'The Daily Show' Correspondent Roy Wood Jr. to Perform at Hilarities

click to enlarge 'The Daily Show' Correspondent Roy Wood Jr. to Perform at Hilarities
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Roy Wood Jr. noticed he had a knack for humor while attending Florida A&M University. Students would laugh at his presentations in speech class. He subsequently started doing standup and made his network television debut in 2006 on The Late Show with David Letterman. Wood, who finished third in the 2010 season of Last Comic Standing, also works as a correspondent on The Daily Show. His routine as Black Trump featured him acting out one of the presidential candidate’s press conferences while wearing an orange-ish wig. Wood, who performs on June 9, 10 and 11 at Hilarities, talked about his craft during a recent phone interview.

I read that you took a humorous approach to your college speech class. Is that true?
I have no idea what I was doing other than being myself. And told to me from other students, it was my tone of voice and facial expressions [that made them laugh]. And I’m the type of person where if you’re searching for substance, as you are when you’re doing an impromptu speech, it’s very, very difficult without making a face. I was begging my classmates, “Please don’t laugh; I need a good grade.” That only made things worse. It was one of those things where I would beg my classmates, “Dude, don’t get me suspended from school.”

Did you start doing standup before you did radio?
They always coexisted. I’m like a weird entertainment polygamist; married to stand up comedy, but radio kind of lives in the house too and takes care of the kids. With my degree being in broadcast, I got an internship while I was still in college at a local radio station. They were on the news and the comedian that was on that morning show was a school teacher. So, he got to leave every day at 8 o’clock. So, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. I was allowed to kinda crack jokes on the air. That planted a bug in me, and so when I got out of college I started working at a local station in Birmingham doing prank phone calls, but they still gave me freedom of travel. So, I was able to go and do stand up comedy unimpeded at any time. They’re two totally different mediums. Comedy helps you with radio, but radio doesn’t always help you with comedy because radio is such a quick-firing roll and with comedy you’re allowed to take your time.

How’d you end up on Last Comic Standing?
I was like every other rogue comic. Every T.V. show that would look at me and give me an opportunity to audition, I did it. The first two times I auditioned for Last Comic Standing, I was still living in the South. I was still based out of Birmingham. So, if you’re trying to grow as an artist you have to, I don’t know how to explain it. A television show is the only thing that helps you grow and get to work more comedy clubs and make more money. So, you have to do T.V. as a form of fiscal survival. Whether you’re great for it or not, if you want to be doing comedy for the next few years you have to be trying to get on television. I kept auditioning for the show. It’s the same reason I did Def Jam, Letterman and Ferguson. I think I did Conan somewhere in that same time. You just build your resume. You just constantly keep building your resume. I was lucky enough to be on Last Comic Standing the one year where there wasn’t games or weird challenges. It was the first year they did that. It’s more the norm now for the show, but in 2010 that wasn’t the norm. It’s never about winning in these comedy competitions, it’s just about capability and sustaining the ability and staying on television as many weeks in a row as you can.

What enabled you to become a regular on the sitcom Sullivan & Son?
For me, it was just a matter of not screwing up your lines. There’s no science to television. I wish there was. I love to be with The Daily Show because it’s much more linear whereas with a sitcom you can nail everything and do everything you’re supposed to do, but if the studio decided that they want to make a change to your character, the storyline, the arc or cancel the entire show there’s not really anything you can do about that. But, it was a great time. I learned a lot. The thing I appreciate most is that [producer] Vince Vaughn was actually on set. He wasn’t some absentee producer who just put his name on the contract and was off doing something else. It was definitely a blessing because essentially a guest starring role is kind of an audition in itself. It’s almost like an on-air audition and if your character gels well with the other characters and you’re doing something funny, and they think the people want to see more of you, then boom you’re on. This isn’t the best analogy, but if you look at The Jeffersons, which is essentially a spin-off of All in the Family, that was a character that they loved so much that rather than make him a regular on that show, they gave him his own show all together. If what you’re doing is working for the greater good of the show, then it’s only logical that they give you more to do in the script.

In your audition for The Daily Show, you did a bit about the Confederate flag?
The audition entailed is doing one piece that was written by the show’s writers and another piece that was original that you wrote for yourself. And the thing that I’ve always known about the Daily Show is that the correspondents have always had strong points of view and strong opinions on issues and at the time that was something that I was doing a lot of stand up about, something I had a lot of emotions about. So, I figured what the hell? This might be the perfect thing to crack a joke about. There’s plenty of people that have a Confederate flag that aren’t racist. But, we need to be able to tell you some of the people who are. So, until we can figure out a way to differentiate between those two parties, then nobody can have the flag. I get it; you want to show you’re a rebel and a badass. Alright, in the meantime here’s a Sons of Anarchy T-shirt. Wear that until we figure this out, and we give you your flag back.

What have been The Daily Show highlights for you?
The biggest thing I’ve done thus far, I have to say, is Black Trump if I’m quantifying things by numbers and views and shares and all of those other metrics. If we’re going off of something that I really loved doing and was fun to do, then it’s the police bias piece with [The Daily Show correspondent] Jordan Klepper where we did a ride-along with the police department to witness, firsthand, their anti-bias training.

What inspired Black Trump?
Everything that you see on The Daily Show is an ensemble of writers. I’m not going to take credit for coming up with the idea to put me in a Trump wig because it wasn’t mine. Once we have the basis of the idea it’s everybody putting their heads together and going “Alright, what’s the best way to do some of this stuff?” And so we did one Trump video where we recreated his meeting with the Washington Post. And after that video we were like “Alright, what can we do to ratchet this up?” And I thought, “Well, everything he says sounds like what a rapper would say. What if he rapped?” So, everybody sat down and started finding their favorite Trump quotes and we put them together and started coupling the ones that rhymed. The next thing we know, boom we got a video. The majority of people loved it, and there’s a hand full of people who felt the need to call me a bunch of racial slurs, but that’s to be expected. It all comes with the territory.

Why are racial relations still a prominent topic in this country?
People want to know why race is still an issue in this country, but I think that’s a question better aimed at the racists. I can’t answer it. I don’t know why these people feel the need to discriminate, hate and spread violence. So, as long as these people still feel the need to show that, I feel the need to do things that can hopefully pin back that ideology. For me, comedy is my best weapon of doing that. Some people march, some people write essays, I tell jokes.

Do you talk about the upcoming presidential election in your current standup show?
A little bit but not really. It’s not something that I’m focusing on all too much because at the end of the day, in most of these elections you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it starts playing out in September and October. If the election were baseball season, right now they’re at the All Star break. It’s not quite World Series time just yet. For my live stand up shows, I’m more obsessed with hypocrisy in the world in which we live and the shitty stuff that we have to put up with. I’m the guy that’s mad about all the wrong things. There’s enough guys doing political humor and they do it very well. I wouldn’t dare compare myself to any of those comedians, but if you’re tired of paying 50 cents for an extra sauce when you get chicken nuggets I’m your guy. If you’re tired of paying extra for 3D movies or paying 15 dollars for a soda at the movies I’m your guy. The movies should be ashamed. It literally would be cheaper to drink a gallon of gas than 20 oz. of Pepsi at the movies.

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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