What started in late 2020 as a need to write something — anything — during a global health crisis yielded a treasure trove of memories for Matt Williams. After recovering from a severe case of COVID-19, Williams — the Evansville native who created the highly popular TV sitcoms “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement” — knew he wanted to capture his life’s formative stories on paper while he still could.
What emerged was a collection of “humorous essays and spiritual mus- ings,” he says, and a striking link to the name he grew up with — Mark — that he changed in order to register as an actor in the 1970s and early ‘80s.
Williams recalled these stories and more during “Glimpses: An Evening with Matt Williams,” a recent speaking engagement at the University of Evansville that raised funds for the theatre department’s John David Lutz Theatre Lab. Before the reading, the 1973 UE graduate sat down with Evansville Living and shared his startling journey of self-discovery that began in his rural New York home and resulted in a memoir.
Evansville Living: How did you get started on “Glimpses”?
Matt Williams: I’d never written prose — hundreds and hundreds of hours of TV, a lot of movies, but not prose. So, I was so intimidated. I took all these online courses: creative nonfiction, fiction writing. I even took a grammar class just to refresh myself. I started writing almost as an exercise, and I went, hey, this is kind of fun — to not have a studio or network notes or someone over you saying, “No, you’ve got to do this. It’s got to be this many words.” I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and rush into the library to sit down and start writing.
EL: You mentioned you should have left the entertainment industry sooner. Why do you feel that way?
MW: I was in my sixties, and I wanted to prove I was still in the game and I still had some juice, and I was doing bad movies and developing bad TV shows just for the sake of staying in the game. And I went, it’s not coming from my heart. I’m not writing from my essence, my true self. Anytime I wrote from that place, it always succeeded. “Glimpses” is the purest form of me ever. I very consciously decided to be vulnerable and as honest as I could be and not hide behind the persona of Matt Williams. My son, Frederick, said, “Stop writing like Matt Williams and write like Mark Williams.” And as soon as he said that, it liberated me.
EL: Do you distinguish yourself between Matt and Mark?
MW: I didn’t for years, but now I do. And I realize I am Mark. “Matt” was that persona of the mogul, the show producer, the creator. But my essence, who I am and how I grew up, is Mark. That’s who I am.