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December 2004

Ron in a Million

How an American came to crack the German sense of humor

Sitting across from Ron Williams, I’m completely enthralled. He is giving an impersonation of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. But what you can do for your country,” he declares in a deep Massachusetts drawl. If it weren’t for Williams’ attire—an Oakland A’s baseball cap and warm-up jacket—I’d be certain I was sitting across from Kennedy himself. The interview has not started, yet I’m completely drawn in by Ron Williams’ persona—a bold mix of humor, warmth, wit and obvious talent.

Ron Williams has been captivating audiences in Germany since his arrival more than 30 years ago, and has become one of the country’s most popular and versatile entertainers. He has experience as a singer, song-writer, actor, stand-up comedian, television presenter, event-host and dubber. With more than 800 television appearances to his credit, not to mention countless other engagements, Williams excels whether in front of the camera, on stage or behind a microphone. The entertainer’s tenacity, devotion to hard work, charismatic personality and relentless self-promotion have also contributed to his outstanding success.

So how did it all begin? How did the American GI-transplant break into the German entertainment business? “I was willing to do what the Germans wouldn’t do,” he says. “Nobody here did voices or imitations back then.”

From there Williams moved on to political satire, again daring to do what others would not—hitting the sensitive issue of racism head on. Williams’ one-man comedy shows featured merciless impressions of politicians ranging from Ronald Reagan and Adolf Hitler, to regional German politicians of the day. “I was politically incorrect, which made me very famous,” says Williams.

Williams’ desire to expose racism has its roots in personal experience—painful incidents from his own past have moved him to confront intolerance in his performances. Ron Williams addresses these difficult issues with just the right balance of intelligence and humor—dissolving taboos. Indeed, in October 2004, he was presented with the Bundesverdienstkreuz as a mark of the work he has done towards tackling racial discrimination in Germany.

Williams is currently starring in “I Have a Dream,” a musical in which he portrays the great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. The play, which is touring Germany, Austria and Switzerland, features biographical vignettes of King’s private and public life and, after more than 220 shows, the production continues to be met with enthusiasm. Two performances are taking place near Munich—the first on December 3, at the Bürgerhaus in Eching and the second on January 8, at the Veranstaltungsforum in Fürstenfeldbruck. For the full tour schedule, see Building on this momentum, Williams will continue with the subject of Martin Luther King’s life, with a full musical production entitled “King!,” which is due to open in autumn 2005.

That Williams has achieved such success might not come as a surprise to those who knew him as a child. Growing up in Oakland, California, just across the bay from San Francisco, he was a natural-born performer from the start. “I just wanted to be on stage,” he says. As a child he sang at family gatherings, and began winning local talent contests as a teenager. Williams was raised by his aunt and uncle, who were both musicians and who had toured Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. They encouraged him to develop his musical talents and in doing so, to see the world.

He, on the other hand, had different ideas. “I was planning to be a lawyer and then a senator,” says Williams. But, through a twist of fate, Williams was posted to Stuttgart as a US military journalist—and it was not long before his family’s wishes did indeed start to become reality.

When asked about adjusting to life in Germany, Williams explains with a laugh, “At the beginning I started pretending I could speak German.” Though perhaps not true at the time, he now speaks the language flawlessly and has made Germany his home, with both his adult children having been born and raised here.

That’s not to say that Williams does not have some mixed feelings about having left his family, friends and country. But for him Germany is even more than a second home. It has provided the environment that has enabled him to pursue his work, cultivate his talent and fulfill his purpose. In Europe Williams has found a public that is prepared to hear about racial prejudice—a message for which, he suspects, not all US audiences are ready. For this reason, as much as any other, Europe is where Ron Williams started out. And it is from here that he plans to spread his message to the world. <<<

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