Alvin Williams spends his life on cruise ships and in comedy clubs. And he gets paid to do it.
The Coeur d’Alene comedian does a lot of traveling and is currently home for the weekend for the show he hosted at the Best Western Plus Coeur d’Alene Inn.
He loves doing that show in particular, so makes a point of being in Coeur d’Alene four times a year to do it.
Williams grew up in Chicago and moved to Colorado for two years of high school. He graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in business marketing.
He found his love for comedy when he was about 17 when he won a talent show, but finally turned it into a career after college when he found out people liked his stuff at a comedy club in Boise.
He spends about a third of his year performing on cruise ships. The rest of the time he’s traveling around finding comedy clubs to perform in.
Williams sat down with The Press last Wednesday, before his performances Friday and Saturday, to talk about comedy as a profession and what inspires him.
Going through college, did you know that comedy and working for yourself was what you wanted to do?
“No, I got an internship right out of school in Boise, for a medical group. That turned into a full-time job. I was a network systems trainer, and that’s where I went to my first comedy club. I was at an open-mic show, and I didn’t realize open mic meant anybody could go up there and do it.
“I thought I was watching professional comedians, and I didn’t think they were that good. And I was like ‘I can do this’. So, with my false pride, I asked the manager if I could do one of the shows, and he put me on the open mic.
“And I did my first three minutes in Boise, Idaho. And people laughed. If they didn’t laugh, then my whole life would have been completely different. I would have stuck with the jobs that I had, because I would not think that comedy is a career.
“It’s amazing to think about that transition. I was not intending to go into comedy at all — it was my social outlet. But it became a career.”
Tell me about the process of coming up with new material.
“It can happen in so many different ways, everybody’s different. When I was first starting, material was scarce. When I first started, something had to happen to me in life, and I would comment on that. I had funny people around me, I had funny friends, and I think that’s where my material came from in the beginning — talking about my different life experiences with them.
“But as I’ve gotten older and my filter is a little more distinguished, I can sit down and whatever happened today, I write down. The only difference between me and people who don’t do comedy, is they don’t write down the funny things that happen to them on a daily basis. Their life is just as funny as mine, I’m just looking at it through a filter.
“Everyone has a job, and if something funny happens, they laugh and then move on to focus on what they have to do. When your job is to think about funny things, you never lose focus of that funny thing that happened that day.”
What kind of content do you put into your shows?
“I have these two separate lives. I have the cruise ships, where that’s family friendly humor — you try to be as non-offensive as possible. And then I have the nightclub career, where anything I say goes.
“It’s so raw and personal. I prefer that, that’s me. I talk about everything. I talk about relationships, I talk about politics, I talk about race quite a bit.
Tell me about the travel lifestyle? Specifically, do you ever get seasick?
“The first two ships that I did, it was a little rough, I was not used to it. After that it was fine. I’m one of the lucky ones. That is the difference between the comics that can do that and get plenty of work on the ships and those who don’t — it’s not if you’re funny or not, it’s can you take that lifestyle of being at sea. Some of the best comics can’t do it because they get sea sick, and that eliminates them.
“On the ship you have a lot of alone time. I think it’s best to bring someone with you. If you don’t, man it’s a lot of twiddling your thumbs. And that’s just me … honestly you choose how lonely you are on the ships.
“But I love it. It’s like I’m on vacation. Because once I get off, I’m on the road again.”
How often, when people find out you are a comedian, ask you to tell them a joke?
“Yes! They do! I don’t get it! I’m like ‘no, I’m off the clock,’ you know?
“If you met me, you wouldn’t know I was a comedian. I’m nice, but I’m not that funny.
“I don’t like to tell people that. When I’m on an airplane, I lie about what I do. The conversation completely changes when you tell somebody you’re a comedian. Constantly they try to tell you funny things about them in hopes that you’ll talk about them.
“A big one that I get is ‘oh you can use this in your act.’ You’ve never seen my act, you have no idea what I do. They’ll be like ‘uh-oh, be careful what you say, he’s going to use that as material.’
“I hate the “m” word. I like to talk, but the minute I tell them I’m a comedian, the whole conversation goes to crap.”
What are your inspirations?
“Other comedians — George Carlin is my favorite comedian of all time. Just the longevity and creation — every two years he had a new special. He had 14 specials. Comedy is really hard to come by, so just having one hour of material takes years, he had 14 of them that he put on television. And to do that, you have to have so much that doesn’t meet the light of day.
“Like I’ve got, in my phone right now, about 200 jokes that have not seen the light of day. Either they’re not ready or you’re saving them for something that makes sense at another time. But in order to create that material you present, there’s so much material that you don’t present that leads to that.
“It’s about half and half for me, of material I write and stuff that happens to me. I prefer when it’s organic. I prefer something that happens in life. I’m not as confident in what I write out of nothing yet, but I’m slowly having faith in my own filter now.”
What about inspirations outside comedy?
“My mom and my dad. Those are the two funniest people on the planet. My dad is what I call purposefully funny — that’s somebody who is funny and they know they’re funny and they say funny things and it works.
“My mom is accidently funny. When she tries to make a joke, she’s not that funny. But when she’s being herself, when she just says whatever comes to her mind, she’s just the funniest human being on the planet. Just naturally, the things she does and says, are hilarious.”