by Kayla Tucker • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Local stand-up comedian Kaira Williams brings a fresh sense of humor to the comedy scene in Grand Rapids. She’s not the type to set up a punch line; rather, she’s the kind of comedian you’ll find chatting about celebrities, talking about Twitter and informing the audience of her various medical procedures.
“I call myself ‘the palette cleanser’ because everything’s always so sad and poetic [at the open mic shows downtown] and it’s just like people need me to come up and talk about how big my butt is sometimes,” Williams explained.
For as long as she can remember, celebrities have always fascinated Williams; her favorite thing to do online is search famous people on Twitter and “try really hard” to get celebrities to retweet her posts.
“I always felt like I wanted to be famous for some reason,” Williams shared. “I didn’t really care why because I really like celebrities and I feel like you have to be kind of famous in order to be around celebrities, so that was a big motivator for me.”
In addition to performing stand-up and surfing Twitter, Williams maintains a personal blog, “That’s What She Said,” co-produces a video show called “Inaccurate and Inappropriate” and sits on the board of directors for local comedy group Funny Girls.
Kaira Williams is part of local comedy group Funny Girls.
Williams frequents the stage at The Drunken Retort, an open mic show at Stella’s in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I write sketch and I act in sketches,” Williams said. “I don’t do improv. Not because I think it’s stupid, but because I’m not good at it and I have trust issues.”
In 2003, Williams had just started her freshmen year at Grand Valley State University when she decided she wanted to be a comedian. She remembers emailing various comedians she admired, including Daniel Tosh and Dane Cook.
“I would just email all of them and ask if I could pick their brains and tell them I was doing it for a school project, which was not true,” Williams said. “Then I would go sit at Steak and Shake for hours and just observe people and write jokes about them.”
Fifteen years later, Williams finally mustered the courage to step on stage and test her stand-up skills.
“I finally got brave and just tried to tell a story at the Drunken Retort one time,” Williams recalled.
After her debut performance, Williams was hooked on stand-up and the laugh-induced adrenaline rush fueled by the crowd. At first, she had doubts about her comedy career, however, a recent spike in confidence has Williams pursuing more gigs.
“I think I was so disillusioned by it being so male dominated,” Williams said. “Everybody is a straight white male in their late 30s and I didn’t think that my comedy would have a place in these open mics. So I just started creating my own space for when I was doing my comedy–until I could gain confidence.”
This month, Williams will face a true test of confidence; she will be participating in Funniest Person in Grand Rapids 2017 at Dr. Grins on March 1. Williams will be competing against 80 comedians, few of whom are women.
Williams predicts that her audience will consist of mostly college students, which may serve as an advantage.
“I think I stopped growing a sense of humor [and developing] emotionally at 22, and I really like pop culture,” Williams said. “I think that college people right now are really into social issues and they’re more accepting of a female comic.”
Williams carries a notebook around with her at all times because she does most of her spur-of-the-moment brainstorming in unusual places, including on the toilet or in the shower.
When she first started dabbling in comedy, most of Williams’ jokes poked fun at her self-image, which is something she aimed to change. Although she’s cut a lot of the self-deprecating humor from her routines, Williams assures us that she doesn’t mind laughing at herself once in a while.
“I do a lot of sex stuff–I talk a lot about awkward situations that I’ve been in,” Williams laughed.
While most comedians spend hours preparing their lines and memorizing embellished tales, Williams prefers to stay authentic, focusing her material on true, relatable stories that reach a variety of personalities in the audience.
“I sometimes won’t even write material,” Williams said. “I’ll just show up to open mic and talk about what happened to me on the way there and just kind of hope that it works out.”
The bright lights, echoing microphone and responsive audience keep Williams coming back time and time again, but comedy means much more to her than just another show.
“It’s 100 percent therapy,” Williams explained. “Anything that I’m insecure about, I can turn it into a joke. Then when somebody laughs, it seems like a universal experience, that it’s not just you.”
Follow Williams on Twitter at @KairaJaye and check out her blog at kairablogs.com.