One could have heard a pin drop in the long silences between some of the passionate anecdotes Jessica Williams gave as she opened up to the audience about her experiences with discrimination and inequality during her life.
The senior correspondent for “The Daily Show” spoke Thursday night in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Oval Theater about the obstacles she has overcome as a woman of color. She said she struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.
Williams also said a main motivator for speaking with a therapist is her frustration with society, especially after she has personal encounters with how unfair the world can be.
Williams recalled going out with her white boyfriend and trying to call a taxi to get home at the end of the night. They decided to stand apart on the sidewalk so they could cover more ground. Williams was trying to wave down a cab which then slowed down, came by her and drove right past to go instead to her boyfriend.
She said when she got into the cab with her boyfriend, she yelled “Surprise!” at the driver, who was visibly unhappy to have her in the cab. She kept trying to get him to admit he had driven past her and the man — an elderly white gentleman — would not budge.
The 26-year-old comedian eventually stopped and asked to roll down the window. The man refused and would not explain why. Williams recalled him saying this is why he didn’t want to pick her up in the first place. She protested and the driver called the cops.
The cops told them not to worry about it, that the cab driver was racist and they weren’t in trouble. Williams told the driver he had hurt her, but the driver simply asked her to get out of his cab. Williams cried on the way home, feeling helpless.
“I felt so heavy for something I could not change,” Williams said.
Williams said her desire to work in TV and comedy came from her relationship with her grandmother, a woman Williams described as her best friend in her childhood. As her grandmother’s health declined, she became immobile and would watch TV all the time. Williams would watch things like SNL with her and decided if TV was the thing keeping her grandmother company, she wanted to do just that.
Her journey to “The Daily Show” started with an audition for a Will Ferrell movie, where she was redirected to auditions for “The Daily Show.” After the initial audition, Jon Stewart asked her to run lines with him. Williams received saying they wanted her to be a full-time correspondent and move to New York City as soon as she possibly could.
She said the beginning of her time at “The Daily Show” was very hard. She saw constant hate on Twitter.
People need to tap into their emotions because that’s what makes good comedy, Williams said at the conclusion of her lecture.
“The old stories are boring,” Williams said. “I want to know how you feel and I hope that you know that you are valid.”
In a Q&A session after the lecture, Williams fielded questions ranging from advice for women going into male-dominated fields, representation of minorities and beauty standards on TV and in journalism, how to respond to people who invalidate someone’s anger and how to make sure an individual’s voice is heard.
She said people can’t try to change other people, because some people are just stuck in their ways and aren’t worth the effort. She emphasized the importance of having friends who share your values and care about how you feel. She also said she thinks the media and the television industry are changing for the better.
As far as worrying about whether or not people will be heard, Williams was confident it wouldn’t be a problem.
“You will always be heard,” Williams said.
The next ULS speaker will be Michael Uslan, who will speak in the MSC Oval Theater on Nov. 17.