Daily Show comedian shares her story with Rutgers students
Jessica Williams took the stage Tuesday night in the College Avenue Student Center to talk about a little bit of everything, ranging from her commitment to her Sims game to her struggles growing up as a black girl in a predominately white community.
The Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA) invited Williams, who is best known for her former role on The Daily Show as a senior correspondent. She left the show in June 2016 to pursue her own show on Comedy Central, as well as focus more on movies and her podcast, “2 Dope Queens.”
Williams said comedians such as Maya Rudolph, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey and Whoopie Goldberg inspired her, but ultimately she chose to pursue comedy because her grandmother appreciated dark humor comedy.
Since her grandma had an “Ursula type body shape” and “couldn’t walk longer than seven seconds at a time” due to her obesity and diabetes, they spent a lot of time watching television together, including Adult Swim and South Park.
“I got to spend a lot of time with her as a kid,” she said. “I know that stuff made her laugh a lot, and I was 6 or 7 and I was like ‘If this makes her laugh and it keeps her company, I want to do that on some level.”
Growing up, Williams said she felt disconnected from her blackness because of her afro-texture hair.
“The black women in my family would present to me this idea of peak, black woman femininity,” she said. “I would have to have my hair pressed, relaxed, have a weave.”
She said she hated getting her hair pressed since she could not understand the point of pain to fit in, but was ultimately shamed by her cousins and the black people in her life.
“I feel like a lot of times, hair is so important to black people, and as a kid I felt so disconnected from my hair because I hated getting it done. I felt like I wasn’t black enough on some level,” Williams said.
When Williams was in elementary school, her mom gave her a wake up call about being average after getting C’s in school.
Her mom told her she could never be average because of her skin tone. She explained slacking was never an option because there are people who do not look like her who will get more than her for doing mediocre work.
“I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but I learned a lot more about it when I went to college. I took my first Women Gender Studies classes and Africana Studies classes,” Williams said.
She said some days, she would wake up in college feeling black, some days she would feel like a woman and some days she would just carry the anger of being a black woman inside of her.
“There’s this idea that as a woman, you’re not allowed to express anger,” she said, referencing the stereotype of an angry black woman. “To me, it’s like, well yeah. We live in a society that wasn’t made for us. It was made for the opposite of us. I have a right to be angry.”
Williams said the hardest part about becoming an adult was realizing the world is not a fair place.
She said she grew up with the idea that the Civil Rights Movement already happened, so by the time she was older everything would be fair and equal, but she was naive to believe that.
“It’s been a hell of a ride, learning that it’s otherwise,” she said, but soon would receive a call from her manager that she got a full-time position on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and moved to New York City.
She said she had trouble finding her character, but with advice from Stewart, realized she had to find a news story that stirred enough emotions within her that she could turn it around into a comedy bit.
Williams said one of the first times she felt this was when the stop-and-frisk policy was implemented in New York City in 2012. Williams made a skit on the show, proposing to relocate the policy strictly to Wall Street and focus on white collar criminals, which would target mostly white men.
“I felt a lot of things for it, so we were able to figure out if we just flip that concept of stop-and-frisk on its head and turn it on white collar crime, then there’s some humor in there,” she said. “But it started because we felt something about it, we felt negative and hopeless.”
Though Williams promised she would not talk about the election, she said she was unable to help herself, calling it “such trash.”
“I will say the 2008 election was lit,” she said. “You could believe in this idea of hope, you knew you were on the footsteps of a revolution. It was dope.”
She said she sees absolutely nothing positive in this election, but sees that many feel the anger in the election.
“So much art comes out of the unrest,” she said. “Your feelings are valid, you are heard, you deserve to be heard. Whatever you feel, I am so, so certain someone else feels that way, or has been there.”
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.