Famous pioneering black comedian, famous for such songs as "O Death, Where is Thy Sting?", "Woodsman, Spare That Tree" and his signature song, "Nobody". W. C. Fields called him "the funniest man I ever saw, the saddest man I ever met." He was one of the earliest black entertainers to avoid the lazy, slow-witted stereotype of blacks so often used in his era. Some say he DID use that stereotype, which is somewhat true, particularly in the song "Samuel" where he sings of a black man who hates his job at a hotel but can't quit because he loves the fried chicken served there. However, Williams defined his stage character this way: "He doesn't have much education. He can't read or write, but if you ask him a question, he'll answer it with a philosophy that's got something."
He was a big success in the Ziegfeld Follies, where he appeared at least half a dozen times. His humor was much more subtle than most of the comedians of the 1910s and 1920s. He tended to use rather wry, understated humor accompanied by a deliberately slow, drawling, musing comic delivery. Sometimes the slow pace of his songs requires some patience from the listener, but I'd say it's worth it. The humor is as much in his timing and cadence as the lyrics of his songs, as he carefully emphasizes particular words to add an ironic effect. In this way, he was perhaps the Da Vinci of vaudeville.