Katt Williams adds second Philips Arena show this Sunday Feb. 8

By RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com, originally filed February 3, 2015

Only a handful of stand-up comics have deemed themselves popular enough to book solo shows at Philips Arena the past three years: Jeff Dunham, Kevin Hart and Decatur's own Chris Tucker.

Veteran comedian Katt Williams joins this exclusive group with a Philips show this Saturday that is largely sold out. And he has one-upped those other comics by adding a second show on Sunday, placing tickets on sale a mere five days earlier. (Buy tickets here. The Sunday show, with an expectation that moving 12,000 plus tickets in five days is unrealisitic, is currently only selling seats on the floor and the 100 and 200 levels. )

"That puts him in rock star status," said Marshall Chiles, owner of comedy club Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown. "And he put the work into it. You don't accidentally get to that level."

In recent years, Williams has been a staple at Atlanta Civic Center, one-third the size of Philips, selling out two dates a year ago there.

Williams, 41, is not a mainstream household name and doesn’t anchor big Hollywood movies like Hart or Tucker have. Instead, he’s gradually built his audience with his distinctive high-pitched voice and a bracing, often warped, sense of humor. Over the past 25 years, he’s made regular appearances on various BET shows including annual host of the Atlanta-based “BET Hip Hop Awards.” He also has multiple HBO specials under his belt and had small, notable roles in a films such as 2002’s “Friday After Next” and 2013’s “Scary Movie 5,” shot in Atlanta.

And he has become tabloid fodder thanks to a flurry of arrests over the years with charges ranging from allegedly beating a man with a bottle to pulling a gun on a fellow comic. Last fall, he and his friend and troubled rap mogul Suge Knight were arrested after being accused of stealing a paparazzi's camera.

“You can only get arrested six times before it ain’t fun no more,” Williams cracked during his 2012 HBO special “Kattpacalypse,” available on Netflix.

His shows are packed with a fervent, preacher-like physicality. Within minutes of hitting the stage, sweat is pouring off his forehead in James Brown fashion, soaking his silk shirts. In his 2014 HBO special "Priceless Afterlife" directed by Spike Lee, he tackled his own brushes with the law, Paula Deen, atheists, and gays in sports. He isn't clean by any stretch of the imagination, liberally throwing out curse words and the N-word with equal ardor.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

"He walks the fine line between genius and lunatic," said Luenell, a long-time friend and veteran comedienne who spent 18 months on tour with him in 2006 and 2007. (She is performing Valentine's Day weekend at Legends Comedy Club in Norcross and you can get tickets here.) "He's well read and well versed in politics, religion and education. That's why his comedy isn't superficial stuff about sex and relationships. He also has such an endearing quality. He's not intimidating to guys. They want to be him in a way. Girls would run off to an island with him in a New York minute."

And Luenell said the way he uses profanity is not meant to be mean or grotesque. "There's a certain cadence," she said. "It can be thought of like another language, an accent. It ends up not sounding offensive. Everybody knows [about the profanity] going in and they buy the ticket anyway. People may get offended or not offended but they have to see him for themselves. He's a phenomenon that way. He has a pied piper effect when we go through airports. It almost shuts the airports down. We started flying private during our tour. It was too much of a cluster****."

Luenell said he can handle arenas because "he has an ability to make people in the front row feel like he's their best friend and make the people in the last row feel the same way. You want to be in his aura. You want to breathe the same air. It's like seeing the Rolling Stones in row Z. It's a happening, a scene. You don't want to miss it."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Roy Wood Jr., a stand-up comic and afternoon host on R&B station Kiss 104.1, admires how Williams can bounce back from so much adversity. "It's great that he lives to tell these stories," he wrote in a text. He also likes how Williams broaches complex subjects other comics shy away from, be it religion or police brutality: "If you listen closely to Katt, his comedy is a lot more than a guy in a perm yelling for 60 minutes."

He worked with Williams back in the 1990s when he was known as Katt in the Hat and wore a big top hat. "He's very serene, very calm," he said. "He's great with other comics." He said his stage persona has gotten more comfortable, more theatrical. And Williams will change his material up frequently so anybody who saw his show a year ago will see a brand new one this weekend.

"The best comedians," he said, "are reporters on the world and themselves. He's fearless."

Special K, a comic who is part of the syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show, said Williams' public persona is a man on the verge of being unhinged. Fans "want to be around in the event of a meltdown!" he said. (Williams has been known to take down a heckler or two.).

He loves Katt’s energy and “how he doesn’t allow other people to define or dictate who or what he’s going to be as a comic. He does it Katt’s way and if you don’t like it, f you! I love that attitude!”

Concert preview

Katt Williams

8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday

$69.85-$147.90 after Ticketmaster fees

Philips Arena

One Philips Drive