Rafe Williams is active in the local improv scene. He’s active in the stand up scene, where he just won Helium’s Funniest Person in St. Louis Contest. You can see him on STL Up Late, where he’s a writer and actor. He’s a busy guy. He has to sleep some time though. So, we just hid in his bedroom with our questionnaire and waited for the right moment to pin him down and get some answers.
No one else has given such a beautiful answer to the “Best/Worst On-Stage Moment” question.
How long have you been performing stand up?
A long time in a linear sense. But, if you take away the shitty, drunken slop years, since 2011.
Who are your biggest comedic influences?
I’ve always said if I could make a perfect stand-up comic I would mix equal parts:
1. George Carlin’s mastery of language and political satire.
2. Richard Pryor’s raw vulnerability and character work.
3. Bill Hicks’s scathing social commentary
4. Mark Twain’s acumen for humanity and literary subterfuge. (He is, in my opinion, America’s first stand-up comic. He even did the first arena show and world tour.)
5. Eddie Murphy’s unbridled talent and confidence.
6. Garnish with a slice of Greg Giraldo’s intelligence, Joan Rivers’s biting wit, and Lenny Bruce’s fearlessness.
7. Finally, sprinkle Robin Williams’s energy and commitment on top.
8. Serve chilled over the absurdity of Steve Martin
*Drink only available in the timeless and honest underground speakeasy known as “The Redd Foxx.”
Outside of stand-up, there is always a special place in my heart for:
Charlie Chaplain – City Lights is still funny by today’s standards.
Lucille Ball – She could play the asshole and still make you like her.
Carol Burnett – Took live sketch to another level of joy.
Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart – For making comedy the last bastion of journalistic integrity.
Every working comedian who ever set foot in the halls of Studio 8 H at 30 Rockefeller Center since 1975.
Tom Waits – Naturally Funny Dude who missed yet another creative calling.
Describe your worst experience on stage.
Before I took comedy seriously:
The first open mic I bombed. I was drunk and told some shitty surface level jokes lacking any kind of artifice or elegance. Couple that with the fact that it was a musical open mic where I introduced comedy unannounced and in a condition that would merit Harry Carey saying, “Dial it back a bit, son.” I relive it every time I don’t do well.
After I started to take comedy seriously:
At a show at Art Bar*, which was my first time closing a showcase doing 20 minutes, they had simultaneously scheduled stand up comedy, a burlesque ariel bondage show, a ren faire inspired live music dance party downstairs, and a gallery art showing in the back.
It was as if they had a meeting and someone asked, “What kind of art should we book for Saturday night?” And a really stoned guy in the back raised his hand and said, “How ‘bout all of it.”
The stage at Art Bar was by the front door where people were paying multiple cover charges to get into one of the 10 events happening that night and also entering and exiting to smoke. It was January and colder than a witches tit. So, giant gusts of wind were blowing in right where the few people listening to my set were seated. The glass window behind me was like Alice’s looking glass for all the beloved sideshow oddities Cherokee street had to offer, and each stunningly beautiful lost soul of the alleyways turned to the window and gestured to my audience as if called by nature to display like a peacock, or a silver back gorilla.
In my peripheral, a DJ was setting up his turntables and using a system of complex pulleys to hoist to the ceiling, a large iron hoop with a long leather lanyard dangling beneath. A beautiful woman with a three foot tall pink mohawk climbed the leather strap and began to gyrate and spin while binding herself by the hands, feet, neck, and crotch. It was magnificent.
The bar in the middle of the room was filled with art aficionados basking in their recent wine and cheese fueled purchase, and gazing at the mohawked beauty in all her twisted glory. Occasionally, they would glance at me, the monkey-king clown in a human flesh suit, spewing his self-degradating humor in a ten-dollar teal Old Navy V-neck, and they would make thinly veiled attempts to hide their disgust at the juxtaposition between she and I. Being a comic, I was born with the remarkable ability to feign ignorance for their contempt and plow through my vaudevillian nightmare, or so i thought.
Just as my ability to process what was happening and my neocortex reached terminal velocity, a man who resembled Kevin Costner from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves emerged from the basement playing a pan flute. He gingerly floated through the room until all eyes were fixed on him and my set officially became fever dream that would be to obscure and cloudy for anyone to recall.
I glanced at my phone timer. I was only nine minutes in.
The next eleven minutes are scattered down the lost highway of my own repressed memories, only to be whispered about by mind goblins riding the winds of failure in the darkest shadows of my mind.
*I love Art Bar, It was just one weird night.
What’s your best on stage experience?
What’s your favorite thing about the St. Louis comedy scene?
1. I love how much everyone on the scene cares about making it better. I have seen the opportunities grow exponentially just in the last five years.
Guys and gals are getting their own shows up and running and going out and making stuff they love with their friends. We live in an age where the gatekeeper’s role has changed. You can make cool stuff and do good work and still get noticed. I really believe if we work together we can build a scene that attracts people. We may never be LA or NYC, but we could be like Austin or Denver and build our own unique, eclectic scene. People will still have to leave eventually to grow their careers, but if I may be allowed one shitty sports analogy, “Maybe we can foster an environment where people wait until they are a junior or a senior to leave for the pros, instead of their freshman year.”
2. I feel like we have kind of gotten over that hump of seeing the opportunities as limited. I.e “There are only limited slices of the pie to go around.” I think we are starting to realize that there’s plenty of pie to go around if we all contribute and pay back into the system that we take from. Then the only competition is with yourself. Are you a better comedian than you were a year ago? 6 Months? Your last show?
If your neighbor breaks his leg, you don’t walk better. I feel like the comics in this city see that reality and they work hard on their own careers. We have adopted a real lunch pail mentality. Show up, keep your head down, and do the work.
I am proud of this scene for that.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the people sitting in the coffee house where I’m typing up this list of questions?
Finish that screenplay. Fuck what your stepdad says about your Lost Boys meets Easy Rider meets Rookie of the Year cinematic romp about a rebellious teenage vampire who rides his Triumph cross-country, only to wreck in front of minor league stadium and play on a team of kooky degenerates where he can only pitch night games so he can repair his hog and get back to the open road. The world needs that movie. Your movie.
Rank in order of coolness: Pirate, Ninja, Zombie, Robot
Zombie- Bill Murray
Pirate- Johnny Depp
Robot – Roomba
Ninja- Michael Dudikoff
Cake or Pie?
Since I used pie as an earlier analogy, I will stay the course with pie. Pecan preferably, and plenty for everyone!
Plug something. It’s why we do this.
10pm Aug. 25th Performing At Fitz’s Comedy Night Presents
7pm Aug 26th at STL Public Library– Hosting and performing at St. Louis Post Dispatch Arts & Crafts Brew Fest for GO Magazine’s rising stars in performing arts!
10pm Aug. 27th The Improv Shop- My Best Buds on team Burnside performing!
Smackdown at Helium!
STL Up Late!
Subscribe on YouTube!
The Other Side of the Tracks Podcast
Two Girls, One Mic!
Fatal Bus Accident!
Trill Ass Trailers!
Impolite Company at the Crack Fox!
Sorry, Please Continue!
No Straight White Guys!
Happy Tree & Friends!
Any Other indy show I may have Forgotten (See we are doing cool shit)