Ladies We Love: Wendy Williams
By John Koblin
What's particularly amazing is how she interacts so comfortably with an audience after spending years in the solitude of a radio booth. She's still learning the art of TV before our eyes. And it can occasionally be rough. "I can't sit on daytime TV with even a peep of cleavage!" she says, sounding aghast. "Did you know that? Did you know that was the unwritten rule? Look around the channels and show me who's showing cleavage. I wear a minimizer bra. However, certain things are always obvious." (She's referring to the size of her breasts, which are, to put it mildly, huge, thanks to the implants that she frequently mentions.)
Or there's the fact that she's still used to talking in four or five hour blocks per show, instead of in tiny segments of less than 10 minutes. "I've had to learn to edit my conversations," she says. "I'm not that good at it. I know I'll be cut off by an Ivory Snow commercial, and then they start the music!"
She's also had to tone down the sass a bit. Williams has managed to bring her irreverent commentary on the state of celebrities to her show, but she's not nearly as dramatic a grenade-thrower as she was on the radio. There, she was the scourge of the hip-hop industry. Williams had her fights with plenty of performers, including but not limited to: Lil' Kim, Puff Daddy, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, LL Cool J, and Mariah Carey. She has been the subject of less-than-flattering song lyrics. (Among other things, she claimed in her 2004 book, The Wendy Williams Experience, that Puffy "single-handedly tried to ruin" her career in the late '90s, getting her Hot 97 radio show taken off the air).
And then, above all else, there's one thing for which Williams really gained fame: Her outing of gay rappers. She even had a not-so-secret code when she referred to an allegedly light-in-his-loafers performer: "How you doin'?" Asked about this, she says, "I hate to seem corny -- that's a part of my past that I have no regrets about. Without my past, I wouldn't have my present. And that's something I don't want to talk about. I'm not a mean-spirited person." However loaded that phrase once was, it's been smoothed over and turned into a catchphrase, the signature flourish of her show. "It's just a friendly expression," she says, explaining its meaning now. "It's a twist on 'How are you doing?' Which is so beige!"
Today, Williams says her fan base consists of women who need a girlfriend -- and the gays. Within her studio, there is a winking acknowledgement of who, exactly, is in the crowd. "Fellas, move your backpacks, ladies move those purses," says a man working for the show before it goes live, adding, in a sort of sardonic whisper, "Guys, move your purses'"
The reason she's popular among gays isn't that hard to trace. "She looks like a tranny!" says Daniel Lawson, a 25-year-old fan at the taping. "If you have big hair and a big personality, gays are going to love you."
"I think they recognize the differences in me," says Williams. When she was growing up in New Jersey, she says, she was the outcast. By the sixth grade, she was already 5-foot-11 and wore a size 11 shoe. "I was the weirdo. On The Cosby Show, I was Lisa Bonet," she says, referring to the actress who played the misfit of the '80s comedy.
She's always stood out, and now she's transforming that into a daytime brand. "I embrace who I am, differences and all," she says. "In this world, where difference is not accepted, people like Madonna. People like Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Wendy. And I'm not saying you have to go to the extreme of arriving at places in eggs, because I don't go out of my way to be who I am. I just am who I am. And it happens to be bigger and more noticeable than the girl to my left and the girl to my right."