Hit the Heights
Brad Williams will beat you to the punch (line) with jokes about being a dwarf, and his will be funny
Once, about six years ago at a comedy club called Joey's in Livonia, Mich., a westside suburb of Detroit, a fiery group of about two dozen little people gathered to protest the performance of Brad Williams, a comedian who stands about 4 feet 4 inches.
The herd was upset about a word Williams had been using: "midget," a word that the comedian, 30, believes to hold false rank amongst many in his community of dwarfs as a slur on par with racially charged epithets like the N-word. Williams, who says the army had aligned with "picket signs that, on first appearance, looked like three-by-five cards," responded to their calls with a casual "Midget, please."
"I don't know if you can call it a protest if at any point a Mini Coop can drive up and block the entire protest from happening," he says, showcasing just about everything you need to know about the way Williams treats his dwarfism. "I have something that I need to address very quickly when I go onstage. It's something I've had to address my whole life."
Williams literally owes his career to dwarfism. Growing up in Orange County, Calif., he'd use his sense of humor as a defense mechanism against his father, who'd throw bite-sized jabs at his son to prepare him for the prejudices he'd face as he got older. Years later, at a Carlos Mencia stand-up show, an ill-fated joke about little people drew stunned silence among the people seated around Williams. Mencia called the then-unknown comedian onto the stage, where Williams proceeded to proverbially kill it.
"It's fun to see changes in the audience," he says now, after a three-year stint on Mencia's Comedy Central series. "Sometimes they can be dramatic to the point where I've had people come to my shows with achondroplasiaphobia, which is a fear of little people. Their friends are playing a joke on them. They don't tell them I'm a dwarf. Then I walk onstage and they're freaking the fuck out. That's happened multiple times, because my fans are awesome. In all cases, that person is now comfortable with me. They talk to me, give me a hug after the show. It's that lack of exposure that allows that fear to develop."
As such, Williams' show has developed from strictly shout-enabled comedy into an unconventional form of education, with Williams and his short stature serving as both talking point and teacher.
"We're generally presented in two ways," he explains. "Dwarves are either fantastical, like elves or leprechauns, or we're the über-PC character that stresses how we as a society can barely talk about the condition: the reality shows like [The Learning Channel's] The Little Couple. Are they dwarves? Absolutely, but they're not joking about their condition. They're not making light. I'm sort of this half-medium for this audience. Yeah, there's this different thing out there. Our lives might be very different, but I can present one in a humorous fashion for you."
There's one avenue, however, in which Williams' height is not a factor. Since June 2012, one year after the release of his first comedy album, Coming Up Short, which he recorded at Austin's own Cap City Comedy Club, Williams and his buddy Adam Ray have run About Last Night ..., a weekly podcast that finds the two L.A. comedians dropping into the living rooms of comedians like Bob Saget, Kevin Nealon, and Neal Brennan, and swapping stories for an hour.
"It's become a standard thing," he says of the medium. "It used to be that you just had to be funny. Now you have to be funny, and funny on Twitter, Instagram, Vine. You have to have your own podcast. There's all these things that you have to do in addition to being funny."
The exercise for Williams through the 22 months online has been to create comedy without making any short jokes. Podcasts are an audio medium, and he doesn't sound shorter than any other adult.
"Maybe a one-liner or two, if something has a double entendre in it," he says. "But mostly I don't talk about it, because it's not really an issue at that point."
Brad Williams appears at Moontower April 23-26: Wednesday, April 23, 9:15pm, at the Parish, 214 E. Sixth; Thursday, April 24, 8pm, at Speakeasy, 412 Congress; Friday, April 25, 10pm, at the Velv Comedy Lounge, 521 E. Sixth; and Saturday, April 26, 9:15pm, at the Parish. For more info, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.