You can’t say Katt Williams hasn’t lived a life. A contentious, often fraught life, to be sure. But at 46, he’s openly trying to trim the fat with his new special Great America, an hour devoted as much to the realities of getting older—and what that does to your comedy as well as your body—as it does to the state of the nation as suggested by the title. “A lot of getting older is the process of working smarter and not harder,” says Williams. “So, progressively as my comedy is aging, I’m more cognizant of putting more things in it that aren’t fluff. I’m trying to do actual damage with the collection of jokes.”
Much of that damage is directed at Trump, with Williams performing the entire special on the set of a decked out Oval Office complete with presidential portrait of Williams himself. Then again, no one else seems to be using it. “Our president doesn’t want to stay in the White House all our presidents stayed at, “ says Williams. “He’s staying at a country club. I said he’s staying in a country club. Our president is staying in a country club, dude. Our government is being run from southern Florida.” The rest of the damage, in a move most other comedians with Trump material in their specials have danced around so far this year, is directed at the white voters who made Trump possible. They can’t even riot correctly, says Williams at one point. “Y’all can’t fuck shit up because ya’ll own the shit.”
Not that Williams doesn’t feel sympathy for Trump voters. “The issue is…” says Williams, “Trump supporters had concerns, and their concerns needed to be addressed, like everybody’s concerns needed to be addressed. Acting like people’s concerns aren’t valid has never gotten us anywhere.” And while it does call out the demographic that elected Trump, Great America is, on the whole, a special focused mostly towards developing a sense of unity within the “real America.” Williams is quick to point out that he’s seen a great deal of the country
during “fifteen consecutive one-hundred city tours” of it, and he shows off that experience with the Jacksonville audience. In fact, the first sixth of the special is exclusively Jacksonville-centric material, much to the delight of the crowd, and telling of Williams’s effort to go above and beyond your average comedian’s “just learn the name of the mayor and the football team two seconds before going on stage” school of comedy. “It’s really a great country,” says Williams. “It’s really a place where the more times you meet the people that you thought you didn’t like, the more you understand their position, and the more you feel empathy for them… The reason this country is great is because it has a lot of great people in it. Not perfect people, not people that look a certain way. A collection of great people.”
Later, Williams again goes beyond the usual “clap if you’re _____” schtick and effectively breaks down the demographics of the entire audience piece by piece. Far from diving them, it unites them, Williams says, both in a national willingness to get together and have these conversations, and—let’s face it—in appreciation of Williams himself. “Segregation started this,” he notes. “And we’ve become more and more segregated as time has gone on. And so it’s important when we point out that we’re not segregated. It’s important that we make a note of watching the times that we’re all together in the same place, and how those are always great moments.”
If this feels like a different tone for Williams, it is. He’s open, throughout the special, about how the events of the past year have changed him. And he’s often cheeky about how the circumstances of his volatile personal life (he’s had so many mandatory prison flu shots, he can’t “legally catch the flu until 2026, I think”) have encouraged him to calm down and stay out of trouble. The opening of Great America—which, I forgot to mention, also includes several scantily-clad women and a waterfall effect through the windows—alongside the requisite golden microphone, may suggest the “pimpin’” Katt Williams of yesteryear. And Williams undeniably works harder than most comedians, constantly wiping sweat from his brow as he darts back and forth across the stage, closing not on politics but on the delicate nature of middle-aged sex. But he’s grown since last November, though in which direction it remains to be seen. Because lest we forget, Williams is a predictably unpredictable man. This is a man who once retired from stand-up only to mount a comeback three days later. He reliably keeps you on your toes, and many, many, many people can attest to it. So when he’s asked whether or not the set of Great America is the prelude to a Katt Williams campaign, and he responds “I think that I have gotten into as much trouble not running for office as anybody who’s ever run for office,” I think we can take it with a grain of salt, and he’d be fine with that.
Great America is streaming now on Netflix.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.