Roy Wood Jr has been in the comedy sphere for over two decades. After building his comedy set touring, Woods first began gaining acclaim for his hilarious morning show antics as the orchestrator of some the funniest prank calls you will ever hear.
Jasmine Ellis :Your last album Father Figure, by the way I thought it was Fantastic.
Roy Wood Jr: Thank you.
JE: You’re very welcome. Your album is called Father Figure and fatherhood is an ongoing theme of that special. How has becoming a father affected your comedy and your writing?
RWJ: It’s made me more aware of the world, and what’s wrong with it and how I can prepare my son for it. It can be something as simple as… before I might have been looking around like, where is the place to drink tonight or where do I get a hook up on bootleg movies, but now I need a legit hook up on baby sitters. I’m the only one like this. Everyone is trying to score drugs – I’m trying to score baby sitters.
on an average day I’m trying to be a good boyfriend, good father and good comedian
JE: How do you find a balance between the show, being a dad, doing stand up and all your big projects?
RWJ: I don’t think I’ve ever found that balance. I don’t think that balance is ever really possible to be honest. It’s too early to tell and for certain there’s a lot of problems that money can’t fix. I feel like on an average day I’m trying to be a good boyfriend, good father and good comedian and I can only be two of those at any one time.
So yeah, you just rotate which one. Every day, I just rotate which one I’m gonna suck at. Some days, that might mean not being the best father because I did hours of show prep and I’m drained; sometimes I’m a great father, but I didn’t write a joke that day.
JE: Going back to being a joke writer, being from the Deep South, has that affected the way you approach race and politics on stage? You’re now on The Daily Show, which is heavily focused on issues of race and politics, but you started out in in Birmingham. Do you feel that has affected your perspective and how you present yourself?
RWJ: I think we all tend to discuss the things that affect us the most, or that we grew up around, or had heavy influence on our lives. For me, race was for sure an issue growing up. It’s something that’s very important for me to have an opinion on because it’s swirling around our environment. If you grew up around racism and discrimination. you learn to use humor to defuse some of that and at the same time, inform people. I think I would be doing my job on The Daily Show a disservice if I didn’t touch on it a little.
the piece on violence in Chicago was the most meaningful piece of art I’ve created
JE: What has been one of your proudest moments working with the Daily Show?
RWJ: Chicago violence; the piece on violence in Chicago was the most meaningful piece of art I’ve created in my time as a comedian of 20 years. I’d say second, a close second, was the ride along with the Madison Police Department.
For me, the Chicago piece was so important because the violence and number of deaths in Chicago is something that inherently is not funny. And for me, to be able to gain access to people trying to make a difference and to have the citizens of Chicago feel comfortable enough to talk to me was a huge win. And you know, these are people who are very distrusting of the media on the resident side and the volunteers and the activists are also very distrusting of the media.
And these people trusted me to tell their story properly and I feel like we were able to get in there and make some good points and really shine a light on something because people ‘love’ to say that black people don’t care about black on black crime. Any time there’s a discussion on police brutality, people want to bring up black on black crime, as if there’s no one out there working toward solutions. There are tons of people in Chicago that are in fact working very hard on this exact issue. This isn’t about trying to appeal to something political, this is literally a life or death issue for the people that I’m talking to.
We covered the transsexual bathroom deal, Jordan Klepper and I. That, along with the police ride along story, those three stories are probably the most meaningful. Police reform is powerful, but I think the Chicago violence was just, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to top that at any point.
JE: I think it was an amazing piece, and I appreciate you for shedding some light on it. I can see how there’s been a change in how comedy works, how politics works. I’m wondering how you stay on top of things, and create something interesting and new, when the way people consume media is constantly changing?
RWJ: Well, I think that the job of the internet has shortened the 24 hour news cycle. I kind of joke that it’s not really a 24 hour news cycle, it’s kind of an eight hour news cycle. The internet, in a way, has kind of gone back to what the newspaper was. There was a morning edition, and an evening edition. There was a time when you would actually get two newspapers, and the evening newspaper would have completely different stuff in it.
I kind of feel like the internet has us in a position where you can’t tell people what happened – that’s done. What you can do is try to have a unique point of view in the analysis of why it happened, and what people’s reaction to it may be.
Sometimes being the “it” story can only last a couple of hours. Like, two days ago it was Harvey Weinstein, yesterday it was Kevin Spacey, today it’s Charlie Sheen. You don’t know who it’ll be tomorrow. But the story doesn’t then become, “Did you hear about Charlie Sheen?” It becomes a question of all of these people, and all of the things they’ve been doing. I think the way you see this change with humor is you make sure you can focus on more than just what happened. There was time when the news cycle was slow enough that we would focus solely on what happened.
JE: Our soulciti readers are really excited about you coming to Austin. Cap City is one of the best comedy clubs in the area, and people are really excited to see you – what have your experiences been like doing comedy here?
RWJ: Austin is a top 5 comedy city. There’s a reason Dave Chappelle shot a comedy special there, or felt comfortable enough to film his special there. There’s a reason South by Southwest is there. You’re not gonna have a festival in a town that can’t process good, intelligent humor. That’s a testament to the type of people the city has curated; the type of comics the city has curated. The ideology of a town goes all the way back to the comedy club. A city’s comedic IQ, at its roots, starts at the local comedy club, and the type of acts that the comedy club books. The fact that Austin has grown the way it has, into having festivals, and all of these cool acts coming in, that’s rooted in everything Cap City has been for the last twenty years for that town, or however long it’s been open.
if you think Austin, it goes against everything else you might have thought about Texas
JE: I haven’t heard that term comedic IQ before, I really like that.
RWJ: Well, when you look at certain cities with a high comedic IQ, which means they can take on certain types of material, and certain types of issues, then comedians can talk about all kinds of things in those towns. So San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York and LA, of course.
But I’m just talking about cities that aren’t on the coast, outside of New York and LA, that have a certain comedic IQ. Minneapolis as well, please put Minneapolis as well. Those towns are all, they’re areas you might think are not that diverse. If you think Texas, you think one thing, but if you think Austin, it goes against everything else you might have thought about Texas. Chicago’s nothing like the rest of Illinois, Minneapolis is nothing like the rest of Minnesota. These places are extremely unique, and that uniqueness is built from clubs showcasing diverse talent repeatedly, and taking chances on people that, you know, think in different ways.
JE: I want to wrap up with a particular question. As a comedian interviewing other comedians, I like to ask about…well, especially you, because I’ve been following your career for a while, I saw you back when I was in college, actually. One thing, if you don’t mind sharing, what was your hell gig, that one show where you were like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Also, what is one piece of advice you would give to other comedians?
RWJ: Let’s start with the hell gig. I’ll give you the short version, but basically we were doing comedy for drug dealers, and basically they offered to pay us in cocaine because they didn’t have money. Which, I mean technically it isn’t a hell gig, but it still was, because he wouldn’t take no for an answer, it was a very awkward situation.
JE: So what, you were basically supposed to flip the drugs and make your own money after that?
RWJ: Yeah, that’s what he told us. He basically gave us the option to sell the drugs on our own.
JE: [Laughs.] That’s like going to a restaurant and ordering a cake, and having them bring out just the ingredients and saying, “You got this!”
RWJ: That was a hell gig, I guess, in a way. Then there was a time I ended up doing thirty minutes, and I only had fifteen minutes of material, so that was pretty hard. I mean, I guess there was the time at the Apollo where I almost got booed. At the end of the day, these are all opportunities to learn. Like, I guess they’re hell gigs, but you get over it.
As far as advice to other comedians, I would say…the Apollo gig, I guess it’s hard to explain, but I was staying at a very horrible hotel – and I don’t know if you can put this in your article or not – I was staying in a Nights Inn motel in New Jersey, $37 a night, still is, just a horrible place. There were prostitutes there who were renting by the hour and turning tricks, doing what prostitutes do. So we saw them before we got to the motel, and we were just talking by the vending machine, and you know, there’s a very surreal, weird moment.
She [the prostitute] is very much in the mindset of, “You guys are funny, you can do the damn thing.” We told her we were comedians and how excited we were, all of that. We go and we both do Showtime at the Apollo, and my roommate got booed, I almost got booed, and we’re back at the motel that night, and we go back to our rooms, it’s 2:30, 3 am, I don’t know what time prostitutes take night shift breaks.
I came down to the drink machine, and she could tell by the look on my face that it didn’t go well, she takes a long drag on her cigarette, and…I don’t know how you can put this in your article…she says, “Sometimes, them dicks gonna have bumps, but you still gotta suck ‘em.”
As nasty as it is, it still serves as the perfect analysis of what it’s like to have a bad gig. I just did C-Span, for The Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner, and I didn’t really have a voice. And with no voice, I couldn’t perform the way I wanted to. And that’s a hell gig, but a different kind of hell gig. For me, it’s just about the experience, and it’s the perfect lesson that sometimes the night’s just not going to go how you want it to go, but you have to keep going if this is what you want to do.
I would say the important thing for young comedians is not to take things personally. Most people with power are stupid – they don’t hate you. Most people with power are making decisions based on algorithms that you just don’t know a lot about. Don’t take it personally. Stay on stage as much as you can and do comedy in other places. If you live in Texas, go to Louisiana. You’re done with that, go to New Mexico, go to Oklahoma. Go and learn.
Roy Wood, Jr. takes the stage at Cap City Comedy this Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available online.