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Abbott Elementary actor Tyler James Williams shares the power of comedy with students

Abbott Elementary actor Tyler James Williams shares the power of comedy with students


When he first saw the 1997 sci-fi film Men in Black, 4-year-old Tyler James Williams laughed as intergalactic creatures chased a secret agent played by Will Smith.

Comedy captivated him. The fire that was lit that day is what has kept me in comedy over and over again, said Williams, an award-winning actor, musician, songwriter and producer who has appeared on Cal State's Beyond the Conversation series. Fullertons. Organized by Associated Students Inc. and the Division of Student Affairs, the series invites speakers to campus to engage students in dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Williams' commitment to portraying characters who present a thread of emotional vulnerability and compassion allows her to tell powerful stories while touching audiences' hearts.

His notable roles include Chris in Everybody Hates Chris, Cyrus in Let It Shine, Lionel in Dear White People, and Noah in The Walking Dead. Williams received the 2023 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gregory in the hit series Abbott Elementary.

Romanticizing “the art of teaching”

Turning down more acting roles than reprising them, Williams said he finds joy in playing supporting roles that have a lot of heart.

At the fictional, underfunded public school of Abbott Elementary in Philadelphia, teachers struggle to support their students' academic success and earn a sustainable living, paycheck to paycheck.

Exposed to the inequities of the American education system, Williams said he became more informed about the plight of teachers across the country and hyper-aware of his duty to humanize teachers' lived experiences.

On a larger scale, the country is short of teachers, but especially teachers of color and even more black men, Williams said. I advocate for Gregory Eddie to fill this position by inviting black men into the conversation and romanticizing the true art of teaching.

Abbott Elementary completed three seasons with 59 episodes, and Williams announced that the series would return for a fourth season.

Williams explained his attraction to comedy as an antidote to negative national news.

People don't change when they feel angry. You have to disarm them, Williams said. It's like when you're on a date with someone and one of the first things you want to do is make them laugh. It makes them feel comfortable enough to talk about difficult issues if they understand they are not being attacked.

Williams' hilarious glances toward the camera in Abbott Elementary are not scripted but improvised. He explained that the ability to assess timing and specificity of acting will open doors for students.

Looking back on one of his early roles, Williams said Everybody Hates Chris provided the best training ground for his professional career.

I've done scenes with some of the best comedians in history,” Williams said. I was able to stand 10 toes up with Chris Rock.

CSUF students at “Beyond the Conversation” series (Courtesy of Associated Students Inc.)

Opening the doors to entertainment

Along with Williams' diagnosis of Crohn's disease at the age of 24, he shared that he was mindful of his mental health. Williams emphasized the importance of students protecting their peace and establishing an unbreakable mind-body connection.

For aspiring actors, he said it's crucial to fall in love with camerawork, preparation and character development.

Work on yourself as a creative and work to be infallible. Later in your career, you'll make more important choices, Williams said. That's what's going to help you be a precision sniper as an actor rather than someone who does a big song or dance.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams finished filming The United States vs. Billie Holiday, a film that follows the Federal Bureau of Narcotics as it targets jazz singer Billie Holiday for her song Strange Fruit, which broadcasts Jim Crow era atrocities.

To immerse himself in the role of saxophonist Lester Young, Williams had to separate his feelings from reality.

I played a character who actually existed. That raises the stakes even further, Williams said. You're not just telling a story; you're telling someone's story. It is the responsibility to say it in the right way.

Our job is to humanize the stories of those who are not.




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