The C-word Controversy

I am not mean by nature. I am not in the habit of picking on people for the helluva it. I do have a problem with people that are bent on ruining a show; especially, if I’m hosting. Doesn’t matter how much money you have or are spending. If you need to be called out, I’m dialing your number. This was the case Friday night (July 10) at the Comic Strip.

A couple came to the second show one act deep into the show. I was on stage as the guy deliberately rearranged seats, choosing to sit as close to the stage as possible. After introducing the next act I returned to the stage finding his date had joined him. She had removed her shoes and propped her naked feet in the guys lap. My first thought was all I had to do is point out that her behavior was inappropriate and move on.

“You might want to put your shoes back on because if you look around, you won’t see anything that looks like your living room because you’re not at home.” Nothing.

They both sat there defiantly as if my request was totally out of the box and they had no intention of complying.

“Seriously, you’re going to sit like that for the rest of the show?”

A couple in the back couldn’t see the offenders and asked what they were doing. I told them she is sitting there wiggling her ugly toes.

“Aw, you’re just jealous I’m not wiggling my toes in your lap.” I assured her that was not the case and continued the show.

If the Strip had someone in place to monitor the room they would’ve known there was a problem, quietly went over to the table and asked the woman to put her shoes on as we were in a nightclub. Not at the beach. No shoes, no shirt, no service. The show would’ve gone on without a hitch.

But that was not going to happen. After the next act it was time for the raffle. The woman still had her shoes off with her feet propped up, and I told her if I picked her name out of the fishbowl I wouldn’t give her the free tickets to a future show. And wouldn’t you know it, I did. Against 70 to 1 odds, she was the winner. I expressed disbelief and she was more than happy to jump on the stage, ID in hand to prove she was the winner. I told her it didn’t matter she was not about to be rewarded for being a cunt. Here we go!

In the next few seconds, I called her a cunt a couple of more times and that’s when her date climbed onto the stage to confront me. He got pretty close to my face before Jay Oakerson came up to step between us. The couple decided without the backing of the rest of the audience who clearly were on my side, it was time to go.

Out in the bar area they were telling anyone who would listen that I had verbally abused them and wanted satisfaction. They finally paid their bill and left the club. The next day, I got a text from the booker saying he had to pull me from the two shows I had been booked for that night. After a few back-and-forths of me explaining my position and the booker steadfastly backing the rude customer I was done.

In the days since the incident I have gotten support from fellow comics and even a customer that was in the audience that night. Jay Oakerson, the only person to come to my defense vowed to never work the Strip again, and posted on Twitter an exchange he had with the owner of the Strip. The owner blamed Jay, me, and other “asshole” comics for the demise of the Comic Strip.

The truth is the Strip has been on a steady decline for years. Long time employees of the club have left and the replacements have been subpar. One comic posted #boycottcomicstriplive. Done.

William Stephenson

The Change Over

I don’t know the exact moment of the change-over. Not even the year. I just know I was never happy about it.

Growing up in Detroit in the sixties I lived within walking distance of two major Detroit landmarks. The Hitsville Building (Motown) and the General Motors Building. A group of neighborhood kids would make the trek in September to check out the new models a few days before the nationwide rollout. As long as we didn’t have ice cream or candy on us, we were allowed to sit in the cars and pretend to steer.

The cars not equipped with power steering were more fun because you could turn wider. The first thing I always checked out were the tail lights. I wondered if they would be like the ones I imagined in my head. Then, I’d dash to the front to see the headlights’ expression. It was usually some form of a smile, nothing like the aggressive look of today’s cars. I was intrigued by the Impala. I loved to see what they did with the Bel Air and Biscayne, stripped down versions of the great Impala. No power nothing and they were just butt ugly. For me it was the black wall tires that turned me off. What a difference a white stripe made.

The first time I noticed the black wall tire as standard equipment was during a week long gig at the Borgata in Atlantic City with Vic Henley. I hit a $2,500.00 payout and decided to rent a Caddy and drive back to NYC on a night off. Well, Vic rented it and I gave him the money. We had the new Outcast double CD with Hey Ya on it so we were in groovus maximus to and fro. But when I saw the pretty Caddy in the light of the next day with black wall tires, I felt…like when you wake up next to a woman who looked much finer the night before.

William Stephenson




Last night, I introduced an act halfway through the show and just when I started to give his credits, I forgot the name of the show he was on. I’ve introduced this guy a million times with the same credit and this was the first time I blanked on the name. I froze. After a few seconds of awkward silence I had to ask the guy the name of the show, which he told me from offstage.

After his set, I went back up and told the audience that I had some zimers. I didn’t have Alzheimer’s, just some, which prevented me from remembering the name of the show. I wrote that joke a few weeks ago, but it came to life on this night. The response from the audience was mixed. I could tell some people were not comfortable with the “making fun of the handicapped” aspect of the joke.

Some people didn’t quite get it at first, then laughed, and others made groaning noises. I’ll take it. A woman very close to me my whole life died recently after suffering from the disease in her later years. She had been a second mother to me since I was 3. She always enjoyed my Detroit visits after I moved away in 1979. She’d greet me with a warm bear hug that went on and on, until we couldn’t squeeze each other any harder.

The last time I saw her, she didn’t know me. Not at all, didn’t know me from a can of paint. She embraced me but only because her daughter told her hugging me was something she used to do. Our last hug bore no resemblance to what we used to share. The feeling was so odd. She didn’t know her only daughter either, but trusted her as a caregiver. I will continue to do my Alzheimer’s joke, it’s one I’ll never forget.

William Stephenson

Waffle Hands: Friends of the People

On Friday, I played Jermaine Fowler’s grandfather in a sketch for the second season of TruTV’s “Friends Of The People.” I was a high school principal in the first season, but it never aired. It was a pretty routine shoot and somewhat familiar. The pickup was at the same spot, 96th and Broadway. The 11:15a.m. call time was reasonable and I made it with minutes to spare.

There were several other players in the van. I remembered one from the Top Five shoot from 2013 (my scene didn’t make the final cut). The seven other actors and I rode out to a great big house in Westchester County that is often used for TV and movie shoots. I was told the owners live on the top floor and have rented out the rest of their massive home since 1980.

I filled out my paperwork and waited to go to wardrobe to get my “grandfather” clothes. I was asked to bring a sweater and shirt as this is not a great big budget production. They didn’t use my stuff and put me in a shirt and sweater/vest. The shirt was funky from a previous use, but it turned out they had to give me another after seeing a problem on camera.

Next was hair and makeup. The hair lady looked at me for 7 seconds and said I was cool. Now it’s time for the waffle hand. This was my first time having anything attached to me and it took more than a minute. My hand was slathered in glue and shredded cotton balls before the spongy plastic waffle was slipped on. It was then painted to match my skin tone and the effect worked, it looked like my hand was made of waffle.

My scene was ready and I headed to one of the living rooms with a couch. Jermaine and I sat and waited for the camera to roll. We each had just one line and after a few takes, we were wrapped. Now I’m hungry and head to the craft services table to see what was what. I hadn’t been there long enough for the lunch spread and had to settle for a sandwich a guy was handing out. I didn’t know what it was and bit into it to discover it was one of those foods I had never tried.

If I don’t like the way a food looks or smells, I don’t eat it. Hummus was on the top of my no-go list. I was right. It tasted like an alley taco.

William Stephenson

What I Do

Since late 1982 when I started my standup comedy career, I have spent very little time analyzing my act. When people that have not seen me perform ask what kind of comedy I do my response is “the funny kind”. And yes, I have always been a smart-ass. Over 30 years later I suppose is time enough to have some kind of handle on what I do.

Much of my material is gleaned from personal experiences. My first laugh came in my first open mic at Garvin’s Laugh Inn in DC. While working at a record store in Detroit, I waited on boxer Leon Spinks, he of no front teeth. It was so difficult understanding what he was saying, I wrote a joke about it.

Leon: I want to buy some Reefa Fraykin.
Me: We don’t sell marijuana.

For the most part, I love making fun of behavior I find rude, unnecessary, counter-productive and wrong. Like the idiots standing just inside the subway car and not getting off at the next stop. I don’t know if they don’t understand that space is needed for people getting on and off or don’t care. Either way, they are wrong and should be shunned. I always give them a decent stink eye as I squeeze past them shaking my head in disdain. Last winter in NYC there was an animal hat trend that bothered the hell out of me. It was like living in a petting zoo. I did see an Asian dude with a panda bear hat which was cute, but I couldn’t wait for the weather to break.

Since most of my audiences qualify as humans, I joke about things that all humans can relate to. I don’t have a “target” audience or try to appeal to any “demographic” because those things don’t matter to me. I will leave that to those more ambitious than I. (Everybody!) Anything marketing related has virtually no meaning to me. I’m fairly Amish when it comes to promoting even myself. I worry only about being funny and leave all the rest to….

Not sure how I want to finish this;

A. The Lord
B. Fate
C. The beaver

William Stephenson

Page 2 of 912345...Last »