Read time: 4 minutes
When she was young, Patricia Williams dreamed of living the life she saw on Leave It To Beaver. But with a poor childhood, single motherhood, and legal problems, it seemed her path was taking her far from safe, milquetoast America. And certainly far from any kind of celebrity or fame.
At age 15, she had two kids and had dropped out of school.
But now, Williams—known onstage as “Ms. Pat”—has appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, This is Not Happening on Comedy Central, Nickelodeon’s NickMom Night Out, Katt Williams’ Kattpacalypse, as well as on countless podcasts, including Marc Maron’s WTF.
When she takes the stage, Williams is in command. She makes people laugh and gets paid well to do it.
In her new memoir, Rabbit, The Autobiography of Ms. Pat, Williams (with writer Jeannine Amber), tells how she made the enormous leap to where she is today.
Growing Up as Rabbit
Williams, 45, grew up poor in Atlanta. “My mama was an alcoholic single mother with five kids,” she writes in Rabbit. “She could barely read and only knew enough math to play the numbers and count exact change to buy herself a couple of bottles of Schlitz Malt Liquor and a nickel bag of weed.” Her grandfather ran an “illegal liquor house,” which meant he sold moonshine out of his living room.
She got the nickname “Rabbit” after her stepdad told her that her eyes would turn blue if she ate a bunch of carrots. Williams loved carrots and began eating a ton of them, and while her eyes didn’t turn to blue, her constant carrot munching earned her the moniker.
By the time she was 12 years old, Williams was having sex with an older man. By 13, she was pregnant. And at age 15, she had two kids and had dropped out of school. “My dream was to give my kids a better life, but most days I didn’t even have enough money to buy Pampers,” she writes. “All I wanted was to find a way to get myself and my babies out of the ghetto; I was willing to do whatever it took.”
Williams began selling crack.
Not Like Everyone Else
“I’m thinking this is how most people grew up,” says Williams today. “Once I became a comedian, I realized, ‘Uh, no. Everybody didn’t grow up like this.’”
Her caseworker told her she was the funniest person she knew and should do stand-up comedy.
Williams ran a successful drug-dealing business, but she paid a price. She was arrested a few times, shot a couple of times. “I’ve been a little bit of everything a couple of times,” Williams laughs. She even spent time in jail, but she was released early because of overcrowding. Jail time didn’t stop her from selling drugs again, though. That didn’t happen until after she met Garrett. Known as “Michael” in her book, Garrett was the ex-military man who would get her straight.
Williams got out of selling drugs and tried to hold mainstream jobs. But she either kept getting fired or couldn’t get hired because of her criminal background. She recounts that her caseworker, Miss Campbell, wiped tears from her eyes because Williams made her laugh so much and said that she was the funniest person she knew. Then she told her that she should do stand-up comedy. Williams tried it. She began joking about her upbringing. And she did it again and again and again. She got really good, and once more, her life changed.
From Crime to Comedy
Today Williams loves her life. Besides her two oldest children, Williams has two teenagers with Garrett, and they have full custody of her niece’s four children. “A little girl on that front of that book [hers] knows what it’s like to not have a stable foundation in life. I do not want these four kids to ever experience what I had to experience. I can’t save the world, but I’m trying to save it one kid at a time,” she says.
“There’s a reason I went through all of this shit and survived, because I could’ve been dead.”
Although stand-up is still her primary career, Williams recently worked with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and sold a half-hour sitcom to Fox. “It don’t mean it’s going to come out. A deal don’t mean nothing,” says Williams. “This deal is like my hair—it ain’t real. It ain’t real, baby, until it hit TV.”
Whether the show goes forward or not, Williams knows this is where she belongs. “There’s a reason I went through all of this shit and survived, because I could’ve been dead. For some reason, even when I was at my lowest, God still had me going. He still showed me the path to where I needed to get to. I never got on drugs. I don’t do alcohol. There was a reason I went through this,” says Williams. “A lot of this stuff is turning into inspiration. I never looked at myself as being an inspirational person. I just wanted to tell people once I had the message, ‘Hey, it’s okay. Don’t dwell on it. Get the fuck up.’ It’s not about how you fall; it’s about how you get up and do something about it.
“I mean, I’m just a comic. I’m not a black pastor, I’ve learned to forgive everybody that’s done wrong by me, hold my head up, and keep moving. Hopefully, I can tell people to do the same.”