By Ryan Meehan
Allen Strickland Williams was born in Texas, grew up in Florida and went to college in New York. Now he lives in Los Angeles writing and telling one-liners. He’s performed on CONAN, at the Hollywood Improv, The Comedy Store, Denver’s Comedy Works and The Punchline in San Francisco. Allen has been featured on the Holy Fuck. live comedy album, which you should buy because it’s great. He’s traveled to perform at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Comedy Carnivale in Salt Lake City and Hell Yes Fest! in New Orleans, as well as been a part of the RIOT Festival right here in Los Angeles. Williams is one-fourth of the sketch group WOMEN, which has been featured on Tosh.0 and at the top of L.A. Weekly’s 10 L.A. Comedy Acts to Watch in 2014. We are delighted to have Allen Strickland Williams as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Why did you choose to use your full name as the one everybody in the industry would come to know you by? Did it have anything to do with the fact that “Allen Williams” sounded too plain and Strickland adds more of a recognizable element to the name on the bill?
ASW: Well, you only get one name, ya know? I figure you gotta use it all up before you die so you didn’t waste it. In some ways the name is a problem. It’s long for marquees and posters and I’m sure it can be annoying when making graphics for a show. But it’s my name. I am Allen Strickland Williams. That’s who I am.
RM: When you were first getting into stand-up, what were some of the things that you saw other comics do that you specifically wanted to avoid doing in your own act?
ASW: When I first started I was just trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. I think it’s natural to compare yourself to others at times, but for the most part it’s better to just focus on your own thing. The truth of the matter is there are a million ways to make someone laugh. Comedy is subjective and that is what makes it so magical and special. Even though there are types of jokes or performance choices I would never want to do, that doesn’t mean someone out there may not enjoy it. So I try to keep that in mind when my mind starts going down that road.
RM: You seem to be a pretty active Twitter user…Do you use the amount of retweets and favorites that you get to gauge which jokes are going to hit really well live; or do you keep the humor you write online separate from the material that eventually makes it to the stage?
ASW: The medium of Twitter is so different than that of the stage. Even though I tell short jokes, you can’t really use Twitter as a great model for what will succeed in stand-up. I think some things are just funnier if you read them and some things are funnier if you hear them. Sometimes a joke is truly golden and can do both, but that’s rare. I really try to use Twitter just as an ongoing notebook for jokes. I am way looser on Twitter than I am with what I’ll do on stage. But at some level pretty much all of my jokes started out as tweets. I usually cull through my timeline before open mics and decide if I want to say any of them out loud. At this point I kind of go with my gut over the response a joke gets online, but the numbers are there and you can’t ignore them.
RM: Your most recent appearance on Conan was great, and it was shared on social networking websites by a lot of great comedians…What was the most surreal part of that whole experience for you; and what was the greatest compliment you have received since that appearance?
ASW: First, thanks for saying that. The positive response from my friends, family and the comedy scene has been truly powerful. That’s probably the best thing that came out of the whole experience. I felt a lot of love in a very pure way. That was powerful. As far as compliments, the best one probably came from Conan. He told me he thought I was smart and funny and that I was “bulletproof.” Simply talking to Conan was the most surreal moment. That and realizing, “OK. When these two teamsters open that curtain I’m going to be on TV.” The whole thing was surreal from start to finish, to be honest. Even when I think back in my own mind about it, it seems like it’s a dream I had or something I saw in a movie.
RM: What do we need to know about “WOMEN” that sets it apart from other sketch comedy groups; and what aspects of that medium do you enjoy more than doing stand-up?
ASW: We make really short, dark, absurd videos. We joke about death and suicide. Pretty much all of our videos have at least one sociopath in them. It’s hard and not for everybody, but if you are into harsh humor then we are the group for you. We’re almost like a nihilist sketch group or something. I love talking about my dumb sketch group with such intense terms. We have a lot of fun and want you to have fun, too. Simply working with other funny people is the best part about WOMEN. And being able to make something and then say put it online. It’s like, “That’s done. I did that.” You don’t get that too often in stand-up. It’s like an ongoing thing you’re always perfecting.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process do you find you struggle the most with and why? How has your approach to that portion of joke construction changed since you first began performing?
ASW: Editing or revising jokes is the hardest part for me. A lot of my jokes just sort of come out in their final form. I’m not trying to brag or anything here, I think it’s just the way my brain works. A joke will pop into my head and I write it down and usually it either works or it doesn’t. Very rarely will a change in words make it better. I basically don’t revise jokes, and maybe I should, because I’m lazy and would rather just write a new joke. That’s probably stupid because some of my jokes may have more life in them than I thought. Now I feel bad. Like I let some of my jokes needlessly die. There’s blood on my hands…
RM: If you could go back in time and re-do one moment in your life, what would it be and why? How often do you think about that moment; and if this were a face-to-face interview would you want to hit me over the head with a cinder block for asking that question?
ASW: I’d go back to my birth and make a bigger entrance. That, or revisit high school and just be nicer. I was a real miserable ass back in my younger days and treated very good people very badly. If I could take all that back I would in an instant.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
ASW: First, more videos and longer projects from WOMEN. As for me, I’m just trying to keep writing and performing. I want to really focus on perfecting a thirty-minute set. It took me about five years to get five minutes down. So come 2040 I should be ready to do a half hour on Comedy Central.
Official Website: http://www.allenstricklandwilliams.com/
Allen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/…/Allen-Strickland-Williams/56137347420
Allen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/totallyallen
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