Many performers want to be loved by as many people as possible. Others want to just express themselves and present their art, popularity be damned.
Stand-up comedian Taylor Williamson tries to have it both ways, and it's kind of driving him crazy.
"It's hard, but it's like dating," the 29-year-old comic says. "You want the girl to like you, but you want to be yourself."
Williamson really wants everyone in the world to like him, and that may be impossible, but he's off to a good start. After all, he did finish runner-up among the countless acts auditioning for the eighth season of the hit NBC program America's Got Talent in 2013, so it's pretty safe to say a good portion of the viewing public likes what the guy does. (That was the same season that featured Pineville country singer Jimmy Rose, who finished third; dancer and mime Kenichi Ebina was the winner.)
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But Williamson's successful run on the show was no overnight success story. Growing up in San Diego, he started doing stand-up comedy at 17, and club owners made him wait outside the 21-and-older comedy clubs until he jumped on stage.
"The good thing about starting young is you're not smart enough to stop doing it when it's bad," he says.
Turns out that Williamson was pretty good. His cerebral and self-deprecating humor, combined with a charmingly nervous delivery, helped him make a decent living and a name for himself on the West Coast, earning a guest spot on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson by the time he was 20. He also appeared on another NBC program, the comedy competition Last Comic Standing, in 2010 and made it to the semi-finals.
But when Williamson considered auditioning for America's Got Talent, he saw it as more of a last-ditch effort than a chance of a lifetime.
"The year before AGT was the worst of my career. I was about to get a day job for the first time in my life," he says. "If I wasn't even slightly desperate, I wouldn't have auditioned for the show."
Williamson might have initially advanced in early rounds thanks to winning over judges Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel. But it was his surprising performances that won America's vote. Sure, his trademark delivery, wit and just-edgy-enough material was always there. But whether he was doing an Inside The Actor's Studio questionnaire with James Lipton or being accompanied by a gospel choir that delivered the racial-animal joke punch line, he was always trying to play the game while remaining true to himself as a performer.
"My comedy, I wouldn't say is G-rated at all," he says. "I had to fight like crazy (with NBC), but they let me do some stupid stuff."
When he hits the road doing stand-up in clubs across America, Williamson feels as if he won his season of America's Got Talent. He's coming to Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington to perform this weekend. Because many of his fans are teenagers who first heard his comedy through AGT, his last performance in Lexington will be open to ages 13 and older.
Williamson says he would eventually like to get past being directly associated with AGT, but he continues to be grateful for the life-changing opportunity the show gave him and the unique relationship it provided with his fan base.
"America's Got Talent and these reality shows, the people get to know you as a person," he says. "That's why I love going on the road, because I get to meet the people that voted for me, which is really cool."