You may have seen young comedian Taylor Williamson doing his standup one night at your college or, more recently, performing for a much larger crowd on America’s Got Talent. Either way, you’ve had a taste of this sharp-witted, self-effacing guy doing what he loves: making you laugh.
Williamson, 26 years old and based in LA, attended school at California State University Northridge—well, half attended.
“My excuse for moving to LA was so I could go to college but really it was so I could do comedy and drop out of college,” says Williamson.
On the path to a career in comedy he surrounded himself with others in the biz. “I would stay out all night hanging out with creepy 40-year-old comedians—and I loved that—and I would get home at three in the morning and then at 8 a.m. in my biology class I’m just sitting there like: ‘Why…I already found something I love.’ ”
“My favorite comedian told me to drop out of college, too…that’s not a good thing when you’re 20. He was like: ‘You’re already paying your bills doing what you love. What else would you want to do with your life?’”
So, after two years, Williamson called it quits and took on comedy full time. “I shouldn’t have dropped out,” he admits, “but I started traveling and paying my bills early on. It’s worked out somehow.”
But Williamson can attest to the fact that chasing your dreams isn’t always easy. “This past year was the worst year of my career,” he says. “It’s just sort of up and down valleys of success and failure. [But] then out of the blue this America’s Got Talent thing happened. Now I’m getting recognized by jappy nine-year-olds at Nordstrom.”
‘This America’s Got Talent thing’ is Williamson making it all the way to the finals of the show’s eighth season, ending up in 2nd place. Before AGT, Williamson performed regularly at colleges, comedy clubs and had a few big moments—such as taking his act to Late Night with Craig Ferguson in 2007 and Last Comic Standing in 2010.
Williamson says that, before his recent reality TV rise, Last Comic Standing was the biggest thing he ever did. “People watch [Last Comic Standing] and actually want to watch comedy on purpose. But with AGT, people watch not for the comedians–like moms and 13-year-old girls are watching it–I’m being exposed to people who would have never seen me otherwise. It’s the most unbelievable exposure for a comedian.”
On top of the exposure, Williamson was in contention to win his own Vegas show and a million dollars to go with it. What would he have done with the prize money? “You’re not allowed to buy drugs with it…probably,” he says, voice drawling and lit with the sound of a smirk; he knows I’m going to laugh, and I do.
Even with his relentless sarcasm and seemingly endless arsenal of zingers, Williamson’s personality is inviting and is he refreshingly candid, working earnestly to be understood.
“On paper it’s weird,” he says of being interviewed. “I’m so comfortable if you see my face, but a print interview is very scary to me.”
Some other things that scare Taylor: flying (“I spend the whole time accepting that I’m going to crash and die.”), karaoke and trying out new material. “Whenever I try out something new I’m horrified. I feel like such a jerk when I go on stage with some new material I want to try out and no one laughs at me. I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s life.”
Although, according to him, he bombs a lot, Williamson always seems to have the audience laughing. He’s a natural on the stage, any trace of nerves or self-consciousness disappearing once he gets his hand on the mic.
He tells me that his desire to pursue comedy was organic. “I was always really sarcastic…I was always one of those kids like if I met myself [now] at school I’d probably punch me in the face. But then I started being funny, I guess. I realized people would laugh at me when I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
“My uncle says he’s so proud of me because I’m making people forget about their worries and making them happy, but it’s totally a selfish thing. I just do it because I enjoy it a lot. It’s also a huge cry for help, let’s be honest.”
America’s Got Talent coined Williamson as ‘the awkward, cute, dorky comedian.’ When asked what he thinks about this, he shrugs.
“I don’t mind being awkward or dorky. For whatever reason I can show up on stage and people laugh at me. I feel like in any other job that would be tragic. Like if I showed up at Home Depot and everyone was just laughing at me that would be really bad but…I have something good or bad about me that people feel comfortable just laughing when I walk on stage. I’m a comedian so I guess that’s a good thing.”
It turns out that all the things Williamson was picked on for as a kid have now fueled his knack for comedy. "I walk weird and I talk weird and I’m kind of dorky but I like that…I wouldn’t change anything. I mean, maybe I’d give myself more muscles or something.”
Muscles or not, Williamson knows how to work the stage. His consistently laugh-out-loud performances on AGT make one thing certain: this young comedian isn’t going anywhere.