As the 2016 election winds down, we’re spending the next week talking to some of the people who’ve been on the campaign season’s frontlines, the correspondents of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah in advance of the show’s live election day show on November 8th.
When Roy Wood Jr. first came to the phone for our interview last week, he was using his lunch break to dig around for props to make an Instagram video. “I’m making a voodoo curse shrine about the Indians. I’m the Cubs fan trying to put a little voodoo curse on them,” he explained.
After spending more than a decade in radio honing his comedy chops, Wood took third in Last Comics Standing‘s seventh season back in 2010. He spent a few years doing sitcom work, namely on TBS’s Sullivan and Son, and was eventually hired as a correspondent for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah last year, when Trevor Noah took over as the host. As The Daily Show prepares for its live election night special on November 8th, we got the chance to talk to Wood about what it’s like for him to bring his unique comic perspective to the long-running late night institution.
What was it like coming into The Daily Show amidst all that change?
Having not known what it was like with Jon Stewart when he was here, for me, it was all first day of school. People can tell me what it was like with “How Jon could walk in a room and he could fix your joke in three sentences,” all these tales of amazement. I’m sure it was all of those things, but for me, this was a new journey.
Was it difficult fitting your comedic style into these built-in segments?
I think I’m just now getting to a point where I feel comfortable trying to even attempt changing the format. It’s like… I’m going to equate it to a sport. You have to learn the fundamentals before you do anything else. No one’s teaching you crossover dribbles and behind the back passes. Those aren’t fundamental skills. Those are things that you learn after you learn the fundamentals. Those are the skills that you acquire along the way. For me, I finally feel like I’ve gotten to a point creatively where I can try to step out the ball just a little bit and do something that maybe looks a little different and feels a little different.
We did a piece before the RNC Convention about Trump and his relationship with the media. Stylistically, our goal was to make that correspondent piece play more like a movie than a traditional news piece. It definitely doesn’t feel like a traditional Daily Show piece. It has all of the same elements as the interviews, the comedy, the information. In that regard, you still honor the fundamentals of Daily Show reporting. It’s not my goal to do everything differently, but it’s always fun to play to my comedy strengths, which are definitely way different than, say, Steve Carell or Larry Wilmore, or anything that Colbert did.
Was that the one where you dressed as Trump and did the mock press conference?
No, [but] that’s also another great example.
Is that more of this playing to your strengths that you referred to?
Yeah, I think that was at the point in the campaign where things were a little bit more docile with Trump. That was before we did the Black Trump rap video as well. Even stylistically in that, I’m trying my best to honor what’s been put in front of me by the previous correspondents, while at the same time trying to put my own flair on it.
Has it been difficult trying to stay edgy and satirical, given the tone of this election?
Yeah, because comedy lies in the extreme and the exaggeration, and half of these stories that come out every day, you’re like, “No, that’s true, he really did that, he really said that.” How do you parody a caricature?
You seem to have found a niche with bits like Black Trump.
Yeah. That challenge, I think, is what makes it so awesome to be here, because we start every morning with a blank sheet of paper on this show and have to travel from that to a full 30 minutes of comedy. It’s even more difficult now, because there’s so many more places for people to get their political humor. It’s a different landscape, man, because now we not only have to have the freshest perspective, we have to have the most unique perspective that no one else will have.
How much of your on-screen and on-stage persona is just you, and how much of it is an act?
The Daily Show is a pretty caffeinated version of myself. If I’m caffeinated on The Daily Show. I’m highly caffeinated on stage. The Daily Show is coffee, my stand-up is three Red Bulls. It’s still me, but it’s not that far of a difference. There’s no behavior that I would do on stage that I probably wouldn’t do in person.
[For example], we did a segment where I talked about the Chicago Cubs and how they’re suffering and making a very horrible, horrible comparison to the refugees and their suffering. I did the segment wearing a Chicago Cubs bathrobe. That came about because I was so ecstatic that the Cubs were in the World Series, I wore a bathrobe to work that morning. That was not something anyone told me to do. I was not pitched this idea.
For me, that was who I am. You walk to work in a Cubs robe and someone goes, ‘Hey man, you want to get on camera in that Cubs robe?’ I go, ‘Sure.’ Once you add the jokes and a little bit more of a campaign segment, then that’s heightened just a bit. But I’m damn happy that the Cubs are in the World Series and I’m going to wear something idiotic every day on my way to work. Let everybody up and down 11th Avenue know what the hell this guy is thinking.
It also works in the sense that you’re bringing your personality into your work.
Exactly. I don’t think a lot of people had the guts to commit to a team so hardcore that they would even purchase a robe.
I could see buying the robe. I think you’d lose me at wearing it to work, though.
Oh, yeah. It was on Snapchat and everything.
Do you get recognized when you’re not wearing a Cubs robe?
Before this, I could almost split it up by demographic who knows me from what, [but] The Daily Show is watched by any and everyone, every age, every race. People come up to me now, I have no clue. I’m like, ‘Wow, this show has reach!’
[And], for the most part, people are polite. The week after the Black Trump video, [it] went viral and I got a couple of weird looks from people. A guy on the elevator just stared at me the entire time we were on the elevator and then as he goes to get off he just leans in and then he goes, “Some of that stuff he just says for effect, you guys don’t have to take it so seriously.” Then let the door close so I couldn’t get another word in.
That’s so bizarre. Do you get that same vitriol online?
I get some vitriol, it just depends on the segment and what it’s about. If I’m in a segment and we’re talking about some serious stuff, then more often than not. It’s usually something that’s going to get the people coming out the woodwork, calling you this and that.
Does it bother you?
It doesn’t bother me, man. You know what it’s like? Having someone heckle you on the internet is the equivalent of someone tooting their horn at you in traffic. On the freeway, more specifically. When someone blows their horn at you to let they didn’t approve, you see it and you acknowledge it, but what do I look like speeding up, pulling up next to this person and having a full-blown discussion about their disapproval about my actions? It doesn’t go anywhere.
The year that I did Last Comic Standing, NBC made us live tweet. The stuff that was said about me by just random strangers, imagine every Monday night for two months you have to read the worst stuff ever said about you by people for two hours straight. You just have to see people just bashing you. What I saw in that is that everybody got bashed. Every single contestant. To see that every week like clockwork, it just galvanized me, and nothing bothers me now. I used to be the guy that would be obsessed with my YouTube comments and if someone didn’t like me, I’d send them a private message to try to understand what happened, “Why don’t you agree?” Now it just rolls off my back, man. Big damn deal.
How has the writing process of The Daily Show affected your stand up?
The Daily Show has put me in a place creatively where I now have this desire to deconstruct the topic and then try to put it back together again and really make sense of it. That was something that I was not doing before I started here.
When you start deconstructing stuff and applying your own point of views to the issue, it’s natural that you’re going to be able to have a unique view on this. Like when two comics tell a similar joke, more often than not it’s a shallow joke without a great deal of depth of opinion and perspective. The more you dig on a topic, the more unique your point of view is going to become. I think doing that put me in a place where I don’t have to worry about ever stepping on another comic’s premise. Even if two comics start at the same place on the same joke, if they continue down a path, they’re going to start being different.
Are you excited for election season to be over?
Man, I’m ecstatic. I am. I could do without this election one thousand percent. I think, for me right now, it’s about trying to figure out what’s next. What are we going to do when the election ends? Where do we go as the country? We’re definitely not going to be healing, [but] I’m anxious for the election to be over with so we can get back to hating each other on more basic things like Apple versus Android or Power versus Empire.