hangs out in the same tiny greenroom that all the other comics do. Comedy humbles you, it keeps you humble.

Ever shared a drink with one of your idols?

I’m a lifelong and diehard Denver Broncos fan. The John Elway car dealerships were having a Christmas party and asked if I wanted to perform. I go ‘I’m there.’ And at the end of the show he starts the standing ovation. He was nice to me before but after he saw me perform — now he really wanted to hang out with me. And we hung out. His drink is Dewars and soda. Then he goes “what are you doing tomorrow, you want to come to the game?” My wife is eight and a half months pregnant (laughs). But thankfully my wife is an amazing woman who just said “that’s your hero.” So I went to the game and watched the Broncos with John Elway.

How about with one of your comedy idols?

One of the coolest nights of my life — I didn’t have a drink with him because he was sober, but this was how I got maybe the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. I did a set at this small club in northern California and I go backstage and Robin Williams bursts through the greenroom door and goes right for me and says “oh my God Mr. Williams, you’re like Prozac with a head!” That’s going on my gravestone.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – APRIL 19: Comedian Brad Williams performs on stage during Moontower Comedy Festival … [+] at The Paramount Theatre on April 19, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Did you get to spend some time with him?

The next night. He’s doing a show at the same theater because he lives up there and that’s where he would go to work stuff out. After the show I go back to the greenroom and there is Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, myself and Mort Sahl all talking comedy. It was the greatest night ever.

People think of backstage at a music concert but not a comedy show.

You have so much adrenaline going after the show — no matter how many times you do this you still want to hang out. So there are the late night diners and the late night bars where all the comics go after work. That’s where we say all the things we can’t say on stage because we’ll get canceled or booed or attacked or whatever. And we’re all trying to make each other laugh. And when comics are trying to make each other laugh that’s the good S%$!.

One of the most intimidating places in the world of comedy is right behind me. (Pointing) That’s the comic’s table at the Comedy Cellar. I’ve been doing this 20 years. And whenever I sit at that table, I’m terrified (laughs).

Brad Williams will be on tour all summer throughout the United States. Click here for dates.

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