2017 is turning out to be a breakout year for Roy Wood Jr.
The 38-year-old comedian has become a force on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah as one of the program's main “correspondents,” filing satirical news reports from the field about matters of politics and race; in February, Comedy Central aired his hour-long standup special, Father Figure; and in early June, Wood was selected to be the new host of Comedy Central’s storytelling series, This Is Not Happening.
Between all of that, Wood still finds time to do live standup shows, which he calls “my first love.” He’ll be in Denver this weekend, headlining at Comedy Works in downtown Denver three nights in a row – from June 23 to June 25.
Before his shows in Denver, we caught up with the comedian to get his take on the role of political satire in 2017 and how he’s coping with the never-ending stream of news coming out of Washington, D.C.
Westword: Roy, you’ve been an active voice when it comes to politics in your role as a correspondent on The Daily Show. Do your standup shows have a similar political focus? How much do you take on Trump?
Roy Wood Jr.: My comedy has never been about specific people. It's about moments and a state of mind in society. So for me, I would never just run my mouth off about Trump — that's just not what I do intrinsically. But what I can talk about are my experiences, like being a black person at a Muslim protest.... I've enjoyed going to protests and supporting other groups, because at least at those protests I know that I can go home without a sense of guilt. Because when I go to any black protest, I feel the need to stay all night. So for me, that might turn into an analysis of how there's so many protests now that you can schedule them out on a calendar, like, 'Hey you want to go out for drinks next Tuesday?' 'Nah, I've got a protest.'"
There certainly have been a lot of protests here in Denver. Do you think having too many of them is causing protest fatigue?
I don't think there can ever be too much protest. For anyone who's tired of seeing protests, they're not listening to what the hell is going on. And if there's too many protests, that means there's too many injustices. These aren't frivolous protests; people aren't in the streets, angry, because their favorite sitcom got canceled. They're in the streets because there's no police accountability, or because Latinos and Muslims and LGBTQIA are being messed with. So I feel like the fact that there are more people out there is a good thing. We'll find out in 2018 just how effective these protests have been, because the best way to protest is at the ballot box.
What about the role of late-night shows and political satire right now? It seems easy to only focus on Russia, so do you ever worry that late-night shows like The Daily Show are trivializing or missing some of the very serious things happening under a Trump administration, like regulatory rollbacks and increased immigration enforcement?
Number one: I think that The Daily Show has a responsibility to focus on the issues. Number two: We have to decide on which issues to address on a day-to-day basis. And sometimes it's micro and sometimes it's macro. Unfortunately, the problem that many satire shows have is that they only have thirty minutes, and so you start looking at what's the best allocation of resources and biggest thing to bring attention to. Then it becomes an issue of deciding what's most egregious: the things that the Trump Administration is doing in the dark, or the things that are out in the open.
I would also disagree with anyone who makes a sweeping generalization about the state of late night all being tonally the same. You can’t say that [Samantha Bee], who embodies a degree of anger and incredulousness, is the same as John Oliver, who does the deep dive and plays the long game and really looks at the stuff you might have missed while you were looking at the other thing. And then what Seth Meyers is doing is tonally different than what we do at The Daily Show.
Finally, shows aren't wrong for just looking at Russia. If you want to make Russia jokes, you're making jokes, yes, but you're also making points, and there's a lot of points to be made. People have to be informed. They have to know.
Do you ever worry that you’re just preaching to the choir – that the people watching late night are those that are predisposed to make fun of Trump, and that you’re not reaching the other side?
I think that you have to be able to make fun of yourself to have the audacity to make fun of the other side. And I don't even agree with the concept of 'sides,' but that’s a different conversation.
You have to figure out a way to reach people who don't think many jokes are funny or fair. If you're truly trying to effect change, you cannot start with an insult — to just constantly call Trump supporters stupid and then turn around and do a piece about what Trump's doing wrong and then expect a Trump supporter to be on board with it. That's unrealistic. If you're going to get people who disagree with you to laugh with you, you're going to have to be able to laugh at yourself from time to time. And I think that shows have to make sure that they're doing that. As long as late night holds Democrats as responsible as Republicans, then I think we have something.
Where do your standup shows, like those that you’re performing in Denver from June 23 to 25, fit into everything that you’re doing?
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I love my standup because there is a little bit of politics, but my comedy is also just about the world we live in. And this makes no sense, but I'm as upset that a wings place will charge for extra blue cheese as I am about the state of health care. And I will talk about both equally, with the same level of gravitas, because they're both important to me.
Standup is still my first love. I'm trying to figure out ways to be a little more fun on stage. The toughest thing about working at The Daily Show is to not let this stuff affect you mentally every single day. Because day in and day out, it’s bad news, bad stories, bad man, bad hearings, he lied, they lied, new facts, old facts, fake facts, new players, old players…. So when I get on stage, away from all of that, sometimes I just want to talk about ranch dressing, you know? It’s fun.
Roy Wood Jr., Friday, June 23, through Sunday, June 25, Comedy Works, 1226 15th Street, 303-595-3637, $17-$25.