Katt Williams wears a beautiful patterned jacket against a foggy purple backdrop.

Katt Williams

The ever-memorable comedian will perform Woke Foke, Netflix’s second-ever live comedy special.

1 May 20248 min read

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance — at the peak of popularity for court jesters, who served as on-demand entertainment to royals — popular opinion maintained that, really, there were only two types of fools. The natural fool was thought to be “foolish” from birth, a designation totally outside of their control. The artificial or licensed fool, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing: providing a service, telling stories to secure the vaunted status of truth-teller. 

Court jesters often used their unconventional positions to say things no one else could, not unlike the stand-up comics of today, and you’d be hard pressed to find an example better than Katt Williams: an artificial fool, but absolutely an intentional one. Williams uses entertainment as subterfuge — he’ll pull you in with jokes, but he’ll use the truth to keep you in your seat. Williams is a comedy veteran, with 12 stand-up specials under his belt, starting with 2006’s Katt Williams: The Pimp Chronicles Pt. 1, an early establishing shot of his sassy, sharp humor (and outfits). A Guardian review of the special likened him — with his “manic capering and pulpit urgency” — more to James Brown than to any of his peers in entertainment: “He struts and tumbles and dances until the sweat pours, and everywhere he goes he carries the exciting air of a man who arrived onstage with something to say.”

In the time since, he’s become a mainstay onscreen in Black classics: voicing A Pimp Named Slickback in Cartoon Network’s The Boondocks, flaying his opponents on MTV’s Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ’n Out, and playing the antagonistic and quippy Willy in FX’s Atlanta, which won the comedian an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Earlier this year, Williams found even more fans after his interview on popular podcast Club Shay Shay went viral this past winter. (If Williams weren’t a comic, he might make a good sniper. His words to host Shannon Sharpe, “You have an unnatural allegiance to losers and that’s not like you,” have singed themselves into our brains.) Queue caught up with Williams before his next comedy special, Woke Foke, which will become the second live comedy special in Netflix history. 

An edited version of the conversation follows.

Katt Williams wears a dark jacket and wide-brimmed hat against a black background.

Jazmine Hughes: You came out the 2024 gate swinging with your Shannon Sharpe interview. What, if anything, has changed for you since the top of the year? Are people seeing you in a different light? 

Katt Williams: Between Club Shay Shay and Joe Rogan, I was given a couple opportunities to speak worldwide. Ostensibly, people are not able to speak for three hours to anybody about anything truthfully. The goal was to do these two, three hours apiece, where I’m playing the main character and there’s this one supporting character. Can I have a conversation that is worth you listening to? Is there a possibility that this guy’s going to say something that has not been said before? Is it possible that he’s going to bring up some conversations that are not being had? Yes. I’m not sure what I got from it, but I know it was sufficient. 

What were some of your intentions in creating this most recent special? 

KW: I’ve been trying to make sure that I really set up some tentpoles as far as originality of thought and conversation. I’m doing some things that are a little bit difficult — I’m trying to say things that haven’t been said before, having discussions that aren’t being had. I’m trying to have a point of view that is not conformist. If you’re trying to do that in any craft, the highest level of that is to be able to somehow do it live. Yeah, it’s risky, but it’s also the true ascension of a person who has done 12 comedy specials. I’ve talked about a lot of things in a lot of scenarios, and the thing that will take it up a notch is having a worldly conversation for an hour, and being able to say something that the world would care to tune in for. 

Where does that tendency to be a nonconformist come from? What makes you like that?

KW: I always had a thirst for the mysteries of the universe. For the fact that, maybe, humans weren’t alone in this world. That religion and science weren’t just concepts, but things you were able to use in your life. I was always very singular about being able to find out the truth of situations and how different that was than what we were being told. Because I adopted that [view] at such an early age, it kept me accountable to the world, but it also made the world accountable to me. 

It’s the confirmation of your own power. 

KW: I’ve always been on this search for what the most intelligent or most powerful people in the world had — what information they possessed and how they got it and where it took them. It hasn’t made things easier, but any coping mechanism that you come up with is generally helpful.

Katt Williams wears star-patterned pants and a jacket onstage.

Do you remember the first great mystery of the universe that you committed to uncovering? 

KW: The Bermuda Triangle. It’s different from everything else for me. There were these stories about missing airplanes, and stories about the Bermuda Triangle before we had modern technology — all these different sets of people talking about this. I go back a hundred years and they’re still talking about this same place, with ships and with smaller boats. What a guy is saying is happening to his mechanisms as he’s on his boat is pretty similar to what the guys in the plane are saying, you know what I mean? I know that this is a real, natural occurrence because of how congruent everybody’s story is. I remember that being really pivotal for me to see that there was actually something there. 

We all question the social contract much more than we realize! It makes sense that that sort of curiosity fits so well into your comedy. How do you see those two things coming together? 

KW: You hear these stories: David and Goliath, or stories about the Nephilim. And you’re like, “Okay, well, all of this is made up. Don’t tell me there’s giants.” And then you start researching and you find out there’s hundreds of skeletons of giants across the world, people 10 feet and up. You find that part, and you’re like, Now, wait a minute . . . And that’s how I got into the translation business. Most of what I’m doing right now is what I thought a politician did. 

What do you mean by that? 

KW: I thought [politicians] worked for the people. That your job was to, behind the scenes, make sure that the people were getting the appropriate information — that’s why people elected them. Comedically, I thought that’s what my job was, to distill everything that’s going on and bring that to my audience in an unfiltered, informative, fun fashion. 

It’s interesting that you thought that you were performing the role of politician — I think of comedians more as our modern-day philosophers, because you’re professional critical thinkers. 

KW: There’s a lot of comedians that would never talk about any of the subject matter that I discuss, only because it is not profitable for them and their sponsored, endorsed life. My first comedy special was me thinking, Okay, I’m only going to do one of these, and I need to make sure that a hundred years from now, this is actually saying something to somebody about them. And the benefit of being in the business this long is we’ve had some really incredible conversations comedically, and so much of the things that we spoke about in jest have come to pass. 

Like what?

KW: We were able to see a lot of agendas before they became real. We’ve foretold how marijuana will be received in the marketplace once financial considerations were made. We were discussing global warming 10 years ago. We were having conversations about the ability for men to take away women’s rights and whether they would do it, if given the opportunity. We’ve not been incorrect in any of our electoral musings either. These are all very, very deep conversations for someone who makes jokes from a living. But having the best fan base in the world allows me to flex the fact that we can talk about a lot of highbrow concepts. 

Katt Williams wears a black-and-gold suit in a red-walled room.

What’s your relationship with your fan base like? 

KW: The biggest secret in Black comedy is that there’s only one audience and everybody’s sharing it. These people like this style of comedy and they come and support it regardless of who that is. But 19 [different] hundred-city tours means I’ve had to count on people to come out and see me, no matter how my life is going, no matter how the world is going, no matter how the environment is going, regardless of any of that. And they stayed so true to that, and I have as well. If you come and see my show, you’ll see that the audience that I’m blessed with is just a better audience than everybody else’s. It’s a collection of great people and the vibe is always consistent. Whether you see my show in 2024 or whether you saw it in 2004, what is consistent is that you know whoever put this show together was only thinking about the audience and how much of a show other [supporting] comedians could bring the audience. And so beyond myself, the ticket buyer knows that they’re going to have gotten their money’s worth before Katt Williams even comes onstage. That’s part of the package: I’m really scouring the country to find the best comedic components [as opening acts] to bring to you to make you laugh. 

How do you find your opening acts? 

KW: Each offering is something different that I’m trying to give. At this particular tour, it’s an opportunity to showcase some of the best female comedy out there, and what female comics are really like. I’m trying to bring you a few comics that you’ve not heard of but immediately become part of your must-watch list. I’ve had great success doing that with about 14 comedians, where people weren’t really sure who they were but if you take them around to a hundred, two hundred cities, people can really see them in action. 

People wish I would do more for comics, but I don’t believe in signing any comedians to contracts, or you owing me, or a percentage point. I just believe that I have a great platform and I want to put you on that to give you the ability to be a stand-alone artist. If it works, it works because of you. You made it work, not me. If it doesn’t work, you didn’t work, not we didn’t work. 

So many people can pop off but quickly become irrelevant. What makes it possible for a comic to have a long career? 

KW: Same thing as LeBron [James]. No — it takes two things. It takes having actual talent and actual skill, being good at something. Then it takes for you to be one of the first people who knows that. Because if you are, then you’ll take care of what you got there. For a lot of artists, it was somebody else that told them they were special, or made them feel special, or made them feel like a star or what have you. But there are those of us who have really been living this life, and it’s so much easier to stay relevant when you are relevant, and that takes you being really good.