Comedian Jessica Williams discusses intersection of diversity, comedy


Rachel Kupfer/The Daily Northwestern

Comedian Jessica Williams speaks at A&O Productions’ fall speaker event in Cahn Auditorium. Williams spoke about the importance of incorporating her identity into her comedy.

Alison Albelda, Reporter

Comedian Jessica Williams, former correspondent on “The Daily Show” and co-host of the podcast “2 Dope Queens,” discussed how her identity impacts her material at A&O Productions’ fall speaker event Sunday.

About 600 people gathered in Cahn Auditorium to attend the talk, sponsored by A&O, College Feminists, Multicultural Filmmakers Collective and One Book One Northwestern.

Williams, who was the first black woman and youngest correspondent at “The Daily Show” when she joined in 2012, said she has developed her comedy around her struggles with her identity and her successes as a black woman. She also said she tries to incorporate the experiences of the black and LGBTQ communities, as well as women into her material.

Her time at “The Daily Show” was formative for her career, Williams said.

“I sort of found my rhythm on the show,” Williams said. “(It was) the sheer force of being a black women who got to pretty much tell it like it f—ing is.”

A&O co-chair Louisa Wyatt told The Daily the group chose Williams because of its commitment to bringing women of color to speak at NU, adding that Williams is a “dynamic” comedian.

“We want to bring artists and speakers and comedians who are going to make people think as well as laugh,” the Medill senior said. “She was the logical, perfect choice.”

Williams discussed her hair as a part of her identity, and joked about having to explain how she does it to her white boyfriend, adding she appreciates when he gives compliments.

“It is the nicest thing you can say to a black woman: ‘Honey, your edges look really nice today,’” Williams said. “Edges are the little … baby hairs that white people don’t even think about.”

Williams said she “applauded” her own “hair journey” and those of the other black women in the audience.

Weinberg senior Daniella Lumpkin attended the talk and told The Daily that, as a black woman, she is inspired by Williams, calling her “cool and relatable.”

“We are kind of in a new age-y type of black renaissance in some ways,” Lumpkin said, referencing the entertainment industry. “I love seeing people like her, I love seeing … different comedians who are really just pushing their way, paving their way into the forefront of things.”

Williams concluded with guidance she received from Jon Stewart, who hosted “The Daily Show” when she joined as a correspondent. She said he encouraged her to write about what moved her, because that will help create “great comedy bits.”

She added that students could benefit from Stewart’s wisdom as well.

“Just know that you are valid,” Williams said. “My advice to you as a comedy-actor-writer-person is that the truth resonates with people … … other people are hurting too and they can be blessed by hearing from you.”

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