Speaking from his Daily Show office in Manhattan earlier this month on a Tuesday, Roy Wood Jr. was just starting his work day.
But Daily Show correspondent is just one job the Birmingham native holds. He’s the host of Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening and a stand-up comic who’s bringing his act to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, June 21. He also recently finished filming a television pilot back in Alabama that, with a bit of luck, will be picked up for a series.
The 40-year-old, who now lives in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, said he “officially” left Alabama in 2007, though he noted that he went back in 2010 to host a radio show he wanted to build for national syndication. Now, he says it’s more of an adjustment for him to go back South than it is for him to be a Southerner living on a coast.
“I still get home when I can to do chores for Mom,” he said.
Wood’s been a Daily Show correspondent since Trevor Noah took over as host of the show in 2015, but prior to, that he auditioned once before without success. In fact, he said it was painful.
“I actually auditioned for The Daily Show in ’07 and just crapped the bed. Literally, just did not do it—did not do well,” he shared.
Wyatt Cenac was hired instead.
“Not only did I have a bad audition, but I left my phone in the room so I had to sit outside the room and listen to Wyatt Cenac crush and then walk back in the room to get my phone.”
Wood is very appreciative of having the job now, and it lends itself to his past as a broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University.
“It’s crazy because The Daily Show is literally the perfect merging of those two skill sets. To be able to do stand-up and be funny and have some smidgen of performance instincts, and to also have a job that draws on my journalistic background, it’s perfect,” he said. “And you know, as it stands right now there’s only six people in this building—there’s only six people in this country—that have this position. I think at any given time there’s never been more than six correspondents. There’s been a lot of contributors, but this is an extremely unique job.”
As a correspondent, rather than a contributor, Wood goes out on the road for field pieces. He recently reported on the Trump administration’s changes to school lunch programs and on why more people don’t grasp climate change.
There are a few different types of days Wood has at the office: Researching to find a story to pitch, preparing to shoot a story, editing a story he already shot, or working with writers on a segment that will be shot in studio.
“I enjoy the research the most because you get to find all the stories,” Wood said. “And also, everything isn’t about me. So, it’s cool to find something that you think is funny, but it might not be for you. It easily could end up going to another correspondent, which I’m perfectly fine with. John Stockton went to the Hall of Fame because he passed the ball. So, I don’t have to be the one that scores and gets the punch line. At the end of the day, we just all want to be part of a funny show.”
And The Daily Show is not the only funny show he is part of; since 2017 Wood has hosted This Is Not Happening, in which comedians tell real-life stories on stage.
“It wasn’t my show originally. I inherited it from the former host, Ari Shaffir. I’m kind of the Trevor Noah of that show—white guy being replaced by a black man,” Wood said. “But it’s fun because you get to hear all these different stories, and I get to tell … more than normal as the host.”
Exactly why he was chosen as the new host is a question he cannot answer, outside of the fact that he was already part of the Comedy Central family.
“I didn’t ask why,” he said. “You know, when the gorgeous girl says, ‘Let’s go out,’ you don’t go, ‘What is it that you see in me?’ You just go find a nice jacket to put on and pray the debit card doesn’t get declined.”
But he has yet another project for Comedy Central in the works: Wood was back in Alabama just last month as he filmed Jefferson County: Probation, which grew out of his own experience on probation as a teenager.
When he was 19, he was arrested for stealing credit cards and sentenced to probation. “My probation officer did things that helped me in my early years in comedy, making my career,” Wood said. “A lot of what that probation officer did for me was above and beyond.”
He explained that the show is about “two probation officers handling their caseload and showing how recidivism does and doesn’t happen with certain people that go through the criminal justice system.”
Mr. Wood said he wanted a television show that looks at criminal justice from a different prism: “Everything on TV, you know, it’s the cop, it’s the courtroom, it’s the jail, or it’s a bounty hunter with his wife tracking down criminals in Hawaii or wherever the f— they live. But the process of merging back into society, I think there is something interesting in that and I think that there’s a lot of hilarious characters and people and scenarios.”
Whether the pilot episode is picked up for a season remains to be seen.
“It was just a pilot order,” Wood said. “Now we do like every other TV show: We edit, send it to the network—and then we start emailing Jesus!”
Earlier this year his second one-hour special, No One Loves You, premiered, and he said Comedy Central has ordered a third, which he plans to shoot next year.
On this current tour, he won’t be relying on material from his past specials.
“We’re cooking fresh, man. If it’s on TV, it’s dead,” he said, “I might do the firefighters joke I did on ‘Fallon’ earlier this year, saying that I get why cops are jealous of firefighters, and that’s because there are no firefighter misconduct videos. Firefighters have figured out the secret: Just do your job and get naked on a calendar, then everybody will love you.”
Though he routinely makes jokes about controversial topics, he said he’s never had anyone get angry and walk out on his performances.
“They might get quiet. They might get a little uncomfortable, but I’ve never set out on stage to attack people for feeling the way they feel,” he said. “I’m simply explaining to you why I feel the way I feel. And I think there’s a distinct difference in how you approach those topics. I’m not here to tell you whether or not it’s right or wrong.”
For example, he said that in his first Comedy Central special, Father Figure, he addresses kneeling during the National Anthem. He didn’t tell people whether they should stand or kneel, and he didn’t attack them for feeling one way or the other about the issue.
“What I will say is that for you to assume that black people are patriotic by nature is a misstep, because if you look at black music, we’ve never written a patriotic song. … And that was a joke that starts in a very divisive place but ultimately gets to the premise that black people don’t sing about America. We sing about specific cities where you can have a good time, and that was the joke. And even with James Brown, ‘Living in America,’ as the song ends he starts naming cities. When you get to the end of that joke, I haven’t attacked you.”
When discussing a controversial topic, not everyone will agree, Wood noted.
“You have to be OK with that. If you’re not OK with that, then talk about airline food,” he advised. “But I enjoy juggling a little dynamite, and I think that the people who like my material, they enjoy having their beliefs challenged. They enjoy figuring out another prism of exploration on a topic.”
Of course, being a correspondent for a political satire show gives him an outlet to discuss politics. “Which is part of why I don’t talk about a lot of politics in my act on stage,” he said. “I talk about world issues here and there, but I’m not going to sit here and talk about Trump for 45 minutes. It’s just not my lane. If I got a good Trump joke, I’m pitching it to Trevor Noah, or I’m going to give it to our writers so we can do a deeper segment.”
Roy Wood Jr. will perform on Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $48 and $58. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.
This article first appeared in The Southampton Press