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Word from the street

Katt Williams shines a humorous light on pimp culture, and fans aren't taking offense.

June 25, 2008|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Katt Williams takes exception to the mournful lament from a recent Oscar-winning song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The self-proclaimed "pimp" comedian would likely substitute the word "hilarious" for "hard."

Employing a furious high-pitched delivery filled with relentless use of the N-word and paint-peeling profanity that black leaders have targeted as offensive and degrading to women, Williams has taken the image of the exploitative street thug pimp and twisted it into a good-natured formula that has made him one of the hottest stand-ups on the comedy scene.

With his short stature, permed hair and outrageous outfits that mix full-length fur coats with blue jeans and tennis shoes, Williams is focused on bringing edgy chuckles to his hustle & flow.

"I'm ghetto, but I'm book savvy, and my audience knows I'm living in the exact same world they're living in," Williams said at home recently during a short break from his "It's Pimpin' Pimpin' " tour that hits the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal City for three consecutive nights starting Thursday.

"What the audience sees in me is how passionate I am about my subjects, and they see that I'm living in this crazy world too, and I'm helpless just like they are, battling high gas prices and haters," he said. "I'm in the canoe getting knocked around right along with them."

An accomplished lineage

It's an approach that has scored praise from critics and comic experts who say Williams is an heir apparent to Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. His 2007 HBO special, "The Pimp Chronicles Pt. 1," was one of the cable network's highest-rated specials last year, and he has scored roles in "Norbit," "First Sunday," "Friday After Next" and other comedies. He is one of the only current comics on a major tour to score a spot in the top 20 touring acts compiled by industry trade Pollstar, joining Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy.

While Williams tackles the familiar subjects of politics, sex, cultural differences and recreational drug use, he also provides humorous commentaries about the contradictions in so-called gangsta lifestyles ("How can brothers be so hard first thing in the morning?") and the hypocrisy in the Hollywood circles he circulates. Much of his comedy would not be appropriate for a family newspaper, but its foundation, he said, is the inspirational message that people should overcome adversity and enjoy life.

"Everything about me is an underdog. I'm the short guy who couldn't make it. That's why I tell my audience about how they should handle the haters. We can't let the haters win. And we can all laugh about it."

But what adds a particular rawness to Williams' message is his "pimp" persona and his frequent use of the degrading N-word and "bitch," often combining the two. Black leaders who have tried to remove the words from the hip-hop culture have not openly criticized Williams, and he says those who take offense do not get the joke.

"I take all the connotations of the world's oldest profession and pimping -- the outlandish dress, the perks, the nice car -- and I turn it into a positive with my comedy," he said.

It's all just for laughs

He maintains he uses the derogatory word toward women as a slang term to get laughs more than as a moniker that degrades them. "This is no knock against women. There is not a guy living who appreciates women more than I do. My audience is very keen on my intention in using that word. They know I have only the best intentions."

And indeed, women have dotted his audiences and seem to be enjoying the show.

He grew quieter when talking about the N-word. Said Williams, "I understand what a terrible word it can be, and I don't disagree with those people who have a problem with it. But I know there is a clear difference between [the N-word] and an African American. I use it in a conversational way. My fans understand the way I use it."

Sharing the success

Laugh Factory founder Jamie Masada called Williams "a perfectionist who has worked very hard. He's also one of the most generous people I know. He never forgets his roots or where he came come. He's extremely devoted to his craft."

At a February appearance at the club, Williams scored extra points with the audience when he pulled out a briefcase and handed out $100 bills, giving away $29,000. "It was one of the most incredible things that's ever happened at the club," Masada said.

The dates at the Gibson mark a personal milestone for Williams, who less than 10 years ago was playing comedy clubs and the Hollywood Park Casino.

"If we had 100 people at the casino packed wall to wall, it was a good night," he said. "Playing the Gibson is the most special thing I've ever


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