Williams, a burgeoning comic at the time, was given the unfortunate task of trying to crack jokes on NFL legend Emmitt Smith after a roster of more experienced, star comedians. When his quips didn’t land with the crowd, Foxx took it upon himself to make Williams the butt of the joke. Williams failed to respond in a way to make the situation less cringe-worthy, and it became an infamous moment that still follows him 20 years later thanks to the video streaming and social media era.
Williams opened up about the incident in an interview with VLAD TV, noting that the roast wasn’t something he wanted to do in the first place. However, he was told by his management that it could be a great opportunity.
Nevertheless, he was an unknown among the Dick Gregorys and Mo’Niques, and admitted roasting wasn’t his thing. That became apparent quickly. Before he knew it, things went really bad and for years, it was his wife, Ada Luz Pla-Williams, who helped him move on from the embarrassment of it.
“In retrospect, I feel like I was set up,” he said. “I think that bothered me the most about it. For a long time I couldn’t get past it. Thank God for my wife and her talking to me because people murdered me on the Internet.”
“I was there trying to just get something going for myself,” he added. “I was broke, I didn’t have anything. And the thing that bothered me the most, being a stand-up comedian, normally when things happen like that, normally the person will say something redeeming. ‘Hey you know what, give it up for him! I got him. But it’s always love.’ It was none of that. It was almost like an execution in that sense. For a long time I felt like I was set up and there was no redeeming qualities to it.”
He told VLAD TV that he did feel disrespected as a man, and so he confronted Foxx backstage. The then star actor and comedian said that he had a similar experience and that Williams shouldn’t take it personally. He was rightfully upset, but he decided to look at the bigger picture.
“I’m a comedian. If I had gotten into a fight with him backstage…had there been an altercation, I feel like it would have been worse,” he said. “‘You’re a comedian and you can’t take a joke? You’re up on stage at a roast and you get upset and you fight the guy?’ That’s how I looked at it.”
For the record, Williams and Foxx are “cool.” The Oscar winner has actually taken pictures with Williams’s kids and when Williams had projects to promote, Foxx always invited him on his former Sirius XM show The Foxxhole.
Williams doesn’t regret doing the roast, all things considered. He said every time the video resurfaces, a whole new host of fans and just inquisitive folk come his way. Opportunities have also opened up because of it. He now says he can appreciate a moment that at one time “was hurtful to me.”
“I always say, if I could just get residuals from that video, I’d be rich now,” he said. “If I got a dollar from every time that was played on social media. Every couple of years, people post it and a whole new crop of people come to see what happened. But there’s no bad publicity. It’s actually starting to work for me now, 20 years later.”