It's one thing for a stand-up comedian to thank an audience for their positive reception, but shelling out thousands of dollars as a token of appreciation (or as an apology) is another.
In the midst of the 100-city "It's Pimpin' Pimpin" U.S. tour that will stop at 1st Mariner Arena tonight, comedian Katt Williams is no stranger to either situation.
In February, Williams, 34, handed out $100 bills to audience members to thank them for their loyalty and support after he performed at Hollywood's Laugh Factory.
Last New Year's Eve, Williams offered refunds to audience members when some complained of sound issues after he showed up an hour and a half late to debut new material at Chicago's Arie Crown Theatre.
"For people to say they couldn't hear all the way through is not tolerable," Williams said in an interview with Chicago's Power 92 radio host Kendra G. "People spent hard money."
Williams' recent generosity is an example of his dedication to his role as a professional comic. In addition to delivering expletive-rich political, sex-based, "pimpin'" and "playah" punch lines to thousands, he's played flamboyant choir director Rickey in the film First Sunday, a fancily dressed pimp (affectionately named Lord Have Mercy) in 2007's Norbit and fast-talking store owner Money Mike in 2002's Friday After Next.
Comfortable as the comic relief in his beta-male roles, Williams says he wants to "help restore dignity" to the role of professional comic rather than use his comedic fame as a springboard to more dramatic movie roles.
"If you do comedy and decide to do a movie, people always ask, 'When are you gonna do something serious and move to drama?'" he said during a recent telephone interview. "The craft of comedy is often overlooked. It's the stepchild in awards and such. I'd like it to be treated as a craft and not a segue into something more serious."
But his dedication to comedy hasn't prevented Williams from further expressing himself artistically.
He's started his own record label, Katt Pack, and has recorded an album, It's Pimpin' Pimpin'. The album, featuring cameos by rappers Snoop Dogg, Lil' Jon, Da Brat and others, combines hip-hop songs with comedic sketches and includes a hard-rock song and a cover of Prince's "Pop Life."
"Hip-hop has been my thing forever," he says. "My intention the whole time was to make the rap album. Music makes me feel different than comedy."
But comedian and musician are the last professions you would think the Dayton, Ohio, native would end up with, based on his academic accomplishments early in life.
At age 12, Williams won a number of awards for science projects, landing him a full scholarship to the National Science Academy in Dayton. But upon getting word, he purposely failed a math test, resulting in a loss of the scholarship.
"I was young," he says. "You know when you are young, you just do what you do. I was just trying to be impressive."
Not soon after, as a result of growing up in a socially and politically charged household, Williams emancipated himself from his family and moved to Florida, where he decided to pursue comedy.
"It was hard," he says. "I did a lot of jobs. I sold flowers, sold things door to door, worked as a cleaner, operated amusement-park rides."
Now living in Los Angeles almost two decades after first gracing a stage, Williams continues to hone his act. Regardless of experience, he says he still doesn't feel like he's settled in.
"Back in Florida, I don't think I ever felt really grounded. I still don't feel like that," he says. "I'm still on it. Being on a big tour, you understand that the faster you go, the more things change. I never feel like I am right on time, I'm always feeling like I'm a step behind."
Katt Williams will perform at 8 tonight at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Admission is $44.50-$80. Ticket availability may be limited. He will also perform at 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. May 8-9 at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. N.W., Washington. Admission is $48.50-58.50. Ticket availability may be limited. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.