Sam Brooks talks to the three Williams siblings – all comedians – about growing up in a loud, competitive household, their mum’s sideline in character comedy, and their plans for a family stand-up tour.
You can find part one of this interview here. Part two of the interview starts with Maria making a discovery on main street:
Guy: What’s going on there, Maria?
Maria: Oh, I’m just on Main Street, Upper Hutt. So good news, at the hairdresser, you can buy, in bulk, frozen dumplings.
Guy: Amazing. At a hairdresser in Upper Hutt you can buy bulk frozen dumplings which is really good.
Maria: But yeah. I feel like, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realised how much of our humour has come from our parents, ‘cause like, Dad’s a really jolly person and then Mum loves like black humour, like she’s a bit psycho in her humour.
(Editor’s Note: Before leaving us to do the interview, the Williams matriarch Rosanne said to me, regarding her children: “If they didn’t laugh, they’d cry.”)
Guy: Well, maybe not psycho but a bit more like–
Maria: Real dark. Real dark. Like that time, you know, she announced that Sam had died and she was like, laughing so hard I thought she was going to choke on her burrito.
Guy: Sam was the cat. That was a good comedy moment.
Paul: I wasn’t there.
Guy: We were at Flying Burrito Brothers in Wellington and we knew telling Maria that the childhood cat–the childhood cat that was so old, it was literally older than me it was like 24 human years old. The cat was so old it was basically dead every time you saw it–
Maria: He was the oldest cat. His estimate age made him the oldest cat on record at the Nelson vet.
Guy: Every time it went to sleep you just didn’t think it was going to wake up. Anyway, I was at university and I think Maria was up in Wellington as well.
And Mum decided to break Maria the news in the busy, busy burrito restaurant, in the bar area, that the cat, Sam, had died. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen like, ‘Best Cry Ever’ on Youtube? It’s that black guy who’s like ‘WAAAHHHH!!’… That is what Maria did. She broke out into full like ‘WAAAAAHHHHH!!!’ Like going a hundy in the restaurant. She just didn’t give a shit.
Maria: There’s important context.
Guy: Oh yeah, can’t wait, this’ll be like Gary’s special ingredient.
Maria: The way she delivered the news, was like, she burst out laughing so hard that she couldn’t even say the sentence. Like she was laughing so hard so I thought something really funny was going to come and then she goes [Canadian accent] ‘Guess what, it’s finally happened!’ and I was like ‘What?’ and she was like ‘Sam DIED!’
Guy: And then on the back of that, Maria’s just like ‘WAAAAAHHHHH!!’
Maria: Yeah it was a good cry. Y’know, cry big or cry home.
Guy: I was sad that Sam died but it was still quite funny.
Paul: They didn’t tell me. I was still in Nelson in high school and then like, I think I’d just come back from somewhere and Sam wasn’t around, and then as a few days went by I was like, I think I just figured it out. It was really sad.
Paul: I got some basketball shoes the other day, custom KD 9’s and they’ve got Patsy and Sam embroidered–
Guy: Two dead cats.
Paul: –my ex cats embroidered on the tongues.
Guy: So um–
Paul: Every time I play on the court it’s dedicated to them. Continue.
Guy: It is a bizarre situation that in our family there’s three children and they’ve now all done stand up and are all weirdly in the arts. We’re hoping to have a family tour, a family stand up comedy tour. That’s my dream. Paul said he’s going to quit comedy before that happens.
Paul: Yeah, I’m not doing it.
Maria: At one point it looked like I would go into theatre, and then it looked like me and Paul would go into theatre and then it looked like just Paul would go into theatre and then somewhere out of nowhere, someone messaged me and told me Guy was on TV, and I was like ‘Um I’m pretty sure I would know if my own brother was doing comedy and I’m pretty sure that was not him on TV’ but then it was.
Paul: (Is saying something that cannot be heard underneath his older siblings)
Guy: I didn’t tell my family about comedy because it’s quite an embarrassing thing to admit.
Maria: Meanwhile, Paul’s still doing music and singing and stuff so as the middle child I was like, ‘Wait a second. I am the most talented Williams sibling.’
Maria: I’m easily the funniest. People, honestly, my Facebook used to blow up every time Guy went on TV because everyone would be like ‘Oh you should be up there Maria!’
Guy: Um, Paul, what were you going to say?
Paul: Oh, just, when I was in Guy’s room, he was back from Wellington uni for the holidays, and I was in his room and I opened like a clearfile that he had like, lying on the ground–he was in the room, I wasn’t just like snooping–and, I don’t know, he just had like random tickets of shows he’d gone to and stuff in there, I think he still weirdly does that–but yeah there was like a full page A4 print and it was like ‘The Raw Comedy Final Wellington’ and it was like a running order and his name was on it and I was like ‘What the hell? What is this?’ and I remember him being like, ‘Don’t tell Mum and Dad’ like it was like this dark secret.
Guy: The reason being is because like, not that Mum and Dad wouldn’t be encouraging but it’s like, if comedy doesn’t work out it’s quite an embarrassing thing to even admit you tried. Sacha Baron Cohen said it well once when he was like ‘Saying you want to do comedy or you think you’re funny is like saying you want to be a model, you don’t admit it to someone until you’ve got a cover of a magazine’.
Paul: The other day was the first time I’ve ever told anyone I was doing a gig, apart from maybe you.
And it was just ‘cause it was Alice Snedden’s fundraising gig and she said I had to do a tweet about it. So apart from that I’ve never been like, ‘Hey, I’m doing this!’
Guy: Maria did her second stand-up gig recenty
Maria: I mainly talk about Destiny’s Child.
Guy: She talks about Destiny’s Child and uh, what else is interesting? She reads off cards which is weird.
Maria: I read off cards.
Guy: We gave her some advice and it was ‘Don’t read off cards.’
Maria: So Sam (the editor, not cat) actually knows this that I’m notoriously, notoriously bad at learning lines and also when I freak out I panic and therefore blank. And I stand on stage and do nothing, and don’t move and say nothing.
Guy: I reckon that’s when you might be your best Maria when you’re backed into the corner and you just like think what comes into your head… that doesn’t involve swearing.
Maria: That’s actually probably true.
Guy: That’s where the ‘BURN IN HELL’ gold comes from.
Maria: People seem to love me doing improv even though I’m always like ‘Well, that was a disaster.’
Paul: I just realised, I reckon we all started comedy at Saint Joseph’s school, like, doing speeches. Like Mum would kind of help us a little bit, and Maria went to the nationals for the Smokefree speeches.
Guy: Oh yeah, Maria was the best.
Maria: Yeah, I can’t really hear what’s going on but I can tell you I was very, very successful in the Smokefree speeches competition.
I represented Nelson for the ‘Smokefree: Clear the Air 2001 Speech Competition’ and then the next year I got runner up and one of the judges told me I would’ve won but they didn’t want to give it to the same person two years in a row. And then I, like a bitter little girl, I told the winner that and she was really upset and then I felt bad. But it should’ve been me is all I’m saying.
Guy: Don’t admit dark secrets from your past, Maria.
Maria: Well that was the year I actually did a weird take of a mother who smokes… Mum created this character and it was like a mother who smokes at the side of a rugby game and the finale of my speech was that I was wearing fake teeth that I spat out. Because that’s what happens when you smoke.
Guy: It’s comedy gold. See, Mum inspired us… Um…. Three other weird things I want to bring up. One is that we drove around, we had a family car which was a Toyota Previa, AKA a Brevymobile and Mum, weirdly, only had like four tapes, and the main one was Jerry Seinfeld, I’m Telling You for the Last Time. She had another comedy tape which was Bill Cosby At His Best but we don’t talk about that anymore.
So she plays it over and over again to the point where we all know the routines like, off by heart, like we can do Jerry Seinfeld’s entire–
Maria: ‘Goin’ to the toilet on an airplane and the LIGHT comes on it’s like a lil SURPRISE party!…’
Guy: ‘… It’s like you’re in an apartment on the plane. There’s a slot for used razor blades and you’re like, “Who’s SHAVING on the PLANE? D’you have the WOLF man in there?”
She was mental like she played it–normally when you listen to a comedy special you listen to it once and if you really like it you might hear it twice, and If you love it, over a long period of time you’ll listen to it three times, especially if you’re into comedy. But like, she played it over and over. It would end and start again. And we didn’t even know what comedy was, she was just like, brainwashing us with comedy.
But the weird thing is, Mum wasn’t pushing us towards comedy. Like the opposite, she’s always been like, ‘Don’t do that.’
Maria: Yeah, I had to go to bloody hotel management school.
Guy: Like she never pushed us toward there it’s just weirdly, she brainwashed us with comedy.
Maria: Mum used to be like, ‘Don’t tell your brothers this, but one day they’re going to come to you and you’re going to have to give them a job.’
Guy: Well that could still be possible like we don’t have very good jobs at the moment, that’s still a highly likely situation.
Maria: I try to get a job off Guy all the time.
Guy: Maria’s diploma or degree in hotel management’s probably the most solid degree we’ve got. Paul’s got a degree from dumbass academy.
Paul: I’ve got a Bachelors of Musical Theatre.
Guy: I did Political Science which is pretty much useless and Maria has done a million things including hotel management, that’s what Mum’s referring to.
Maria: Yeah I did about seven different things.
Guy: So she brainwashed us. The big opportunity for me that helped me get into comedy, was me and Paul cheated at a government run sustainable… um…
Paul: Sustainability film competition.
Guy: Film competition! We made a comedy video, I was just within the maximum age. The maximum age was like 22 and I was like 22. Paul was like 16 so we had him front it and he mainly did it and um, what we did is we just went online and just voted for our one, like, heaps of times…
So we ended up winning the laptop, met Helen Clark, got to go to South Seas Film and Television school and that was like the start of great things. Like that inspired me, I was like ‘Shit, I can actually do, like, comedy and stuff like that’ and that was–
Maria: I mean it was a bit of a coup that you won. It ended up being voted on by people, right? No, not voted on, it was on how many Youtube…
Guy: Votes! It was votes!
Paul: Trust me, I made a lot of fake Hotmail accounts.
Maria: I got so excited at the prospect that they might win this competition because as we’ve learned from the Smoke-free speech competition and previous Stage Challenge competitions, I love fuckin’ winning competitions, but I got so excited that I typed up–I was in first year uni at a hall and I typed up all these little notes and put them under the door of all the people I knew so I printed out like 100 of these notes saying ‘Please go on and vote for my brothers’.
Guy: And we ended up winning.
Paul: We ended up winning.
Maria: You won, it was all thanks to me. Which–
Guy: We beat something like… I was like 22. Paul was like–
Guy: 14. I was too old. We were against primary school students who were like ‘I think the environment is good’…
Maria: … And they were against an adult in the competition.
Guy: Yeah. So we won that. And I was going to talk about accidental comedy, while we’re talking about accidentally… The funniest bit in that was like after the video, which was a bit where I wanted Paul to film a rainbow–
Paul: Which I was already filming.
Guy: He was already filming a rainbow and so I was like ‘Paul! Paul! Film the rainbow! Film the rainbow!’ and he just goes ‘I’m ALREADY filming it, you dumbass!’
Paul: No, ‘…you psycho!’
Guy: ‘I’m trying to film it, you PSYCHO!’ and that was, like, another, like, ‘BURN IN HELL!’ moment and that was the end of the video and that was like the biggest laugh of the whole–
Maria: It was definitely a family meltdown.
Guy: –video. So that became, like, kind of part of the comedy again. Um, so basically we’ve got a family dynasty of comedy now. It’s going great, and um… But the awkward dynamic we have now is that, um, Paul, the other night we were doing Joke Frenzy and he did a better joke than me and everyone’s stoked with Paul’s jokes and not mine so I’m going to have to get him to stay in line.
Like, basically the way we’ve set up… the family’s set up like the US Postal Service team when Lance Armstrong was riding for them. So like, they’re the riders who do the slip stream for me to be the winner, and he can’t go out cycle in front of me he’s got to break the wind for me so I come through on the slip stream.
Paul: I’m Alberto Cantador and you’re Lance Armstrong.
Guy: He’s Alberto Cantador… We’re both doping. We’re both cheating, that’s the important thing to know. We’re both doping and we’re going to go to victory. Maria are you part of the US Postal cycle team with Lance Armstrong?
Paul: She’s the–
Maria: Am I part of the what, sorry?
Paul: She’s Floyd Landis.
Guy: Maria’s Floyd Landis.
Paul: Also doping.
Guy: Also doping. Are you–We’re comparing the family comedy dynasty to you being part of the US Postal Service team with Lance Armstrong that’s doping and I’m Lance Armstrong.
Paul: Was Cantador even on that team though?
Maria: I’m not–I do not understand–But I guess if there was a strong, funnier woman on that team I guess I would be her.
Guy: Maria’s the woman doing comedy on the bike.
Maria: I get the feeling it was a team of all straight cisgendered white men in that team and–
Guy: You don’t know Paul’s gender! Fuck you!
Maria: … This probably the worst group of people we could possibly align ourselves with but sure.
Guy: No it’s good and as long as Maria and Paul know to never be funnier or more successful than me, like Lance Armstrong…
Maria: Funnier’s definitely inevitable, I feel like it’s not a stretch. More successful? Again, you know you’ve already got your foot in the door, you’re so loud, you’re so privileged, you know, you’re so… already there. I think you’re set. You’ve got the friends, you’ve got the-
Guy: I WILL BREAK YOU! I’LL TAKE YOU DOWN! YOU’RE NOT FUNNIER THAN ME! NEVER!
Maria: Guy, I will obviously break you with words. You have a physical size on me but I can break you with my words, so that’s fine.
Guy: Me and Paul do segments together on Jono and Ben. Paul was on Jono and Ben three times on the weekend and he’s opening for me in Hamilton tonight, but he knows his place. In Hamilton he goes on, does five minutes, not too good though so he makes me look good. I’m the star.
Paul: That’s intentional. I’m intentionally not very good.
Guy: Nah bloody good. Sweet. Any more questions? We just rambled eh. We love talking as you can tell so sorry there’s so much there.
Maria: As you can see, the Williams family are the biggest tangenters and ranters you’ll meet in your life.
Book tickets to Guy Williams: Why Am I Like This here.
Book tickets to Paul Williams: Summertime here.