Sims, shrooms and speaking truth: A&O fall speaker Jessica Williams performs stand-up at Cahn Auditorium

    Williams never sat down in a set full of nerdy jokes, descriptions of a wild shrooms experience and sincere commentary on marginalized storytellers. Photo by Mia Zanzucchi.

    When Jessica Williams walked onto the stage of Cahn Auditorium, she saw the small stool waiting for her and proceeded to stay on her feet for an hour.

    It was a telling aspect of Williams’ high-energy stand-up comedy set in Cahn Auditorium, as A&O’s fall speaker this Friday. The comedian, actress and writer took the audience of 450 on a candid journey that never stopped moving, from describing an incredible shrooms experience to urging queer people and people of color to tell their stories in any way possible.

    When A&O Speakers Chair Kelly Eisenholtz introduced their speaker, she referenced Williams’ work as the youngest correspondent on The Daily Show and co-host of the podcast 2 Dope Queens. But much of Williams’ set wasn’t focused on the shows and movies she’s worked on. Instead, she began the night by giving the audience a list of things they should know about her.

    A major item on the list was having a “white bae” (her boyfriend of three and a half years), and being in an “interracial relash [relationship]”.

    “He said the other day, one of the most romantic things that I think a white man can say to a Black woman ... and what he said was, ‘Honey, your edges look really nice today,” Williams said, explaining over the crowd’s laughter that edges are wispy, flyaway hairs that are hard to control. She added, “Which is, like, the nicest thing he could have said to me aside from ‘Sorry for slavery.’”

    Other things the audience needed to know about included that she was a Leo, she had size 11 feet (just like Oprah and Kate Winslet) and she had OCD. A good portion of the night was devoted to riffing on nerdy subjects, including a long consideration of sex mods on The Sims.

    In particular, Potter fans cracked up after Williams talked about learning her Hogwarts house – and not just from a Buzzfeed quiz, from J. K. Rowling herself. It’s Gryffindor, and according to Williams, finding this out was “literally one of the most amazing, stunning, courageous, erotic” moments of her life.

    She will appear in the next Fantastic Beasts sequel in 2018, so she will likely have plenty more moments to hang out with Rowling.

    Commentary about race was sprinkled into the whole set, at first with having to explain Black hair characteristics to her white boyfriend. Another little gem that the audience cheered for was Williams naming straight white guys so “collectively disappointing” (to applause) that doing “something that’s a little bit tight” like opening Starbucks doors for girls or buying textbooks on time is pretty amazing.

    Her tone became the most serious near the end of the night, when Williams described her anger with racism, sexism and homophobia.

    “Sometimes I wake up and I fuckin’ go to a barre class and I have a fuckin’ green juice and I feel good about the day. I don’t think about race, I don’t think about the things that aren’t fair in this country,” she said. “I don’t think about the fact that Donald Trump is president. I don’t think about what Van Jones calls whitelash.”

    “And then some days I wake up and I feel the anger for where we are as a country. I feel anger for the Black women that came before me. I feel anger for Black bodies. I feel anger for queer people. I feel anger for trans people.”

    Her final point was direct advice to the audience, in relation to some words of wisdom she had gotten from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show. Williams had asked him about her role on the show, what type of bit she should do. He told her that good bits come from “something that moves you in any sort of way,” she said, which inspired her to pursue stories on the show about injustice against queer people, Black people, women or any combination.

    She urged Black and queer members of the audience to use their anger and visceral reactions to tell their own stories, whether through blogging or journalism or film.

    “The truth resonates through people, and if you are a queer Muslim woman and there’s a truth there, we wanna fuckin’ hear from you. No disrespect to straight white dudes, but I don’t wanna fuckin’ see a movie about another straight white dude,” she said.

    Williams asked the straight white men in Cahn to use their privilege to advocate for women and people of color – “Pull us up with you, please” – and ended the night with a plea for members of marginalized communities to remember they are valid and their stories matter.

    She received a standing ovation, the end to a performance filled with plenty of snaps and bursts of applause from an appreciative audience.

    Communication junior Mystika Strawder had watched a few Williams clips before coming to Cahn that night, but she said the “really funny and really relatable” stand-up set will inspire her to keep looking out for Jessica Williams.

    “As a woman of color, it’s nice to see myself represented in a field that I want to definitely go in,” said Strawder, who is an RTVF major. “And just like little cultural things that are reflected from my own experience, and even just like dating a white man, that bit was really funny.”


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