When I spoke to Daily Show correspondent and stand-up comic Roy Wood Jr. almost exactly a year ago this week about how the comedy world was coping with the coronavirus shutdown, he told me ominously, “I’m not concerned about my dates, I fear for this industry as a whole.”
In addition to his continued appearances on The Daily Show from his New York apartment—more on that below—and launching a new podcast of his own called Roy’s Job Fair, Wood just announced that he will be taping a new hour-long special that is set to premiere on Comedy Central before the end of the year.
And he’s already measuring himself against one of the greats. “Chappelle kind of changed the game with 8:46,” he says of the impromptu special Dave Chappelle released last June shortly after the murder of George Floyd. “That was fresh cooking. That was I think two weeks from shoot to air.”
Typically, there can be a span of many months between when a stand-up special is taped and when viewers get to see it, which is not ideal for comedians like Wood who like to tackle the big issues facing America at any given moment. He’s had some conversations already with Comedy Central about “closing that window a little bit.” He’s also playing around with breaking the format of “just walking out to bright lights,” adding, “I think we’re past that. I think there’s another level.”
Unlike Chappelle, who never took a break from stand-up and ended up contracting the virus himself, Wood has been overly cautious during the pandemic. When I ask him if he’s been able to perform at all over this past year, he replies, “Not really. That’s what’s going to make this special interesting.”
And yet last summer, Wood echoed the concerns of many Black Americans when he expressed some hesitancy about getting vaccinated. “I’ll keep it 100 with you,” he said at the time. “When the COVID vaccine hit, I ain’t fixing to be in the first wave of motherfuckers getting that first wave of corona vaccine.”
Now that more than 100 million Americans have been vaccinated without any major complications, he’s finally ready to “jump on board.”
“You know, if you’re Black, you’ve got to be leery about it,” he tells me. “And also, they rolled that vaccine out too fast. How y’all got three different vaccines that quick?” Still, he adds, “I think if we were going to all turn into Walking Dead zombies, we’d know by now.”
Below is an excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including stories about his late-night stand-up debut on Letterman, the first time he auditioned for The Daily Show and more—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
What has this year of doing The Daily Show from home been like for you? I mean, I’m sure you never imagined that it would be this long.
No, I don’t think any of us did. This is when I knew for sure it was going to be a minute. Me and the other correspondents, we’re always trading tech tips. “What did you do? How did you get that shot? What was your light setup?”
Because all of a sudden you have to do it all yourself!
I finally made the decision to buy a green screen—or request a green screen, rather. And then Michael Kosta was like, I think we should get teleprompters. “Yeah, we should have teleprompters, you’re fucking right we should!” So that part of it was very telling to say the least. Because we all thought that it was going to be a quick, six-month stretch and boy were we wrong.
Are there any bits that you did on The Daily Show over this past year that really stand out to you as ones that you felt worked maybe better from home than they would have if you had been in the studio?
We did a fake movie trailer called “Sweatpants of Glory” early in the pandemic where they were saying that to be a hero, all you need to do is stay home. “A man, in a world, where he just watches TV.” So it’s been fun to use the space around the house, because it’s almost like a new set piece. Everything else has been fine. The green screen stuff all works, the field pieces work. It’s been difficult finding ways to make the field pieces feel more active because you’re just in a chair. So that’s made for more creative cutaways and more creative jokes and graphics humor and stuff like that. So thankfully, there’s enough people on the show that know what the hell they’re doing, they know how to jazz up anything that looks a little stagnant. But we’ve still been able to have the same very meaningful conversations that we would have on the road. Only now I don’t get that sweet, sweet food per diem.
What about how the show has changed at all since Biden took over? You joined the show at the beginning of the 2016 campaign so you basically have only been there with Trump in a way. So what has it been like to be there without Trump as the central figure of everything?
So with Trump in office, it was twofold, right? Every day there’s a fork in the road creatively. Do we cover what people need to know about or do we cover what people are all talking about? That was always the debate. “Oh my God, this environmental thing is happening and it’s going to kill all the things and kill all the stuff.” And then, “Oh my God, Trump just put kids in cages! Shit.” That becomes the bigger issue. Whereas now with Biden, it’s, “What’s happening with the policy now? What are they doing? What are they planning?” And then it’s, “Oh my God, look at all of these crazies that are still pushing back and dealing with the fallout.”
Yeah, we’re still dealing with all the aftermath and it seems like we will be for a while.
You know what it’s like at The Daily Show dealing with Trump? This analogy isn’t going to make sense, but you ever take a big shit and then you flush and you think you’re done and you’re getting ready to leave and handle the business in the house? And then you look back at the toilet and there’s still four skid marks. You got other shit that you’ve got to deal with in the house, but there’s still skid marks that you’ve got to get. So every week is the constant battle of, there’s a new skid mark!
Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene…
Yeah! There’s always something in the week. But then, “Oh look, stimulus checks. Oh look, they’re getting the vaccines out at a higher rate than the previous.” Ooh, but look at that skid mark over there.
Gotta clean that shit up.
It’s not bad news vs. crazy news. It’s, here’s some progress that’s being made. Or do we even know that it’s progress because we haven’t had time to really dig deep into it because we’re still cleaning skid marks. This is the fifth time that we’ve flushed this fucking toilet! So it’s been kind of juggling those two things at the same time.
“Seeing people who are continuing to push Trumpism in their platform, will that carry over? I think that’s where the cause for concern is. Is this a norm or did y’all just believe the charlatan?”
One of the things that we learned from this election and that we’re still kind of unpacking is the increase in Black men and Latino men specifically voting for Trump. What did you make of that?
I think that there’s a lot of people in this country that are at a point where they vote for their self-interest. Unfortunately, voting as a minority sometimes feels like having to constantly put others before yourself. And if you’ve been wrong enough long enough, then you start feeling like whoever’s going to promise you the shiny thing, you throw logic to the wind. I have Trump voters in my family, you know? So it’s not something that I’m very far away from. And those family members that made that choice, in some weird capacities, I get it. Because when you look at the way Democrats have always—they’re going to give you apples, but they don’t quite give you all the apples they promised and one of the apples might have been bruised. But you got apples and the other motherfuckers aren’t going to give you no apples. So it’s this idea that, you know, I’m tired of bruised apples or half the apples you promised so I’m just going to go with somebody completely off the rails.
I think that’s the thing that remains to be seen down the road is if those people will continue to vote Republican. Because a lot of these people that started voting for Trump, they were first-time Republican voters as well. The same Mexican voting for Trump, he wasn’t rocking with Mitt Romney against Obama.
It was because it was Trump.
Correct. So I think that’s also something that remains to be seen as to whether or not that part of it remains going into midterms. Which is why, seeing people who are continuing to push Trumpism in their platform, will that carry over? I think that’s where the cause for concern is. Is this a norm or did y’all just believe the charlatan?
Next week on ‘The Last Laugh’ podcast: Former “Queen of Mean” comedian Lisa Lampanelli.