When a candidate for state’s attorney in Cook County, Ill., held a lunchtime fund-raiser in downtown Chicago in 2016, the campaign hired a local comedian and television personality named Erica Faye Watson to warm up the crowd.
Ms. Watson had never met the candidate, Kim Foxx, but that didn’t keep her from diving into an extended riff about Ms. Foxx’s hair. “I had never been publicly roasted before,” Ms. Foxx said in an interview. “I was like, who is this woman?”
But the jokes were just a setup for Ms. Watson’s real point: what it would mean to have a Black woman as the county’s chief prosecutor, and how proud she would be to see Ms. Foxx in that role. The two became fast friends.
“She was very much about empowering Black women,” said Ms. Foxx, who is now in her second term. “She was fighting not just for herself but for people like her.”
Ms. Watson was a Chicagoland celebrity, best known as a regular on “Windy City Live,” a morning talk show on WLS-TV, Chicago’s ABC affiliate. She also performed stand-up comedy, wrote and directed plays and acted in movies.
Ms. Watson died on Saturday in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She was 48. The cause was Covid-19, Patti Gill, her former agent, said.
“Erica was a hidden gem of Chicago and a voice for overlooked businesses and causes,” said Ms. Gill, who cast her in “BlacKorea,” a short film she wrote, in 2017.
Erica Faye Watson was born on Feb. 26, 1973, in Chicago, to Henry Watson, a postal worker, and Willie Mae Watson, a homemaker.
Her survivors include her parents and her brother, Eric.
Ms. Watson attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was a fixture on the school’s Black arts scene.
“If there was something involving the Black community on campus, Erica was going to be a part of it,” said John Jennings, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside, who was a graduate student when she arrived.
Ms. Watson later transferred to Columbia College Chicago, where she graduated in 1998 with a degree in film directing. She received a master’s in arts, entertainment and media management from Columbia in 2005.
After working as a writer and director for several years, she took up comedy in 2006, soon after moving to New York. In 2010 she presented a one-woman show at the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York, “Fat Bitch,” in which she explored issues of race and body image through the eyes of a plus-size Black woman, which she unabashedly was.
She was featured in a campaign for Avenue, a clothing brand aimed at plus-size women, and in 2018 launched her own line of beauty products, Fierce, which targeted the same demographic.
Ms. Watson took her show on tour, after which she returned to Chicago. She joined “Windy City Live” as a regular contributor and made frequent appearances on other local TV shows, as well as on cable channels like BET and Oxygen.
She also began to win small roles with directors like Lee Daniels, in “Precious,” and Spike Lee, in “Chi-Raq,” as well as parts on TV dramas, many of them filmed in Chicago, like “Empire” and “The Chi.”
Ms. Watson moved to Jamaica in September, planning to stay for a month so she could concentrate on a writing project. But she kept extending her return date; her latest plan was to return to Chicago in early March.
“She was absolutely blossoming here in Jamaica,” said a friend, Tina Strawn. “She was always talking about how this was the happiest she had ever been.”