Charlie Williams knows how to work a roomful of squirming children. I watched him perform at the Kearney Public Library at 10:30 a.m. Monday as “The Noiseguy.” He mainly uses a microphone — and his vocal effects — to tell stories with sound. During the hour he spent entertaining, Charlie explained how to imitate a jet plane and a mountain lion by putting together different pieces of sounds.
Before long, he had an audience of at least 150 eager fans making their own noises.
I found out about Charlie’s performance too late for an interview. He called me after 5 p.m. Friday, well past our deadline for the weekend newspaper. I told him that I would do my best to stop by at his show, just to say hello and watch him work. I’m glad I did.
We talked for a few minutes and decided to have lunch at one of Kearney’s eateries, a place that a tourist might easily overlook. Charlie told me his story: He started doing stand-up comedy in the 1980s. He was so nervous that he could barely speak. Instead, he just did exactly what he had been doing since his childhood in Florida — making noises.
Life on the comedy circuit wore him down to the point he began looking for other jobs. He now lives in the Seattle area and drives a library bookmobile as his day job. Occasionally he loads his SUV with enough equipment to do a live show, an ice cooler for snacks and hits the road to perform at libraries.
At lunch, our discussion ranged from stories about other comedians to how the creative process works. Cedric the Entertainer was great to work with and another comedian, who shall remain nameless, was not. Charlie talked about growing up with two working parents. As a latchkey kid, he had plenty of time to learn how to entertain himself. He learned how to take an idea and nurture it with time, patience and a sense of exploration — something we both noted that today’s children rarely have the opportunity to do.
We both shared our experiences about writing stories and that sense of a “zone” that comes when the ideas begin to flow and the characters begin to take over the story telling. At the show, Charlie projected drawings from one of his books and added sound effects to the delight of the children.
I wanted to talk to Charlie because I connect with sound. Noise speaks volumes to me and to people like Charlie. I wanted to learn more about his skill and talent. When somebody tried to exit the restaurant through an alarmed door, Charlie imitated the sound of the alarm after it was silenced — to the confusion of more than a few people in the restaurant.
Before he left for a 6:30 p.m. performance in Sterling, Colo., I asked Charlie what he liked about being on the road. He said he enjoyed the wide open spaces that allowed him to open his mind and really do the deep, creative thinking that drives his work, the same kind of unstructured time he had as a child. I promised to do that, too, during our weekly news meeting at the Hub shortly after our memorable lunch together.
Rick Brown is a Hub staff writer