Life of a comedian can be just killer

Comedian Katt Williams came close to death while on a 100-city tour that ends in Las Vegas this weekend.

“During the winter, we caught every blizzard and snowstorm,” he says. Then in the spring, “at least four tornados (touched down) within 20 miles of us. It was exciting. Never a dull moment.”

It’s just like a stand-up to flirt with the end of himself. The late George Carlin made it to 71. But there have been other too-soon funerals for Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Mitch Hedberg and Richard Jeni.

“We’ve taken some pretty big hits as of late,” Williams says.

Why do high-profile comics sometimes perish?

“As a comedian, you spend a great portion of your life rippin’ and runnin’, and stressin’, and goin’ from one hole-in-the-wall place to another,” Williams explains.

“You can spend a great amount of time just trying to make it … to any level of success in comedy. Notoriously, comics are crazy individuals, anyway.”

Comedians also get tried by fire because they learn on the job, onstage, in front of demanding comedy fans.

“There’s no farm system at all. You’re an unknown comic or you’re a known comic, and that’s it,” he says. “There’s not a college or a university system that grows these comics to the next level.”

Williams’ goal is to build a Judd Apatow-esque “comedy empire,” partly by spotlighting the talents of peers.

“That’s what I’ve been attempting, so let’s see where it goes,” he says.

He already has voiced a character in TV’s “The Boondocks,” played himself in “Grand Theft Auto IV,” headed one of HBO’s biggest stand-up specials and co-starred in “Friday After Next.” After this weekend, Williams turns his attention to more TV and film projects.

Williams wants to transform further from “funny comic” to “the greatest comic of my time.”

And yet, Williams is humble when we talk about how he’s often referred to as a “funnyman” in the press. I tell him “funnyman” sounds old, like something you would call Fatty Arbuckle. If there’s “model” and “supermodel,” why isn’t there “comedian” and “supercomedian”?

“Yeah but if the ‘supercomedian’ option were available, I think I’d still get ‘funnyman,'” he demurs. “So I better get used to it.”

Whatever. The last time I interviewed D.L. Hughley, a year ago, I asked which living comic makes him laugh most, and he named Williams. He performs at 10 p.m. tonight and Saturday at The Pearl at the Palms. ($65-$85; 942-7777).

Doug Elfman’s column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 702-383-0391 and delfman@reviewjournal.com. His VegasLand blog is at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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