Photography by: Samuel Hanson
By: Zeke Hanson
If you’ve ever been around a public speaker of any kind, motivational, clergy, comedian, you’ve probably come to understand that dark days can lead to good material.
Talking to people, sharing stories, working through setbacks, it all makes for good storytelling.
That’s especially true when you run into someone like Will C. who served not only in one branch of the United States military, but three. Serving in the Air Force, Marine Corps and the Army, doing several tours of duty.
“I did,” Will said, “I got really lucky with the Army, because I just ended up being based at Fort Leavenworth (Kansas). But, my tours come from the Air Force, I joined the Airforce in 1988. From the Air Force into the Marine Corps, I had to go back to bootcamp, kinda start all over, but I was a combat medic in the Air Force, a pharmacy specialist and then I was military police in the Marine Corps and then went into the Army.”
When Will came of age to enlist, he didn’t waste any time wondering where or what he should be doing.
“I grew up in an orphanage,” he continued, “from the time I was 6 months old. I finally got adopted by a family, but by the time I got adopted I was a little bit older. It wasn’t the best environment. So, I kind of ran into the military when I was 17. And the military, believe it or not, I didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing, where I was sleeping, what I was eating… and it became that family structure for me that I needed in my life. I found comedy in ‘95 when I was in the Marine Corps, based in Pendleton (OR). I ended up going to The Comedy Store in La Jolla and started in comedy. At the time, I thought it was just going to be a hobby, but it turned into a profession for me. Between the comedy and acting, it’s been pretty good since.”
In the 1985 American classic film Teen Wolf, (watch it, watch it now), Jay Tarses’s character of Coach Finstock gives what may be the most critical life advice known to man. “There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.” Those are three simple enough rules to put you well on your way to a life of cream cheese and opulent abundance.
However, I would like to add one rule to that list: “Don’t dare a guy who’s been in three different branches of the military.”
“I’ve always fought a weight problem, my whole life I’ve always fought a weight problem,” Will said, “and so I was always the ‘funny guy’ in the Marine Corps. It was just fellow Marine Corps buddy’s of mine, who were like, hey ‘funny guy’, because to try to take attention away from being… you know, a little bit overweight, I would impersonate drill instructors, or the fellow marines around me, and so, my buddy John was like, ‘hey, there’s a comedy club in La Jolla called The Comedy Store, they have Open Mic Night, you should do it.’ I had no clue. I called The Comedy Store, they said, ‘okay, what we have you do is you write three minutes of jokes, come down, put your name in a bucket, if we draw your name you’ll go up.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m bringing like 75 guys with me.’ And they were like, ‘you’ll definitely go up.’”
It turned out to be the best bomb of Will’s life, and after taking a little criticism for his first time up there, his tenacity set in. A ‘stick with the Marine Corps, buddy.’ and a, ‘this is not for you,’ later and, “I was like… you’re telling me I can’t do something… I’ll see you next week,” Will continued. “ I just kept on going back.”
After he was done with the Marine Corps and in the Army, Will was stationed at the last place he wanted to be. Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. “I wanted to get based someplace cool, and I got based 12 miles from my house,” Will laughed. “But, there was a comedy club there called Stanford and Sons, and I just started working that club little by little. I became the house MC, and then I was kinda running the open mic, and then they kept on pushing me, and giving me a lot of stage time that I probably didn’t deserve, but I got it and I ran with it. I was out there, doing comedy on the road, trying to get to that headliner status, and I got really lucky in 2007.”
You don’t work through three branches of the armed services without getting to know a few people, and it always pays to know people.
“A buddy of mine had written a military movie in Los Angeles,” Will said, “he wanted me to come out there, just for three months, I was just gonna pack the car, go to LA for three months, and while I was driving to California, my buddy calls me and he’s like, ‘there’s a writers strike going on, I scratched the project.’ I was supposed to be this military consultant, showing people how to wear their uniform properly, get their gig line straight. He had this small role for me which I knew was a credit, I’d also be getting paid more as a comic out there, but when he tells me he’d scratched the project, I was almost there. The good thing was that my sister lives in LA. She was six months pregnant, my brother-in-law was in the Navy, and he had orders to be out, so she was by herself. And she asked if I’d stay with her for three months and it just worked out.”
It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t what he’d thought would be happening, but it was an open door. From there Will C. got lost.
“I signed up with Central Casting of all things,” Will said, “to kind of get my foot in the door as a background actor. And they told me… ‘good luck. Five, ten years before remotely breaking into this business.’
I literally was in town for two weeks, I got a call from Central Casting, they told me, ‘Kanye West is shooting a commercial, would you like to be in it?’
And of course I replied, “I'd love to, what do I have to do?”
They said, ‘you just walk around in the background of the bar, no big deal.’ “Okay, what’s that pay?”
‘$56 for eight hours. You’re non-union.’
‘$6 an hour?’
And they were like, ‘no, $7, dumb ass, do you want the job or not?’
So I took it, but when I got to the set, I got lost. And me getting lost, made my whole career, because I wandered into the wardrobe department, started talking to a guy, and all the sudden, here’s Kanye West, with his entourage and he’s just eyeing me. Asking, wardrobe, who I am. They were like, ‘he’s a non-union actor, get out of here.’
But, Kanye was like, ‘I like how fat you are, I want you to be the bouncer in this commercial.’
That guy was a SAG actor in hair and makeup getting ready to go on set, Kanye was like, ‘you’ll get paid your day rate, I don’t need you anymore, this guy is replacing you,’ and I got Taft Hartley, automatic SAG right on the spot and I made a buttload of money.
Because of Kanye, I got my first agent. In Los Angeles I ended up on a show called Manswers (2007, 4 season) on Spike TV and I got to do a lot of the re-enactments, stuff like that. But then I’d land these parts on Monk, The Office, My Name is Earl, Knight Rider, Sons of Anarchy, and then I landed the handyman on Gene Simmons Family Jewels. And then Storage Hunters, on TruTV, I’m Big Will from Storage Hunters. Every time I’d think about leaving LA, I’d land something. You know the Verizon, Can You Hear Me Now campaign, I ended up being part of that little network behind him. I just kept on going.”
All the while he kept honing his standup and in 2010, Will joined some other comedians for The Monster Comedy Tour, and it sparked something in him.
“I figured, everybody wants to go overseas and perform for the troops, but what about the bases here?” Will continued, “I started the Veterans of Comedy, we’re all military veterans who are stand up comics and I was very lucky just going base to base performing. I wrote this whole series called Combat to Comedy with a fellow Marine Corps buddy of mine, then the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program took a liking to it and let us go in and do these Adaptive Care events, working with our injured who are trying to be athletes in the Warrior Games. So we would do the Combat to Comedy course to fight fear with funny for invisible wounds. Getting people to open up about their injuries. That took off. It’s rewarding.
At the end of the day, you’re like, ‘hey, these guys are fighting for my freedom.’
I remember when we used to get the entertainers to come over, you felt like you were home for just a second and you could forget about everything that was going on around you.
So, I know that we need to keep doing that. I’m not saying I’m some healer, but comedy heals. It does. It really, really does.
I think that’s my motivating factor. We started off as two guys, we are now 32 strong. People come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime. You never know what it is. I don’t know if I’m changing theirs or they’re changing mine.”
Between the conflicts overseas, and the wars at home, Will’s body began to break down.
“Everybody makes fun of me, because they call my life a wreck.” Will explained, “because I’ve been in so many car wrecks, but they’re never my fault. I got in a car wreck five years ago, they told me I’d never walk again. Put me in a wheelchair, I beefed up to 393lbs. and I gave up on life. Finally, I think it was my daughter, just… ‘you’re not gonna walk me down the aisle?’ kind of thing, and, something snapped. So, I just started changing my life.
I couldn’t walk, but I could swim, and so weight started coming off. Last summer, I decided to change my eating habits, as a comic we eat like crap, I mean we eat late at night and so… I’m like, ‘I’m gonna write a book,’ and so I started writing a book called No More FAT: FOOD AS THERAPY. I realized that that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, is using food to comfort me, to be therapeutic. When I did that, things started changing. I just lost 60lbs. Life is crazy, it throws you weird curve balls sometimes. You can give up. Be an ostrich, put your head in the sand and quit. But, that’s not me. I don’t know how to. I’ve been surviving my whole life.”
After what Will C. has done and seen throughout his life, a fear of public speaking doesn’t really hold a candle.
“The fear as a comic, is the first laugh,” Will said, “it’s not being funny enough. As I was coming up in comedy, the people that were running the clubs back in the day, if you wanted to work a club, you had to get a laugh in the first 30 seconds of grabbing that mic, and then you had to produce a laughter every fifteen seconds after. That’s tough if you really think about it. Well, 30 seconds, if you don’t know where you’re going, if they don’t laugh at that first joke, you’re in trouble.
Now, 27 years later, I’ve done enough stuff to grab from that, I’m like, ‘okay, I’m okay.I’m edgy.’ Especially with my mom passing. I try to talk about that, and try to figure out how to make alzheimers funny. Especially when it’s not, it’s horrible. But that’s my therapy.
So you’ve got to let me heal the way that I need to, and hopefully you’ll take the ride with me.”
Will C. is a trove of life experience. Whether you’re looking for a laugh, a good story, or need help by way of distraction. Will C. will take the time to hear you and share stories. No matter where you are from, where you come from, or where you are going, it’s rare to find the type of person you find in Will.
“I’ve performed everything from two guys on a picnic table in the desert in Kuwait to 20,000 people in an arena and everything in between. Looking at that aspect of comedy, I’m glad that I’ve gotten to experience all those different situations. I feel like I really like where I’m at in my life, I’m at a good place. For that, I’m thankful for comedy and the things that I’ve been able to do.
I’ve done very very well in LA, but I didn’t forget where I came from. I came from an orphanage. And I'll never forget that I came from nothing.
I’m not a suicide hotline, but if somebody can reach out to me, I’ll take your call and I’ll talk you until you’re off that ledge. I’ve been there. I’ve been in some dark times, dark places.
Comedy is my coping tool, and I’m gonna use it until my time here is done.”
More about Will’s work through the Veterans of Comedy can be found here