“I want to be able to talk about anything. I want to be able to talk about what’s going on in the news or what’s going on in my life or whatever I just feel is funny.”
As an adjective, it’s defined by Dictionary.com as “having lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable; showing evidence of decline.” As a noun as “an immoral or corrupt person”. And as a verb “to deteriorate physically, mentally, or morally.”
These are the standard definitions of the word ‘degenerate.’ Clearly on paper when you’re going off of the definition alone, it isn’t the sort of thing that you’d want to be associated with. But, for Netflix’s new stand up series, The Degenerates, it means something more. Suddenly, more layers have been added. It is as if Netflix, known for creating some great content, has also taken up the game of completely redefining words in the English language and bringing them new meaning.
“It’s kind of cool to be called a degenerate. I know my mom used to do it when I first quit college and started doing stand-up. So now it’s kind of come full circle.”
So says Brad Williams, a now veteran comedian as well as one of the stars of the series who has his own half hour stand-up special on there. Some of his fellow degenerate stand-ups include Big Jay Oakerson, Joey Diaz, Christina Pazsitzky, Liza Treyger, and Yamaneika Saunders.
As you watch the special, it is clear that to be defined as “showing evidence of decline” could not be farther from the truth. This is a stellar lineup that features comedians on the top of the game. Perhaps they’re at the top of their game given the half hour format, Brad speculates. But clearly there is nothing wrong with being called a degenerate, so long as it refers to these folks.
Additionally, the name will allow you to know exactly what you’re getting into as a viewer. “It’s kind of great that way,” Williams explains to us over the phone, “to where we’re flat out saying ‘Yeah, if you’re that person that maybe has an emotional support dog and has written strongly worded letters to T.V. shows, maybe this isn’t for you.'”
“And that’s okay,” he continues. “Like I said, that’s the great part about being on Netflix. People can find exactly the kind of comedy that works for them. In their level of raunchy, their level of filth. We don’t want to trick anybody. We just want to flat out say “Hey, we are the degenerates of comedy.” So you know exactly what you’re getting.”
When Brad Williams, who has been in this racket for 16 years now, had his first two specials air, the climate was different. This was 2015 and 2016, respectively. It was the very end of the old guard. You had 3 top tier places to go as a comedian. Comedy Central, Showtime, and HBO. This was a model that had been in place for years, and was accepted and understood. Maybe you’ll have an occasional comic with an EPIX special, but that was far from the norm. However, there was also Netflix, which had just started releasing a handful of stand-up specials. But this was before the world of 2017, when Netflix was averaging 1 special a week. Nobody knew how it would go.
Now, in 2 short years, the tables have certainly turned. Netflix is the mainstay in stand-up comedy specials.
“Netflix is the spot for comedy,” says Brad. “Whether it be hour specials, half hour specials, now 15 minute specials. It’s where everyone’s getting seen, it’s where everyone’s consuming their comedy. When Netflix calls, you answer.”
This is where it all is now. And for every positive, there are those negatives. There are people who will claim that the model is too over saturated and things are bound to get lost.
“Well yeah, there’s some truth to that there being too much,” Brad admits, before rationalizing it. “But at the same time, I think it’s good because it’s still allowing people to be seen. If you say ‘Oh, well too much stand-up comedy.’ Okay well then who are you taking out? Who doesn’t get a special? Who doesn’t get their comedy seen? Because much like comedy clubs when they’re booking headliners, you can’t have every week be Chris Rock. There has to be headliners that are these amazing headliners that sell out, and you have to give chances to these headliners that are coming up. And that’s what these specials are doing. It’s giving everyone a chance to be seen.”
Given that there is so much out there, there is also no shame for Brad Williams to be doing a half hour special, either.” In a case like this where The Degenerates are half hour specials, that’s awesome because the attention spans are a little lower. And people are watching the half hour. And if comics are only doing a half hour, we can turn a good half hour out every year. That’s no problem.”
“But basically,” he continues, “when it started getting really popular to release a new hour special every year, I mean that’s REALLY difficult to get a good new hour every year. Even some of the comics that did it, they would release new hour long specials, there would be two or three bits on those specials that would be awesome! And then there would be stuff that they put in there as filler and it wasn’t quite ready yet. But now with the half hours, man it’s like you’re going to a concert and they’re only playing the hits.”
As a comedian, Brad, as is every comics goal, continues to evolve and not be the sort of comedian you’d expect him to be. Onstage in this special, you get a lot of the standard expectations, but also you get some great new stuff as well as he talks about marriage, #MeToo, and meeting his wife’s parents for the first time.
“I never want to be that guy that does one special that I really like and then every special after that I’m just chasing the dragon just trying to get back to that level. I don’t want people to just watch the new stuff and be like “It’s alright, but the old stuff is better.” I always want to be coming out with new stuff, interesting things, takes people haven’t heard before. And I really feel like I did that well with this one.”
If you go to his website and look up his tour schedule, there’s a pretty good chance he’s coming near you soon. That’s because there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be everywhere soon. Clearly, Brad Williams can be classified as being one of those “road dogs,” as they have been come to be called. The guys who are seemingly never not out there on the road, doing what they do best.
But the most amazing thing is, no matter how much he has traveled, no matter how many times he has had to play rooms that are seemingly in the middle of nowhere, he still seems to enjoy it all.
“I tell people I’ve done stand-up now in all 50 states and 14 countries,” he explains. “And what you find out in the time, everyone thinks like ‘Oh, the country’s so divided. Everyone’s different, there’s different thoughts, different mindsets.’ You find out as you tour you get to know people. There’s not horrible people, there’s not angelic people. They’re just people. Just like you and me.”
“I’ll have friends on the coasts that talk about people in the flyover states and they’ll talk about them in ways where I’m like ‘Oh, you haven’t actually met any of these people, have you?’ And vice versa. Everyone in the middle of the country thinks that people on the coast lives a certain life or we’re all about soy almond milk vegan lattes. And it’s not like that. I love touring because I get exposed to all walks of life and it helps me really understand people better.”
His want for understanding people better and his way of bringing them together is certainly admirable. When you sit down to watch a series called The Degnerates, your first thought is “Okay, when does this turn overtly political?” Because so many things do. However, just like how he isn’t going to write someone off just because of where they live, he’s not going to do the same thing to you because of who you vote for.
“I’m sure if you are a Trump supporter or if you’re a Trump hater, you might be tired of it. Everywhere you go, everyone’s doing something about it, pro or con. So I feel like “Just come to my show. Come to my show and you’ll get a break.”
However, there is one reference to politics, in a joke that is more about himself than anything else. And for that, Brad breaks out a surprisingly good Donald Trump impression.
“I’m not an impressionist. But it’s so easy to do him, it’s fun. And you get kind of locked into it for a bit. What’s funny is I can’t not do the hands when I’m doing the voice. It’s one in the same.”
In addition to all his time spent on the road, he also has a highly successful podcast. About Last Night, which he hosts with Adam Ray, is one of the premier interview podcasts out there today. “What sets us apart,” he explains, “is that we are not two people that are thrown together because “I’ve got a following, he’s got a following. Let’s talk.” It’s not that. It’s two guys that are genuinely friends. We’ve got really good chemistry with each other.”
This could stand to reason just how they get so many amazing people with storied careers to come do the show. You’ll see some comedy staple names like Judd Apatow, Jim Jefferies, Dana Carvey, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Garlin, and so on. However, you’ll also see some names that will surprise you. Names like Jason Derulo, Marv Albert, Freddie Prinze Jr., Neil Patrick Harris, and even Susan Sarandon.
“The guest that really got me was Susan Sarandon,” Williams says. “The fact that we got Susan Sarandon on the podcast, who is this Oscar winner, activist, A-list. That’s pretty damn A-list, and we got her on the show talking to just two idiots who tell dick jokes for a living.”
“We also had an episode 2 years ago where Jaleel White explains black Christmas to us. And it was awesome! I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the kind of traditions, the kind of food, everything. I had no clue. Jaleel White sat down and explained black Christmas to two white kids from USC. So it’s that kind of stuff. The kind of stuff that they haven’t said before in a normal interview.
With his constant touring, successful podcast, and new special, this is every comedian’s dream. And Brad Williams is living in it. He doesn’t want to be remembered as someone who changed the world. He doesn’t want to “get up on Mount Pious,” as he calls it Just someone who was “f*cking funny.” That’s all he wants. To keep doing stand-up. That’s where he’s found his true success, after all. And one of the coolest things that came out of that success?
“When I was starting, I used to get mistaken for Jason [Acuma/Wee-Man]. And just now, the time is starting to turn, he is starting to get mistaken for me. And oh, it is the best feeling in the world, let me tell ya. I’ve had to suffer through this for the past 20 years, so now the fact that he’s finally getting called Brad Williams just puts a huge smile on my face. Now if I could just get to Dinklage, that’s going to be the ultimate.”
The Degenerates are now streaming on Netflix.