Justin Williams is the lifelong new kid.
By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT
The Kansas City Star
He grew up with divorced parents, bouncing back and forth between new schools and neighborhoods in Kansas City and Lees Summit. Laughter was his ice breaker.
Class clown, he says. It was an easy way to make friends. I used to get in trouble for talking in class, but people like to laugh.
Those jokes led to a comedy career, and on Saturday hell record his first album, Justin Williams: Kansas City Masterpiece, at the RecordBar.
As a teen, he lived across the street from Southeast High School in Kansas City but attended Lees Summit North. He never felt he had one place where he belonged. He found a comfort zone in comedy.
Its an important experience, he says. I come from a family of funny women; my aunts are hilarious. And I observe everyone and get a sense of what makes people tick. I can understand someone who lives in Raymore the same way I understand someone on 39th and Prospect.
His inspirations arent new-school comics like Kevin Hart. He studies Richard Pryor and George Carlin, smart comedians unafraid to be social critics. But as much as he loves comedy, he also has a passion for history.
Almost a decade ago, Justin left Kansas City to pursue a doctoral degree in African history at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. Not only was he the new kid, in a new state, on the coast, he eventually went on to become the new teacher and a new comedian. A few years ago, Justin took part in an open mic night and got a lot of laughs. So when the 30-year-old isnt teaching history at the City College of New York, hes on stage.
He doesnt plan to give up one career for the other, yet. The two jobs, he says, arent so different.
Its great that I get to do both. I spend a lot of time talking about things that matter, things that are meaningful and working to keep the attention of the crowd, he says. When comedy comes up with a health plan, maybe my answer will be different.
Still, hes enjoying success in the underground New York comedy circuit. He hosts open-mic nights, earned a spot as one of Elite Dailys Comics to Watch and screened his stand-up film, Justin Williams: Black and Comfortably Middle Class, at the 2013 Friars Club Comedy Film Festival.
But this weekend, Justin is getting back to his Kansas City roots.
Home is where the heart is: KC, baby, he says. I come back two or three times a year. I have a lot of big supporters here, and Westport is a great place to do a show.
He says fans can expect him not to shy away from the hard topics the government shutdown, Trayvon Martin, voting rights he speaks his mind.
I talk about the things people dont like to talk about in public, like politics. We have to talk about it, he says. Politics are crazy because we never talk about it.
Justins KC favorites
Where to eat: Gates. The presidential platter, come on, every time. Barbecue sucks in New York. Bad.
Where to drink: Harrys Bar & Tables. The bar scene in Kansas City is changing, and I look forward to trying Manifesto, but I really like Harrys. I like to order a scotch.
Where to go: the Nelson-Atkin Museum of Art. I would pick it over the Philadelphia Museum of Art easily. I go to the art museum in every city I visit, and the Nelson is world-class.