The idea of getting up in front of a room of people and trying to make them laugh is enough to petrify most people. The idea of doing it after smoking a joint is practically inconceivable.
For Allen Strickland Williams, it’s become second nature.
“It’s the getting up in front of people part that really scares people about stand-up. But the thing about most standup comedians is that we’re broken people in desperate need of attention,” says Williams when asked how he manages to nail the seemingly daunting combination on stage.
“After that, obviously some people shouldn’t get high before they perform because they might get paranoid or too in their own head, but if you’re the type of person who finds cannabis truly relaxing... it can really make for a better show.”
That’s certainly been the case for Williams, whose eight years in comedy have included a stint on CONAN as well as being named one of Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch.
The Jacksonville, Florida native – who now lives in Los Angeles – presses that he doesn’t always smoke before a show, but the “performance-enhancing” effects are always the same as that fateful first time back in 2012.
“The first show where I smoked weed, someone was passing around a joint and I just thought, ‘why not?’ It kind of just slowed me down a bit, gave me this opportunity to really connect with the crowd,” Williams tells Civilized.
“Cannabis makes you feel like you have more time to live in the space between the joke and the crowd’s reaction... It takes away a lot of your own second-guessing and allows you to be more in the moment, which is really good for comedy.”
It’s been nearly a decade since Williams first discovered what he calls the “natural pairing” of cannabis and comedy. In fact, it was well before he even considered performing a set under the influence that he realized the glorious potential in a notebook and some bud - a technique many other comedians have copped to using in the past.
“When I first started out, I would literally just roll a joint, take my notebook to a park and start writing,” says Williams, adding that “it’s way easier to fill a couple pages after smoking than it is when you’re sober and second-guessing yourself too much.”
“It’s not that you’re any more imaginative or creative when you smoke weed, but it’s just that the threshold for writing something down is much lower... if I’m high, I don’t get scared of a blank page, whereas when I try to write cold, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, this line isn’t good and until its perfect there’s no point in going beyond it.’”
Williams admits that he wasn’t always keen about the prospect of taking that cannabis-inspired creative boost onto the stage. As a young comedian focused on establishing himself in the LA comedy scene, he stayed away from both cannabis and alcohol before performing.
“I’d seen people just be too drunk or high on stage and I just didn’t want to do that. But like anything else, it just becomes an issue of knowing your limit, knowing what works for you, and then just playing in that lane,” says Williams, who often goes for strains like Blue Dream or Fire OG to get his creative juices flowing.
“A lot of the time it’s also just about matching the vibe of the audience... if you’re at the same level as your crowd and you’re all on the same wavelength, it’s going to create a better atmosphere because they’re going to gravitate toward you more naturally,” says Williams, adding that the vibe at a show in Colorado tends to be quite different than a show in, say, Iowa.
At the end of the day, says Williams, cannabis has a tendency to help him have a “little more fun” on the stage. As for his audience?
“The thing with comedy and with any performance, really, is that if you’re watching someone on stage having fun, you’re going to have more fun.”