Comedian Tim Wilson has always had the gift of gab.
“My dad told me when I was younger that I should be a motivational speaker,” he said on a recent visit to Nashville. “I didn’t know what a motivational speaker was at the time.”
What he did know, however, was that he had a way of connecting with people — through humor. “I started doing impressions when I was in elementary school,” he says. By the time he got to high school he was the entertainment for the faculty Christmas party. “I could do pretty good impressions of all the teachers and they loved it — they’d all be saying, ‘do me, do me!'”
It was also in high school that Tim decided he wanted to pursue a singing and songwriting career. “I taught myself to play guitar and wrote love songs that nobody wanted to hear. I really wasn’t good at it, but I wanted to write love songs.”
It wasn’t until after his college graduation that Tim realized he’d been barking — or maybe singing would be a better word — up the wrong tree. “I used to listen to this comedian at this joint (OK, it was a bar) in Georgia. Well, my friends started bragging to him that I could do Richard Pryor. Finally he says to me, ‘Alright, come on up here and let’s see ya do Richard Pryor.’ After that first time, they kept calling me up night after night.
“One night,” he continues, “I was driving around in Atlanta and saw a sign that said ‘comedy club.’ Now, this was back in the ’80s when comedy clubs were just getting started, so I had no idea what a comedy club was — I’d never even been to one. I knew I couldn’t write love songs, but I knew that comedy was one thing I could do. So I showed up on open mic night and found my calling. After that I started doing every club around the Atlanta area.”
Things started rolling along pretty well, with appearances on television shows such as Evening at the Improv and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “I realized that comedy came natural to me. I didn’t really have to work at it like I did music. Instead of writing love songs, I took to writing humorous songs and hey, it worked.”
In pursuing the comedy route, Tim was influenced by the man he claims is the greatest comedian of all time — Richard Pryor. “I really don’t care for ‘observational’ comedy. You know, when someone says, ‘Did you ever notice…’ Those guys get done with their act, and you don’t know a thing about them. But, when you went to see Richard Pryor, you came away knowing something about the man. He really put himself out there.”
Anyone who remembers watching Richard Pryor in the ’70s will recall how he boldly tackled the issues that were headlining newspapers across the country — politics and race relations — clearing the air, easing tensions and allowing the audience to laugh at itself.
Credited in a recent magazine article for changing American comedy forever, Pryor said, “Two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humor. I am proud that I have been able to use humor to lessen people’s hatred.”
Tim echoes the same sentiment. “To me, humor is therapeutic. If I can laugh at the things that frustrate me, I can deal with them.
“The media reports the news,” Tim says, “but in a way that nobody’s gonna get mad at them. A comedian — a good comedian — gets on stage and tells things like they really are.”
Tim admits to being politically oriented but not necessarily politically correct. “It’s sort of like The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he says, referring to the fairy tale where a child plainly stated what the pretentious adults would not admit — that the emperor was naked. “I just tell things the way I see them. When it comes to politics, I’m very opinionated. Don’t even get me started on Hillary Clinton,” he says. “I’m not into the victim mode. With her, everyone’s a victim. Her husband’s a victim. I think he should just grow up and take responsibility for himself.”
His song, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Nut” is a spoof of the First Lady’s book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. The title of this book was inspired by an African proverb that states “it takes a village to raise a child,” and the philosophy behind its theme is that society is responsible for how children turn out.
“I was brought up by a father who was very strict and taught me to be responsible for myself,” he said. “Why can’t everyone just be responsible for themselves instead of blaming everyone else?”
Of course, it’s not just politics that can set off someone’s fuse. Tim’s rendition of “Garth Brooks Ruined My Life” voices the testosterone-charged sentiments of any man who’s ever felt a little bit jealous when his wife swoons over Garth Brooks.
Though Tim’s humor can take on a caustic tone, he admits that his bark is worse than his bite. “I had to teach myself to be so vocal. You know, at my shows I usually pick on people in the front row. There might be a bald man sitting there and I’ll say, ‘That’s the worst toupee I’ve ever seen!’ Now, I had to teach myself to do that. That part didn’t come natural cause I grew up in a very well-mannered family. So I guess you could say I had to develop a stage persona — one that could do those kinds of things. I pick on people sometimes, and though I try not to dwell on the easy picks I’m not out to purposely hurt anybody’s feelings. I mean, if I heard that Hillary Clinton was crying over what I said about her in my song, I’d probably apologize to her!”
Taking the stage and using humor as a remedy for helping an audience cope with stress doesn’t seem that far removed from being a motivational speaker, except as Tim puts it, “It costs a lot less to buy one of my CDs or a ticket to one of my shows than it does to attend a seminar!”
When he’s not on the road, Tim can be found puttering around in his newly remodeled Georgia home with his wife and two kids. “One day I’m on stage, people are clapping — and the next day I’m taking out the garbage!
“My daughter, who is 10, seems to be like me in that she likes being an entertainer. She’s already entertaining her friends by doing impressions.”
Would he encourage her to pursue a career in show business? “Yes, but I tell her, ‘Don’t become an actor — become a director!'”
The title of Tim’s new album, Gettin’ My Mind Right, was inspired by the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke. In the film, Luke (played by Paul Newman) wakes up after a drunken spree to find himself a member of a southern chain gang. He refuses to lose his dignity or his cool despite some painful encouragement from the prison guards, prompting the warden to repeatedly misadvise, “You’ve got to get your mind right.” New tunes include “Haircut Malpractice,” “Peterbuilt Prison,” “If You Try to Save This Marriage Again, I’ll Kill You” and “Nashville Name Dropping School.” The album is due out October 5, but you can advance order now!