Roy Wood Jr., Who Performs at Hilarities This Weekend, Explains Why People Need Comedy Now More Than Ever

click to enlarge NICOL BIESEK
Nicol Biesek
Between his many late-night performances and routinely working as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, it’s hard to understand how comedian Roy Wood Jr. even has time to constantly tour the country.

And yet, Wood Jr., who currently hosts This Is Not Happening on Comedy Central, still comes to Cleveland on a regular basis. He performs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at Hilarities.

In a recent phone interview, he spoke about his career.

You grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. What was that experience like?
It was fun. I grew up in a pretty lower middle-class neighborhood. I was hugged enough. That’s one way of putting it. My parents put an emphasis on education. The one constant I remember growing up was Sunday morning and us reading the paper as a family. The paper would be there, and you would read the entire paper. We had different priorities. I started with comics and sports. Then, I’d do state and national news. We’d pass around the newspaper the way you pass around fixings at a Thanksgiving dinner. I always had a big interest in the world and what’s going on. My parents made it clear to me that the world is bigger than Alabama.

Were you funny as a kid?
I don’t think I was funny as a kid. I didn’t get funny until college, which is when I started kidding around. The only time I was funny as a kid in high school was on the high school baseball team. I was a bench warmer. Your job as a bench warmer was to heckle the other team. I would sit at home at night and write heckles that I would say the next day during the game. We lived to get a chuckle from a parent in the stands. That was a victory.

Do you remember your first phone prank and what set you down that path?
I had to keep my job in radio. I didn’t want to do pranks when I first started. It was something that was a job necessity. The comedian I replaced on the morning show was known for prank calls. It was demanded, so I got thrown into it.

How’d you learn to do how many different voices?
I just learned on the fly. In no way, shape or form would I consider myself an impressionist. That’s what made the pranks funny. They were so comically horrible.

Your first CD, My Momma Made Me Wear This, came out in 2003. Talk about what it was like to make the album.
That was easy. That album came out 16 years ago. It was very much part of a need to sell the CDs in stores. Fans of the pranks wanted to hear them again and again. I thought, “Why not make a CD?” Hey, it was fun. I wish i could say it was some kind of journey like putting out a jazz CD. But I picked the pranks where I got cursed out the most often [by the other person on the phone], and I put them all on a CD. That’s it.

Talk about what it was like to be on Last Comic Standing?
It was fun, the three times that I did. Competition comedy is never going to be fair. You’ll never leave it thinking it was judged appropriately. The important thing that Last Comic Standing did was it brought standup comedy to America’s homes during prime time. And it went off the air eight years ago. Now, there is not a prime time comedy show. You might catch a couple of chuckles on America’s Got Talent, but a comedian will never beat a singer. He might get deep into the contest, but he’ll never beat a singer. I’ll always be thankful to Last Comic Standing because it helped me find an audience. The experience was invaluable. It made people want to go o out to the clubs, not just to see me, but to see the other comedians that were on the show too.

What’s it been like to dive into acting?
Acting has been good. Sullivan and Son was on for three years. I enjoy acting. It’s hard to consider The Daily Show acting. It’s unscripted, and we fly by the seats of our pants. We start finalizing scripts at 2 p.m. on the day of the show.

How’d you wind up as a correspondent for The Daily Show?
Neal Brennan recommended me to Trevor Noah. He’s the co-creator of Chappelle's Show. They got my name, and I got called to do an audition. You perform a piece they wrote, and you perform an original piece. My original piece was something that wound up in my standup routine. I defended the Confederate flag on the grounds that it lets the black people know who the dangerous white people are.

What’s it like to do political comedy in the age of Trump?
Comedy is comedy. The production process has not changed. The consumers’ palates have gotten more acute. People are in pain more, so now they laugh harder. The process of making water is the same, but it tastes different when you’re thirsty and parched. Water tastes a lot better when you’re thirsty and parched. Comedy is the ice water soothing everyone.

What’s it been like to host This is Not Happening?
That’s been fun as well. It’s been a joy. That show is the only storytelling comedy show on television. It’s really important. It really matters because there are a lot of styles of comedy and you can get an hour special, but in the meantime, it’s really cool to just tell a story.

I like your story about your mom and the photo of the guy she thought was Rod Stewart.
That one is 100 percent true. The show gives comedians a place to tell things that wouldn’t work in the traditional late-night forum.

What will the shows here in Cleveland be like?
I don’t know what to tell people other than come out and laugh. Have a cool sip of water. I don’t want to give away any of the topics. I always have a good time in Cleveland. Hopefully, the Cavs will have advanced in the playoffs by the time I get there.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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