If you didn’t see him hone his chops at campus open mic nights or at the 2011 Baccalaureate, you may have caught him on last summer’s America’s Got Talent on NBC, or opening for any number of big-name comedians on cable specials. If you’ve been missing out, you can catch Jacob Williams’11 Friday night, when he brings his act back to Beloit for a 7 p.m. performance in Wilson Theatre. You can also check out some of his routine here.
Earlier this week, Williams’11 talked to the Terrarium about stage fright, motivation, and what it feels like to return to the place where he got his start.
Terrarium: What does it feel like to be coming back to campus to perform?
Jacob Williams: It is really exciting to be coming back to perform on campus because Beloit College is the first place where I ever tried stand-up. When I started doing comedy my freshman year at venues on campus like Java Joint, C-Haus, and Wilson Theater the audiences were very supportive, which really encouraged me to keep writing new jokes and getting onstage.
If I had started in another setting with less receptive crowds, I might not have had the stamina to keep doing stand-up in the early phases, which can be really hard. Since Beloit was so helpful in the beginning, I am grateful to be returning now that I have spent a couple years since graduation touring and turning stand-up into my full-time career.
T: In recent years, you've worked with some big names in comedy, appeared on television, won various comedy contests—what have been some of the more memorable moments/people, good or bad, that you've encountered in your comedy career thus far?
JW: One of the most memorable moments for me before starting comedy was seeing another student try stand-up on campus when we were both freshman. I am not sure if he kept doing it after that, but at the time it was a huge inspiration to me because before that I had mostly only seen comedians on television. Seeing someone my age just starting out telling jokes at an open mic was encouraging because it helped me realize that trying stand-up isn't an impossible task.
One of the most exciting experiences I had when I was still at Beloit College was winning a comedy contest to open up for Nick Cannon (pictured with Williams below) on his Showtime special in Las Vegas. Nick was very encouraging about my stand-up, which meant a lot to me. It was an honor to get to work with him again during my run on America's Got Talent, and later on his sketch/improv show Wild 'N Out, which will air on MTV this summer.
Another comedian who was very encouraging to me early on was Pete Holmes, who did a show at Beloit my freshman year at Wilson Theater, where I am performing this Friday. He was nice enough to answer all of the questions about stand-up that I had at the time and it is really cool now to see that he will soon be hosting his own talk show following Conan on TBS. I feel very lucky that I have gotten to meet so many other great people through comedy as well, but those are a couple of the ones that come to mind.
T: What advice would you give fellow Beloiters who want to do what you do—not just comedians, but anyone who wants to put him/herself out there and perform live
JW: If you are interested at all in trying stand-up, I highly recommend finding an open mic and telling yourself and other people that you are going to sign up and perform on the show. Before my first open mic at Beloit I was terrified and excited at the same time. I invited everyone I knew on campus to come and watch the show, which gave me motivation to prepare and want to do well. If my friends had not been there it might have been a little easier to get discouraged or bail out on performing altogether, but their presence helped make me feel accountable for my decision to try stand-up.
Almost every comedian who I talked to when I was starting out had very similar advice, which is to write and get onstage as much as possible. In my personal experience, writing and performing in front of people consistently is the only way to grow as a comedian.
There are a lot of great opportunities at Beloit to do stand-up, plays, sketch, improv, and your own kind of shows. If you are interested in trying stand-up, I definitely recommend doing it. I truly believe that if you work hard enough at it and keep getting onstage then good things will happen eventually.