LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Katt Williams sounds so serene.
“I’ve learned to bend now. Better to bend than break,” the comedian says.
The calm voice on the phone isn’t what you imagine from Williams’ excitable stage persona, much less the guy who canceled show dates last January after a series of altercations and arrests in November and December.
“As a fan, I look at people in Hollywood and try to figure out what the hell just happened?” he says of celebrity meltdowns. “It was odd for me to finally be in that situation and be in front of everybody.”
In December, the 40-year-old comedian was charged with three misdemeanor counts of assault following confrontational incidents at one of his concerts in Seattle and at a sports bar there. He was accused of hitting an audience member with a microphone at the show, and of threatening bar patrons with a pool cue, and flicking a cigarette through a car window into a woman’s face.
Williams says he will offer fans his side of the story as part of his “Katt is Back” tour, which aims to repair his reputation and prove to longtime fans that he’s both sane and still funny.
“I handle it the way the elephant should be handled: immediately, straightforward and straight on,” he says.
“The best part of Katt Williams was no matter what the elephant was in the room he was going to discuss it as truthfully as he could,” he adds. “If I can discuss the government shutdown I can certainly discuss my own.”
On the phone though, the comedian speaks more in generalities when talking about how he derailed a career that had him playing sports arenas after his HBO special “The Pimp Chronicles, Pt. 1” blew up big in 2006.
“I’ve had no experience lifelong with losing in any form. And so there was a gaping hole of things that most people know because they lose from time to time,” he explains. Just as he watched the downfall of Tiger Woods, “it was like something came from virtually out of nowhere and beat the man that was unbeatable.”
But, he adds, “the measure of a man is how you respond after that.”
So, one thing that will change is his response to hecklers, which fueled the majority of his troubles on the road leading up to the Seattle arrests.
“I generally found that anytime I can’t figure something out, there’s a problem with me. Same with that situation,” he says. “It was just something I wasn’t really comfortable dealing with. I wasn’t aware of the fact that sometimes people that don’t like you pay to come see you. That was something I didn’t understand at all. I thought you only pay to see people that you like.”
But, he says now, there are other ways of dealing with it. “Part of your defense is knowing this is something people are doing on purpose. You can be so smart that you’re dumb sometimes,” he says.
“It was totally my fault. I took my hands off the wheel. I wasn’t as aware of the audience as I’ve always been. Totally on me. As soon as I got back on and fixed the problem and adjusted it we don’t have it anymore.”
At his low point last year, Williams announced he was retiring — that he’d had enough of everything — but quickly changed his mind. He credits those fans who stayed loyal for making it clear that “I was going to have to do whatever it took to get back.”
And, again in a vague way, he suggests he took steps to get his own house in order.
“If your job is predicated on happiness and you being happy and being able to deliver happy work and people are paying you for that, that’s when it becomes difficult,” he says. “At some point you’re either going to have to fake that everything is OK when it isn’t or you’re going to have to try to get everything as OK as you can.”
Will fans see a new side of Williams in his stage comedy?
“Yeah but not purposely,” he says. “If it’s purposely then it makes me sound like a genius who takes these situations and makes them into gold, and this was not one of those situations. I got broke in the process in a bunch of different ways. …
“Fortunately a lot of that was good for the things that weren’t that good about Katt Williams, and it ends up making a better product.”
This new, serene Williams says his past comic voice came from him being “in search of the answers to a lot of things. The voice has tilted now, because I found out a lot of those answers and so now my discussion is based on the fact that I know more.
“I was very vicious in most of my thought process before,” he adds. “That has tempered a bit because I had a chance to look at both sides of the equation now, whereas before I was pretty content to stay on one side.”
If this Katt Williams on the phone isn’t the one you see onstage, he says that reflects the larger issue of celebrities being unable to separate public and private life.
“In coming into the industry, my job — self-appointed — was to find out what was really going on, and why it seems as if more good people didn’t make it. So this is the appropriate place for me to be now, having been able to see how close to the edge they can actually push you, and for what reasons.”
Mike Weatherford is an entertainment writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org