Brad Williams: Rising "Starfish"
Written by Eric Mitts. Photo: Brad Williams.


Right at the top of his latest hour-long comedy special, Starfish—now streaming on the Live Nation streaming service Veeps—standup comic Brad Williams comes after Michigan for using our hands to describe where we’re from in the state.

It’s a playful dig, as he calls out our rival neighbors to the south in Ohio, and several other states for having their odd things, and it works as an icebreaker that warms the crowd up for his sometimes confrontational, sometimes controversial style that follows.

With the first of his two shows at GLC Live at 20 Monroe in Grand Rapids on April 11 already sold out, Michigan has become a great destination for Williams over the years, but he said looking back to his early days, it wasn’t always that way.

I did a show maybe like 15 years ago in Livonia, Michigan, and I was protested outside of the comedy club,” Williams said. “And I was protested by a lot of little people that were telling people not to come see my show.”

Having dwarfism himself, Williams was surprised by these particular protesters.  

“A bunch of little people were out front with picket signs, well, I mean, they weren’t picket signs; they were three by five cards,” he joked. “But they were out there just telling people, don’t go see the show because they knew that I said the word midget onstage. And they thought I was exploiting myself.”

So he invited them in, and the few who took him up on it saw how authentic and honest he was about his life experience in his act.

“They were like, ‘Oh, that’s what you do,’” Williams said. “‘We didn’t get it. Like, we thought that you just walked up on stage and said, midget, and asked the audience to toss you, and stuff like that.’ And I was like, no, not at all.”

Now that he’s three comedy specials in, that type of misunderstanding doesn’t happen very often anymore, but Williams added that he remains a big fan of people evolving and acknowledging when they’ve been mistaken, including himself.

Williams started out in comedy 23 years ago, working with Carlos Mencia as his opening act, and appearing on his Comedy Central show “Mind of Mencia.”

Williams released his first hour-long special Brad Williams: Fun Size in 2015, which was the highest-rated special on Showtime. His second special, Brad Williams: Daddy Issues, came out in 2016 also on Showtime. His appearances on Netflix’s “The Degenerates” and Comedy Central’s “This Is Not Happening” have also gone viral, gaining millions of viewers and rave reviews.

Joking that he’s “pound for pound” one of the best comedians around, and having been called “Prozac with a head,” by the late Robin Williams – no relation – Brad Williams doesn’t sit down and write jokes just to educate people about his experience with dwarfism. It’s just a byproduct of writing honestly and proving others’ preconceived notions to be wrong.

“Lord knows I’ve had misconceptions in my life about certain people before I meet them,” Williams said. “And then I meet them and I go, ‘Oh, I was wrong. I was completely wrong, like, way wrong.‘ So, I think that’s a wonderful thing. And I think that’s why it’s good to expose yourself to art and comedy and all these different things and political views that aren’t necessarily your opinion, or they’re not in your bubble. They’re not in your safe zone. Because, if you expose yourself to outside perspectives, outside lifestyles, a lot of those preconceived notions can go away.”

Williams added that unlike many of his fellow standup comedian compatriots, he doesn’t believe that cancel culture exists.

“There are some people out there on the fringes of both the right and left that are actually upset, but the vast majority of people get it,” Williams said. “They know what we’re doing. And you have to remember, Twitter is not a real place. If you look at the comedians that have been quote unquote canceled, Dave Chappelle has been canceled. He plays stadiums. Shane Gillis has been canceled. He just hosted ‘SNL.’ He has a new show coming out on Netflix. If that’s what it means to be canceled, sign me up.”

Williams said that this far into his career he still wants to challenge himself. So not only is he playing bigger venues than he ever has before on his current tour, he recently became the first comedian to headline and sell out the Cirque du Soleil show “Mad Apple” at the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, and also later join pro wrestler Chris Jericho for his Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea cruise.

“It was scary, but it was a lot of fun,” Williams said about those experiences. “And then once you do something, I like to not get so complacent where it's just, ‘Well, here I go. I’m going up on stage. I’m gonna do the same act I’ve been doing for 10 years. Like, no, I want to change it up. I want to do things that scare me, and I want to do things that haven’t been done before. And, I think if people respect those risk takers, and at least the fans that I’ve gained now from Cirque du Soleil, from the world of wrestling, I think they really respect the fact that I’m out there trying new things, and taking chances.

”Standup comedy is all about taking chances. It’s about walking that line. And, thankfully, we’re living in a golden age of standup where a lot of really talented people are doing that.”

Brad Williams: Tour ‘24

GLC Live at 20 Monroe, 11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

April 11, 2 shows, 5:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m., $29.50+,