Katt Williams on Racism and the Roast. Shades of Chappelle?

Filed Under Sketch Comedy, Stand-Up Comedy

When I first saw the Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav, Katt Williams impressed me in how he handled a barb targeted at him, often responding with what I read as the response of a comedy nerd – an appreciative nod.

After seeing the video below, I wonder if I misread him. He might have just been stewing and containing himself. Katt Williams, though very funny here, describes his disappointment that the Flavor Flav Roast was the “crispity crackity coon hour.”

His specific problem seems to be that much of the jokes were about Flav being black (whereas there with no jokes about William Shatner or Pamela Anderson being white). He specifically takes issue with a line Comedy Central wrote for him (which despite his dislike for, he still ended up delivering.)

It’s amazing, because I actually forgot the “flying monkey” line and thought it must have been cut from the Roast. It sounds so incendiary here. But I found the Roast open and the flying monkeys comment is at 7:10.

I’m more than a little surprised that I haven’t heard about this earlier, considering Katt’s been doing this routine since at least March. And without much notice (at least none that I can find), which is odd for a society that loves racial controversy. The Friar’s had there own bump with charges of racism during their roast of Whoopi Goldberg when her then boyfriend Ted Danson came out and roasted her in blackface. That was a huge media storm. Why isn’t the host disavowing his own involvement not one?

And stranger still, Katt Williams is reportedly close to a deal with Comedy Central, which would include a new special and perhaps a sketch comedy series, a show mentioned as a true replacement for “Chappelle’s Show.” It’s not something you’d think Williams would consider after a negative experience - an experience he’s still mining for material this past weekend.

But Williams’ final insight into Flavor Flav’s reaction to the Roast makes this deal a little more clear. If they’re going to believe these things anyway, you might as well take them for “everything”, a word that implies not just money but all the trappings around it, including power. A marked difference from Dave Chappelle.

Something that probably made Chappelle unable to see it that way was the fact that his audience, while big before, definitely broadened among white people while on the network. At that point, from how Chappelle described it, he had the ear the country for a time, and he felt some responsibility for what he was going to put into it. No amount of money was going to be worth it if it wasn’t right. If a deal is made and Katt’s show is an equal success, who’s to say he wouldn’t feel the same?

What do you think? Is Katt on target here or is he being oversensitive about the Roast? Do you see echos of Chappelle’s own discomforts with Comedy Central here?

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Posted by Rebecca on 07/09  at  12:24 PM

Fascinating—I hadn’t seen Katt’s material on the roast. FWIW, I think his observation about taking them for everything was really only specific to Flav—who, most certainly, was going to be made fun of anyway.  Look at it this way: it’s true that Shatner and Anderson weren’t made fun of because they were white—but they were called stupid, slutty, cheap and untalented - and they were obviously fine with it.  Probably for the same reasons that Flav was. It’s all part of the game.

The most interesting bit, I think, will be to see what Williams decides to do with a Comedy Central show if/when he gets it.  Then he’ll have a better chance to express what he really believes. Hopefully.

Posted by JackSzwergold on 07/10  at  01:59 AM

Katt Williams is right. But what makes the roast different from Dave Chappelle was that Flavor Flav’s whole career is basically based on abusing a broad race stereotype.  In Public Enemy he was a wry contrast to Chuck D’s stoic “I’m not a clown” stance.  Flavor Flav was the clown.  And the roast is more of the same.

In Dave Chappelle’s case he is an intelligent comedian, BUT when his audience went broader his “ironic” takes on race were no longer seen as ironic to some.  And that’s scary because what that says is no matter how smart he is, the race jokes will still be what he’s mainly known for in the long run if he keeps it up.

And roasts are broad and abusive and based on the person’s persona/character.  So the only way that a roast of Flavor Flav would have not been racist or at least make it uncomfortable to be racist is if Flavor Flav refused to the roast or showed up in a non-Flavor Flav persona.  But then again, does William Jonathan Drayton Jr. even exist anymore?

Posted by Lady Di on 07/10  at  06:56 AM

I saw the Flav roast many months after it originally aired because I just can’t stand watching him anymore. I understand his placement in rap history but I was never into rap, so there you have it. While watching Katt deliver his lines, I sensed something was wrong because he didn’t seem IN to the show as I had expected. To later on find out (via YouTube and seeing him live in DC recently) why, I said the same thing when seeing that he was doing something with Comedy Central… again. WTH is up with that??

I stumbled on Katt in November ‘07 for the first time ever (no I’m not that much of a Friday’s person… no sorry) while watching his Live routine done in Ohio. I’ve been an avid supporter since and have amassed heaps of video footage just for the humor hell of it. The man is just wicked in his perception of… mere life. His last Howard Stern visit made me realize this man has a tongue that slices so deep, that he even made Howard stumble on his own words. You’d have to hear to for yourself but Katt messed Stern up and it was visible which is not an easy feat. I loved Katt even more after words because the sheer intelligence this man is… mind blowing.

So… I asked after the roast and Katt’s comments in regards… is the money made from such foolishness really enough compensation to be degraded, disrespected… still in 2008? I’m sure if the shoes were on my feet, it’d be a difficult decision given my current status but still… I don’t know. It’s a hard pill to swallow if you ask me. When time goes on and you look back at things done in your life, monetary gains and all, will it all have relevance to anything would be my concern. How much did I sacrifice as a person of color in the long wrong? Will it all be worth it and did it make a change for the good of people of beautiful GOD given color? 

Flav probably didn’t and still doesn’t give a rats tail because he was getting attention and for him, any at all is good considering where he’s dropped from after his shows FOL plus that other flop as of late.  He’ll go back to be relevant for the many children he’s had a hand in producing just like he was prior to the show. Everything will still be purpley… per usual.

As for Katt and this newest approach at CC, “I’ll wait”.

Posted by Lady Di on 07/10  at  09:01 AM

This was is a lil bit longer so that you get the entire ending but more of the joke. I didn’t get to see this at my show but this was the best put up so far. Despite the bad video, the audio is still ok:


Posted by Rebecca on 07/10  at  01:45 PM

Right again, Todd.  There’s no way to really compare Flav with Chapelle because William Jonathan Drayton Jr wasn’t using his character to create social commentary.  It’s not surprising to me that someone as intelligent and sensitive as Chapelle might wake up one day and say “Wait—what if someone took “The Nigger Family” sketch at face value?” It was a brilliant piece that he was right to be very proud of—but that still had to be a terrifying prospect. 

I don’t think Flav is staying up night worried about such things.  And is it Williams’ place to worry about it for him?  Probably not. Flav is the past—I don’t think his behavior will influence future racial imagery in this country.  Williams himself, though, definitely has a future. (I hope!) So—if he claims to be so deeply concerned about these issues—and I suspect that he sincerely is—then he had it right in this piece: he should be angry with himself for agreeing to read it in the first place. 

I don’t judge him negatively for it; but I’m certainly very curious to see what type of choices he makes in the future.

Posted by Andrew Dupont on 07/10  at  09:24 PM

He’s being hypersensitive about the roast for two reasons.

First, as others have said: it’s a roast. It’s *meant* to be tasteless. Shatner didn’t get jokes about his whiteness because it’s not the least bit distasteful to make fun of white people for being white. (Never mind whether it should or shouldn’t be… it simply isn’t in today’s world.) It surprises me that this didn’t occur to Katt.

Second: it’s *Flavor Flav*, for fuck’s sake. To paraphrase _30 Rock_, were they going to talk about his _astounding medical breakthroughs_? Katt’s complaint about the glut of “crispy coon” jokes should be directed at whichever putz got the bright idea to dedicate 90 minutes of programming to a reality-show ham.

And as an aside: he suggests that the whites didn’t need to rehearse because they were “professionals,” but all the white people on that dais actually _were_ professional comics, and all the black people were non-comedians who presumably had all their material written for them. Katt’s the one exception, but then he was the host, wasn’t he?

(Let me further say that if you can’t write your own material you shouldn’t be roasting anyone. It’s painful to watch Bridgitte Nielsen squint her way through a teleprompter recitation of jokes she doesn’t even get.)

Posted by Chase Roper on 07/11  at  01:46 AM

I just want to give a big SECOND notion Andrew’s comment. Spot on!

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 07/11  at  05:30 AM

Andrew - Your points about it being a Roast have a lot of validity. Somewhat intrinsically, nothing should be off the table for a Roast. But, I think when they’re conducted by the Friars or another organization that has that standard - that common understanding of what a Roast is - there’s little reason to get offended. I think these issues get a bit more complicated when you put them in front of the general public. Not necessarily will everyone be on the same page, even if they are comedians. (The problem with the Friars at the Whoopi Goldberg roast happened in a year with an influx of new members - specifically Montel Williams. Maybe just don’t invite Williams?)

Your aside about the white rehearsers/black rehearsers is a bit more complicated. Sommore is a professional stand-up and black. She was there. Bridgitte Nielsen is not a stand-up and white, and according to Katt, she wasn’t there. If this is a true detail, the lack of whites at a rehearsal could be a bit more questionable.

The sad thing is that what may be an unintentional slight casts other things in a bad light. After all, as Williams describes it, the rehearsal with only black comics is the thing that really got his N-word Spider Sense working.

Katt may well be being oversensitive, but I don’t think it’s entirely open and shut. I’m sure some of the other comics who performed have some perspectives on the night that could provide a bit more clarity.

Posted by Andrew Dupont on 07/11  at  11:45 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, Todd. To respond:

First, I agree that roasts are trickier to pull off in front of the general public than in front of a comedy audience that knows what to expect. But Katt is a professional comedian, so unless he’s getting offended on behalf of _others_, I don’t understand where he’s coming from.

I take your point that he may be unfamiliar with the roast format, even though he’s a professional comedian. But if that’s the case then we agree that he’s overreacting.

Now, about the white/black rehearsers: I assume Katt was drawing a generalization when he said the black people were made to rehearse and the white people were not. If he actually said that Bridgitte, for example, didn’t have to rehearse, then that’d be another thing entirely. The real division seems to be *those who wrote their own material* (and presumably had rehearsed it themselves) versus *those who had material written for them* (and were therefore reading it for the first time).

Look at it this way: all the “professionals” had been a part of previous roasts. Sommore and Katt are comedians, but hadn’t done a roast before, so perhaps that’s why they had to rehearse, and why Katt had material written for him (I don’t know if Sommore wrote her own stuff or not).

Anyway, I agree that we could use another account of what happened. Get on the phones, Todd! Flex your journalistic muscles!

Posted by Lady Di on 07/12  at  01:24 AM

I’ll be very curious to see how the next person of beautiful color is treated. I watched it and felt similar to Katt, from my couch.

Posted by KK on 11/24  at  04:06 AM

I saw the Flav roast many months after it originally aired because I just can’t stand watching him anymore. I understand his placement in rap history but I was never into rap, so there you have it. While watching Katt deliver his lines, I sensed something was wrong because he didn’t seem IN to the show as I had expected. To later on find out (via YouTube and seeing him live in DC recently) why, I said the same thing when seeing that he was doing something with Comedy Central

Posted by ted on 02/01  at  12:40 AM

Kat Williams needs to STFU about racist jokes when he constantly does bits poking fun at white people. Come on Kat stop with the double standard sh** or stfu about racism.

Posted by Bigguy1994 on 05/27  at  11:32 PM

If this wasn’t a roast, yes. be offended. you have every right. but I’m sick of this standard that only white people have the capability of being racist, whereas African Americans do not. if you watch his show, or even other various African American comics, time and time again they ridicule white people for their stereotypes. If we are not allowed to poke fun at a man who, WILLINGLY, offered to be a part of a comedic event where he was informed beforehand of the events that he would partake in, something is wrong there. Flav volunteered to be apart of this event, and clearly one would be aware that one’s color would come into play, especially in Flav’s place. As said above, the whole point of a roast is to poke fun at some racy aspects of the person, and obviously if you are African American you would be more subjugated to such comments.

Posted by Koko on 08/30  at  10:42 AM

Well, yeah, Katt is right to be offended because HE was treated differently!  He is a professional comedian so he should have been invited to write the script with all the white comedians.  It is also true that they are very mean, but they get it as much as they dish it out.  And, the jokes about Flavor Flav were right on target regarding his show, selling out, his many kids, his arrests.  Besides, Katt missed a chance.  He should have ad-libbed it and given it to them just the same!  They would have welcomed it and the audience would have rooted for him!  And, Snoop did just that…he turned the stereotypes around making fun of Jeff Ross referring to the stereotype of Jewish men and let him know Snoop has made more money and could hire him!  And, given how Joan Rivers, Hosselfhoff were just destroyed with mean stuff, I think Flavor was no different.  I do believe there is exclusion of ‘minority comedians foe those roasts. They only have white boys and girls as the regulars show after show man, nothing, but token blacks and never ever a single Latino.  And, that Limpanelli is nothing, but racist jokes which she is allowed on account that she sleeps with black men, I guess.  But, Ice T and Snoop really took care of her and her nasty, racist mouth.  Does she really date black men or is it part of the act to be able to be so racist?  C’mom Katt tell comedy central to get you as part of the roasters and bring some change.  Take it to them, don’t take the money, read the script as is and let it happen.  “Tear s”“!?t up” ON THE STAGE!

Posted by Tony Familia on 05/22  at  06:30 PM

Yes, Kat is being overly sensitive. What I see a lot of times from comedians like Kat is hypocrisy. If all of the comedians and even writers on that panel had been black, honestly, everybody knows that there would have been jokes on how black Flavor Flav is. Flav isn’t the typical black. He is darker than most blacks. Even on TV which makes brothers look a bit lighter. How many times have you guys heard black comedians make jokes about how black such and such is? It happens and it was not hard to see how it was a topic to make fun of at the ROAST. The moment that they get an albino or a super, extra white person to roast, I’m sure we will hear the same types of jokes about their skin color. Me and my friends have made fun or really black AND really white people before and it is not uncommon to hear those jokes considering that some blacks are so black that they look purple (lol) and some whites are so white that they look translucent/ like ghosts/ see-through skin/ q-tips/ etc.

Posted by Mike P on 09/05  at  12:54 AM

The most offensive comment I heard was Chris Benoit was a better father than Flavor Flav from Kimmel. Other than that the roast was fine.

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