Life wasn’t always funny for Patricia Williams. Before taking her comedy tour across North America, she was incarcerated for selling drugs. Following her release in the early ’90s, she encountered difficulty in finding a job. Her 20-page criminal record didn’t help her in even finding odd jobs here and there. When her caseworker recommended stand-up comedy, her life shifted. She became a comedian under her new moniker, “Ms. Pat.”
Williams will bring her quick-witted and unadulterated brand of humor to Dead Crow Comedy on Feb. 16 and 17, for two shows each night (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.). Born to a single mother of five children in 1972, Williams’ childhood contained abuse from both her mother and men who would frequent her Atlanta home. “It brings a chill to my bones thinking about how I was raised,” Williams explains.
The few moments where young Williams felt loved were in her grandfather’s care. Together they bonded over NWA (National Wresting Alliance) and he would cook her breakfast every morning (a luxury she did not experience at home). Unfortunately, such small positive moments were not to last; Williams’ grandfather eventually found himself in jail for shooting a woman.
By age 15, Williams already had dropped out of high school and had two children with a man six years her senior. Her partner (referred to as “Derrick” in her autobiography) physically abused Williams until they broke up in 1993. He also taught her how to sell drugs under her pseudonym “Rabbit,” which landed Williams in jail at 18 years old.
“Being a teenage mom, it made me grow the fuck up,” Williams recalls. “It also made me take a look at my life to see what I was handed and what I was about to hand my kids.”
Williams ceased selling drugs following her stint in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail and decided to get a better job for her children’s sake. With help from her new husband, Garrett Lee, Williams earned her GED in 1997 and completed coursework to become a medical assistant. She had a job lined up at a local doctor’s office, but the offer fell through. Most employers didn’t want to hire a convicted felon. Undeterred, Williams recounted the experience to her caseworker—who, apparently, couldn’t stop laughing at her storytelling.
“She kept telling me I was funny and I should try stand-up,” Williams remembers. “I just wanted to make $500 a week, so my husband would shut the hell up about me getting a job.”
Williams killed her first open-mic performance. The audience loved her brutal honesty, and so did the comedy club managers. She started booking gigs immediately.
“I didn’t think I was good at it, at first, but I knew I could do it,” Williams says. Following her first performance, she studied stand-up comedians like Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. She wanted to become a better storyteller. “It’s always a challenge introducing new bits,” Williams clarifies. “The more you work on them, though, the better they get.”
Retelling stories is therapeutic for her. Williams often uses her tragic past to make people laugh—like when a man ran her over with a dump truck. Other stories are just flat-out fantastic encounters, like when she didn’t recognize former President Jimmy Carter in a local McDonald’s.
“I knew his face, but I didn’t know his name,” she explains. “So I asked him, ‘Where the fuck I know you from?’”
The ability to make jokes about her negative memories has helped Williams heal from the pain of her past. She says she can now forgive people who have wronged her and actually laugh about it.
In fact, comedy has helped Williams achieve more than she once thought possible. In August 2017 she released her memoir, “Rabbit.” Williams’ book provides an in-depth view of her life, whereas her stand-up only scratches the surface.
“Everyday I get inboxes from people telling me, ‘Thank you for writing your story,’” she emphasizes. “You always hear the story of the young, black man out of the ghetto, but rarely do you hear the story of a young, black girl out of the ghetto. For some reason, they think we don’t have voices.”
Williams has made appearances on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” Her greatest accomplishment of all, though, has been watching her daughter graduate from high school.
“She was the first one to graduate in three generations,” Williams notes, “and I couldn’t stop crying. She kept asking, ‘Why are you embarrassing me?’ and I don’t think it dawned on her I never got the opportunity to have that moment.”
Family is important in Williams’ life. After having her first two children, Williams had two more with Lee. Williams then took full custody of her niece’s four kids when she disappeared from their lives.
“My focus in life has been to break the cycle [of alcoholism and drugs in] my family,” Williams asserts. “I didn’t want my kids to fall into what I fell into.”
Even as a young child, Williams dreamt of one day becoming a caseworker like the ones who would visit her home, so she could help other children. Today, though, she helps by opening her audience’s eyes to issues they might dismiss otherwise.
“If it’s not at their doorstep,” Williams argues, “people want to act like it doesn’t exist. A lot of people don’t think people like me exist. So I talk about being an inner-city child, I talk about being a child who was on free lunch and being a child of struggle. I want people to realize not everyone in this country started with the same foundation.”
One of Williams’ goals when performing is to give an idea about how people can help others. She hopes her audience is inspired to help just one person because it still makes a difference.
“I’m learning I’m more than just a comedian,” Williams mentions. “My godmother told me when I started comedy, ‘God told me you’re going to start out like this, but this is not how you’re going to end up.’ And I told her to go tell God, ‘I ain’t going to be no black pastor.’ I don’t want to preach. I just want to make people laugh and open people’s minds with laughter.”
Feb. 16-17, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Dead Crow Comedy
265 N. Front St.
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