Tyler James Williams Speaks on The Triggers of Childhood Fame And a Producer’s Comments “You’ll Probably Never Work Again”

Tyler James Williams Speaks on The Triggers of Childhood Fame And a Producer's Comments Towards His Career "...You'll Probably Neve Work Again"

Tyler James Williams, known for his lead role in the popular sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, recently spoke about his career and the challenges he faced after the show ended. Williams, who grew up in New York, started his career in acting at the age of four on Sesame Street. He went on to work on Saturday Night Live as an extra and made an appearance on Kenan Thompson’s debut episode.

“I just told [Kenan] like a month ago, ‘Dog, I did your first night at SNL,’” Williams says. Saturday Night Live was where Williams first realized he could do comedy. “It was during Jack Black’s opening monologue, and the bit was that he had a bunch of kids in his dressing room who were his illegitimate children that he’d been having with groupies,” Williams explains. “I didn’t have a line and the bit was that he’s supposed to forget my name. I threw a look to the camera and got a laugh [from the audience]. That’s the moment I realized, ‘Yo, I don’t need a line to get a laugh.’”

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Williams landed his breakthrough role at the age of 12 when he was cast as the lead character in Chris Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris. The actor shared that he had to learn how to carry the show in just a matter of months, and that it was the steepest learning curve he has ever faced in his life. The experience was particularly challenging for Williams because he was growing up on the show, with his awkward teenage years being scrutinized by the public. He described the experience as “traumatic” and shared that he still gets triggered by things that are part of other people’s childhood.

“The time this was happening was the same time the internet was becoming more ingrained in the industry,” Williams says. “So as I’m going through the most awkward years of my life, everyone sees it. I think my voice was cracking nonstop during seasons two and three. I was trying to find myself in front of everybody. And everybody had an opinion and was getting used to getting theirs out.”

When I search for a better euphemism to describe fame than “traumatic,” Williams interrupts me, eyes widening. “It was traumatic,” he says. “I still get triggered by things that are part of everybody else’s childhood. Every time someone comes up to me, regardless of what it is they recognize me for, what that says to me in the moment is that I’m seen. I have to be on, immediately, because someone’s watching.”

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Williams explained that he has been in therapy for years to help him cope with fame and hypervigilance, a condition where a person is constantly on edge and sensitive to their surroundings. He had to establish firmer boundaries and slow down the pace of his life to cope with the negative impact that fame was having on him.

When Everybody Hates Chris ended, Williams was concerned that he might not have a career and that his early success could be a disadvantage. He recounted a time when a producer told him, “I’ll never see you as anything else and you’ll probably never work again.”

“I was like, ‘Holy shit, you really just looked at me and said that,’” Williams recalls. He notes that the comment was probably a joke, but he internalized it nonetheless. And When Everybody Hates Chris ended, Williams course-corrected. “I realized at 17 that I didn’t like the road I was on,” he says. “So I decided to stop and pivot. I got with a really good acting coach and I turned down every single thing I was offered.” Over the next 10-plus years, he eventually accepted a major part in Dear White People, meaty stints on shows like The Walking Dead and Criminal Minds, and a role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

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So despite being told he wouldn’t have a career after “Everybody Hates Chris,” Williams has found minor yet continual success post-Everybody Hates Chris. And now major success in “Abbott Elementary,” a show that has given him the opportunity to showcase his talents once again. Williams captures Gregory Eddie’s genuine care for his students and co-workers, his visceral reactions to what’s happening around him, and his many idiosyncrasies, from disliking pizza and pie to insisting that “fruit should not be hot.” With its clever slant on the workplace mockumentary, “Abbott Elementary” has become one of the best shows on television, and Williams’ portrayal of Gregory Eddie has earned him critical acclaim.

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