Jacob Williams takes the stage for Tuesday’s ‘America’s Got Talent’ competition
By Natasha Wasinski September 4, 2012 12:00PM
Jacob WIlliams performs at Gorilla Tango Theater, 1919 N. Milwaukee, before heading to New York City to perform on "America's Got Talent."
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT
7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
The best way to describe Jacob Williams?
Picture Bill Gates doing stand-up.
“Just so you guys know, I don’t know how to fix your computers, I just look like I do,” Williams, 23, deadpanned at his “America’s Got Talent” audition earlier this year.
Acknowledging and denying his gawkiness on stage is a strategy that has so far worked for the rising comedian from Chicago.
Williams is one of 24 acts from across the country vying for a spot in the finals of NBC’s hit talent show. His Tuesday night performance will bring him one step closer to the $1-million grand prize.
“I’m very excited and I’m very terrified,” Williams said. “It’s live from now on so anything can happen.
“I’m hoping for the best.”
Williams’ unassumingly funny demeanor caught the show’s celebrity judges by surprise. Family and friends still cannot believe he’s on stage.
“This just blew all our minds,” said his grandmother Bernadine Williams. She thought her introverted grandson, who grew up in Louisville and went to college in Beloit, would take up writing as a career.
Seeing him perform in front of thousands of people, she said, “I can’t believe it’s Jacob.”
Sophia Cowan, an elementary school friend, said Williams was a quiet and shy kid with a quirky sense of humor.
She recalled once, after she inquired about his injured hand, he ad libbed an elaborate story about an alien abduction.
Comedy is a good fit for Williams, she said.
“He had a pretty incredible talent and ran with it,” Cowan said. “On stage, that’s his element.”
Williams’ parents, who are sometimes the butt of his innocuous one-liners, said their son always had a creative streak.
As a kid he drew joke books, loved magic, and began planning Halloween costumes and decorations in May. In grade school and high school he won awards for original stories and self-made movies.
“Even though he was quiet there was always a lot going on in his mind,” said mother Claire Williams.
Self-effacing yet over-the-top jokes about childhood on “America’s Got Talent” created instant likability with the audience, including the one about making his dad “disappear emotionally” when he took up magic as a kid.
In reality, Jim Williams is one proud father.
“He says he has the best job in the world,” he said. “As a parent that makes us really happy that he’s following his dreams. We’re all behind him and supporting him.”
To prepare for the contest’s semi-finals Jacob Williams left a job in real to estate to do as much stand up as possible.
He arrived a week early in Newark, from where “America’s Got Talent” is broadcast, to solicit gigs in New York City.
Over the summer he split his time performing between Chicago and Las Vegas, and in one week had 17 shows under his belt.
“Every night I’m finding somewhere to perform,” he said.
Stage time is critical for a budding comedian, said Bert Hass of Zanies Comedy Club, who was the first to book Williams when broke into the city’s comedy scene a few years ago.
“Stand up comedy isn’t one of those things you can write in your room for five years and spring on world,” he said. “You have to constantly test it out.”
Hass said Williams’ “skewed point of view” gives him an original voice.
Delivering jokes inconsistent with his appearance results in an amusing fallout and “what makes for a good comedian,” Haas said.
Natasha Wasinski is a local free-lance writer.