WHO IS YOUR COMEDY GURU?
(One man show South Pathetic at Williamstown Theater Festival in August)
"When I was younger, my comedy gods were Jonathan Winters and Phyllis Diller. I watched them on TV and had all their records. Winters could do one sentence of a character and you got the whole picture; he could become an old lady and say 'So, what'd he say, Roy?' and you knew the attitude of that woman. He could improv at the drop of a hat, too, which was miraculous to me.
"Diller had the best one-liners I've ever heard in my life. That whole character she created was brilliant. No one had ever seen a woman like that on TV. She reminded me of some of my relatives, except without the Southern accent. She was like a normal person, somehow. Rodney Dangerfield had that vibe, too, and brilliant one-liners. The best jokes to me are the kind where you can create a picture with that one line. Henny Youngman always said, 'You gotta be able to see the joke.' When he said, 'My wife told me she wanted to go somewhere she's never been. I said, try the kitchen,' you could totally visualize that scenario.
"Roseanne is another big comedy hero of mine; I'm talking about her stand-up days. That's what convinced me that I could do comedy. I thought that, to be a stand-up, you had to be Bob Hope. I didn't know how to fit myself into that mold. Roseanne talked about her white trash, tacky family and I thought, 'Bingo! I can do that!' It totally clicked for me. My family was very trailer-park; there was so much material!
"I was also obsessed with MAD magazine. It was the first satire I had ever seen. I loved the way that they used words in boldface type in the balloons over people's heads, like, 'Oh, come ON! You've GOT to be kidding.' I started to get that sound in my head. I actually drew and created my own version of MAD magazine when I was a kid!"
Paul J. Williams
(Poole Party at Don't Tell Mama on July 7, One-Man Show at the Dallas Theater Center on August 3, 4 and 5)
"I saw Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In when I was in sixth grade and really fell for her. Her album And That's The Truth was the first comedy record I ever bought. Now, I own every recording she ever did. There were comics like Jonathan Winters doing those kinds of characters before her, but I wasn't old enough to appreciate them. She came along at just the right time for me. That's when I realized that I was a kind of creative child.
"I was totally fascinated by her ability to create characters who made me laugh. My favorite is one of her more obscure characters, Judith Beasley. She's the housewife from Calumet City, Illinois: 'I am not a professional actress, I am a real person like yourself.' She did a bit on impulse shopping that still kills me: 'If you're the type of person who goes to the market for a quart of milk and a loaf of bread and comes back with a Teflon tea kettle, a popcorn popper, a mop, and some bean dip, chances are you are an impulse shopper. Especially if you got these items and forget the milk and bread.' I memorized that when I was in high school, which is scary.
"I quote her in my day-to-day life, too. Any time someone comes to my home, no matter where I live, I quote from her album Modern Scream: 'Welcome to my luxurious Hollywood home.' Also scary."
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