I Missed The Anger In Katt Williams’ “Woke Foke”

When I saw revered and somewhat controversial comedian Katt Williams show up on a thumbnail for an episode of Club Shay Shay, the podcast of former NFL tight end-turned-sports commentator Shannon Sharpe, it was a surprise. Mainly because I hadn’t heard about the comedian in nearly a decade, and when I last did it, it was due to one of his many arrests. Irrespective of his dubious past, I always found Williams’ style to be entertaining–Pimp Chronicles Pt. 1 being one of my all-time favourite specials. His ability to weave in sociopolitical commentary through a frenetic and outlandish delivery was always engaging. So I clicked on the video, hoping to be met with an older and wiser Katt Williams who would bring some fun and interesting anecdotes to my Wednesday evening.

Katt Williams Club Shay Shay
This face says it all. Image: Screenshot from Club Shay Shay

Two hours and forty-six minutes later, I had difficulty pulling my jaw off the floor. The Katt Williams I (and the world) received, and whom Shannon Sharpe struggled to contain, was angry. Angry at those who had wronged him in the past. Angry at an industry that not only protects powerful (white) men who have long histories of abuse and sexual misconduct, but has cultivated a culture that sees artists having to be active participants in said culture in order for them to rise. Now, though there is some truth in this latter point, Williams’ words become a tad questionable when he goes on to allude to long-running conspiracy theories that believe black entertainers like Kevin Hart and Chris Tucker had to willfully emasculate themselves on-screen as a part of some ritual to appease whichever cult leaders at the top. This has been a myth amongst some, particularly older black men in America for some time. A myth whose core is riddled with homophobia and misogyny. With that said, however, there is a history between black men and white men in power that drives this myth. To quote a video by YouTuber F.D Signifier who covers the topic with great, nuanced detail:

“Homophobia in general, but definitely this particular mythology, is based on a lot of real trauma for black men of that generation, and even now black men my age and younger do fear being emasculated, which is where this whole illogical myth comes from. This is not an illogical fear for them to have. Black men are emasculated by the police and the criminal justice system. Black men are emasculated economically and have been for as long as we’ve been free, which is a core aspect of the gender wars; because the normative patriarchal image that white couples have put on display in America for generations has been all but impossible to achieve for the majority of black people.”

So maybe there is some salience in the messaging of Williams’ point regarding success as a black entertainer in an industry run by white men; the point is simply muddied when using a barbershop conspiracy theory as “evidence.” Nevertheless, this anger that Williams spoke with remained for the entirety of the nearly three-hour episode. What made me hang on to every one of his words was that his anger was spoken with clarity; a laser-like precision. He didn’t mince his words but also ensured that every syllable coming out of his lips was heard. He took long pauses, moments to think as if preparing each word deliberately, and continued speaking in a manner frankly unbefitting a podcast. It was riveting, and the episode’s success isn’t surprising. What is surprising, unfortunately, is that this same energy wasn’t kept in his newest Netflix special, Woke Foke.

Like many, I was eager to watch Williams return to the stage after his fervorous episode on Club Shay Shay, hoping to watch him continue to slice through all of Hollywood’s dirty laundry with a newly sharpened blade. The stage was set, and Williams had the entire world in full attention. All he needed to do was continue fanning the flames he started. Unfortunately, Williams not only failed to stick the landing in Woke Foke, but I’d argue he never even took off.

Katt Williams Woke Foke
At least the suit is nice. Image: Netflix

The hour-long special was a meandering mess wherein Katt stumbles to get through half-baked joke after half-baked joke, occasionally using a gimmicky large screen to show images and videos as punchlines, a couple of which borderline on being transphobic. The most disappointing aspect of the entire special, however, was how stripped it was of the anger Williams had just a few months ago. None of the ferocity, the poise, and the smooth articulation of a man who spoke with the wisdom of someone who’d seen too much was present in this special. You’d think that if Williams was able to be so captivating and authentic while in a non-scripted setting, having months to script and produce a special would then bring forth an even more finely-tuned product. But that was far from the case. There was a clear lack of direction that was bereft of any kind of poignant through-line, and worst of all a feeling that Williams was afraid of committing to doing the thing that he’d boasted of being: a truth-teller.

Now, as someone who’s been in meetings with network executives and has experience in trying to get a show off the ground, I am somewhat familiar with the politics surrounding getting greenlit. With Woke Foke being a Netflix special, I wouldn’t be surprised if the streamer put some restraints on the comic to mitigate any potential backlash. However, restraints or not, the fact of the matter is this was a severely under-written, poorly directed, and unfocused special that is a far cry from what I’ve seen Katt Williams be capable of. I wanted him to further call out Diddy, especially in light of the recent allegations against the rap producer. I wanted him to go further with the political commentary, especially given it being an election year for the U.S. And though the title, “Woke Foke,” sounds a little trite and questionable, it has no connection to the actual content of the special, making it feel like nothing more than a bait-and-switch. Moreover, half the jokes were recycled from Williams’ old routines, which to do for a highly anticipated Netflix special is simply lazy.

Katt Williams had everything going for him to knock this special out of the park. A stage to continue speaking with the riveting authenticity he did so candidly only a few months back. To showcase to the world, once again, why he’s one of the best comedy writers and performers in the game. Instead, he spent an hour sputtering out old jokes with the hopes that his iconic nasally deliveries would compensate for an otherwise lackadaisically written and produced special that was bereft of any fire or passion, and undeserving of even a chuckle.

Shaz Mohsin

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