You don’t pass up a spot on the No.1 show in late-night television – at least not if it’s John Williams ’12 you’re talking to.
As a talent booker for CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Williams is responsible for curating guests for the show – making sure the hottest celebrities in TV, film, sports and theater don’t just want to appear on the show, but enjoy the experience so they want to come back again and again.
“Getting them on the couch is really the result of months and months of talking to the guests and their teams, cultivating those relationships, so that when the time comes, they are comfortable and excited to be there,” says Williams. “The goal is to put together the best possible show every single night. We’re always hounding pitches from every corner of the industry and looking at the horizon and predicting what will be the biggest movie, who will be in the news at what point – getting those relationships in place. That’s why it’s so important to always be cultivating and maintaining relationships.”
It’s a skill that Williams picked up as a valet at the Francis Marion Hotel, where he worked throughout his time as a theatre major and hospitality and tourism minor at the College. Still, he may never have even gotten to the show if it weren’t for the encouragement of theatre professor Joy Vandervort-Cobb.
“She really challenged us to go out of our comfort zones and encouraged us to go after what we wanted, however unrealistic,” he says. “You know, we all have this fear that we can’t break through, and that limits what we actually do. There are so many ways to doubt yourself. But she encouraged us not to be intimidated by whatever you think the reality of what you can do is – just go out and try. She just had this no-nonsense way of encouraging you: If you want something, go out and get it.”
And so, after graduating, that’s exactly what Williams did, moving first to L.A. to work with Johnny Knoxville on the film Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and then to NYC, where he eventually began delivering and returning props for The Colbert Report, where he cultivated relationships and moved up the ranks. When Colbert moved to the late-night spot, Williams was offered a position he couldn’t pass up.
“Now I work in the Ed Sullivan Theater. I’m so fortunate to be in this awesome space with all this history,” says Williams, who now counts Emma Stone, Whoopi Goldberg and Elton John among his “work friends.” “How I got here was being open to all the crazy opportunities that this industry allows.”
Perhaps the craziest opportunity so far? Taking his mom to the Emmys last fall. “My mom and dad are key to my success, and the fact that I could bring my mom into this world I’m thriving in was so cool,” he says. “She got a little glimpse of what I do and all the work that goes on behind the screen.”
That’s something he emphasizes, too, when he talks to CofC theatre students about what it’s like working in the industry.
“I feel fortunate to be able to do that,” he says. “It’s a humbling experience to talk to students as a mentor and give back to the College in that way.”
There are, after all, just some spots you don’t pass up.
Featured image of John Williams by Mike Ledford