Barely two years ago, as a Beloit College junior and participant in ACM’s Chicago Arts Program, Jacob Williams was taking any opportunity he could find to get in front of an audience and try to coax a few laughs out of them.
Now, he’s on national TV and fresh off standing ovations from packed houses on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, where William’s stand-up comedy has propelled him into the talent show’s semifinal round of top 16 acts.
“We’re potentially looking at a million-dollar act,” declared judge Howard Stern when it was revealed that Williams had made it through the quarterfinals to remain in the hunt for the show’s top prize of $1 million.
America’s Got Talent is a summer series in which performers – from singers and dancers to jugglers and ventriloquists – get up on stage in front of judges Sharon Osbourne, Howie Mandel, and Stern, a live audience of several thousand, and a national television audience. The contestants either move on to the next round or go home, based on the results of telephone and online voting by the show’s fans. The program airs on NBC on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
As a participant in the spring 2010 ACM Chicago Arts Program, Williams used the semester to further his quest to break into the world of stand-up comedy. For part of his independent study project, he set a daily quota of jokes to write and send to the program’s director – “most of which were really bad,” he noted at the time. He also got an inside view of the entertainment business through his internship at the Lakeshore Theatre, a live performance venue on the city’s North Side that often booked comedy acts.
Mostly, though, Williams scoured the Chicago area in search of any and every comedy club or bar with a showcase or “open mic” night that would let him up on stage. It was, he said, a great way to try out a lot of material in a short time. By the end of the semester, he had made more than 80 appearances.
Since graduating from Beloit in 2011, Williams has lived in Chicago and performed at comedy clubs, theatres, and college campuses throughout the Midwest. He’s taken first place at several comedy contests and has appeared in Las Vegas.
America’s Got Talent marks Williams’ television debut. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead to find out where it leads!
- ACM Chicago Program: Arts, Entrepreneurship, & Urban Studies
- Jacob Williams’ website
- America’s Got Talent website and videos of Jacob Williams’ June 18 performance and July 17 quarterfinal performance on the show