BY SEAN HECK Well-rounded comedic powerhouse Roy Wood Jr. has garnered laughs throughout his career, initially gaining traction in radio as the head writer and producer for the Buckwilde Morning Show based in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama and Jamie Foxx’s The Foxxhole show on Sirius XM Radio. He was a top three finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, which garnered mainstream attention and established the by-then well-known comic as a household name. He made his scripted television debut on TBS’s Sullivan and Sons. He joined The Best Fucking News Team in 2015 as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s Emmy-nominated hit series, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In 2017, he replaced Ari Shaffir as the host of Comedy Central’s storytelling series, This is Not Happening, which will launch a fifth season next year. His first Comedy Central one-hour stand-up special, Father Figure, premiered in 2017, along with an extended uncensored album of the same name released by Comedy Central Records. His second Comedy Central one-hour, Roy Wood Jr.: No One Loves You, premiered on January 25th of this year.
Roy has described himself as “the guy who is angry about all the wrong things.” He’s stated that he’s “angry about a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter,” that he “could be angry about bigger issues, like global warming.” Instead, he’s “the guy mad that the McRib isn’t available year-round.” Although it is true that Wood does not always focus on the daunting political and social issues this country faces, he has salient and well-voiced opinions and observations regarding United States culture, specifically as it relates to black Americans. In advance of his appearances at Punch Line Philly March 22nd-23rd, we caught up with Roy Wood Jr and chatted with him about some things. DISCUSSED: The national anthem, forced patriotism, Roy’s father, the nature of a career in comedy, avoiding temptation and finding the path to success, fatherhood, the dangers young black men face, the future of Louis C.K., #METOO, and cancel culture.
PHAWKER: You’ve voiced some pretty strong, pretty clear opinions on the NFL kneeling controversy, calling the national anthem a “stolen song” forced upon a “stolen people.” Could you further explain your take on that situation for our readers?
ROY WOOD JR: For me, it’s basically…I just think that the national anthem should just be a different song every year. The same way your favorite TV show switches up the theme song…why does America have the same theme song every year? You have to mix it up! Ya know? So, I feel like…I’m being a little silly about it, but…I don’t know…maybe some Cardi B, and then the next year it’s Taylor Swift. I’m sure a lot more people would stand for Cardi B than for the current national anthem. Black people for sure!
PHAWKER: Yeah. I agree. I mean…I think that something that’s as important as the national anthem is supposed to be should reflect the culture. I agree with you there.
ROY WOOD JR: Yeah. It’s mostly just me being silly, but at the end of the day, I do feel like…ya know…forced patriotism…there’s no sincerity within that. So why make people do it? Or get mad if they choose not to?
PHAWKER: You expressed worry that you’re late father may not approve of your comedy career, as he would consistently say not to make a fool of yourself and assure you, “You’re nobody’s monkey.” What did he mean by this?
ROY WOOD JR: My father meant that you shouldn’t be a buffoon for someone else’s amusement. My father has never been a fan of me or anyone that’s just…buffoonery. It’s just nothing educational; there’s nothing there. Where there isn’t a message or a greater goal to what you are doing and how you’re doing it, I don’t think it’s anything that he would have been crazy about me doing…if we’re being honest. Ya know? So when he said the term “nobody’s monkey,” it’s just really from a place of…never be foolish for the sake of being foolish. And I might be at a place where my dad might approve now, but…ya know…he’s dead; he’s passed. So I don’t know exactly. But I know the jokes that I had early on in my career didn’t have any substance. They weren’t speaking about bigger and bolder ideas about the country and relating to the world. At that, he might have said I was just out here being someone’s monkey!
PHAWKER: But now you’re not just a comedian, you’re a social critic and someone who speaks with authority on black issues, specifically. I would think that, now, he would be proud of what you’re doing.
ROY WOOD JR: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of…I’ll say this. There’s definitely a great deal of overlap in what I talk about onstage and the things that my father wrote about and talked about on his radio show during his commentary. So, yeah! If he’s criticizing me, he’s criticizing himself! But…yeah. I think my dad would be proud. Now. Where I am now.
PHAWKER: I thought it was really interesting when you explained that the basketball hoop set up over the garage by your mom when you were growing up in West End Birmingham helped you and some of the people around you to avoid pressure to join a gang. Similarly, years later you avoided becoming really down and despondent when you were facing prison time for stealing credit cards by performing stand-up. The common thread is productive distraction in the face of adversity. What advice do you have for young men in similar situations to yours, in a tough upbringing and with similar temptations and pressures to the ones you had?
ROY WOOD JR: My advice to anybody in that type of situation…facing any type of adversity…it boils down to finding the thing that makes you happy or the goal that, if you achieved it, it would make you have some level of fulfillment. Ya know, happiness is a moving target. So…it’s not as much a destination as it is a case of moving towards it. But there’s something out there that makes you feel a little chipper. It makes you feel a little warm inside! And you have to work towards that thing. And also, in addition to that…you have to hang around people that are also driven. You have to be around people that have goals. Because, otherwise, you are going to find yourself hanging around people that are going to pull you down.
PHAWKER: You have stressed the importance of talking to your son about “the dangers of the world and how to carry himself.” What dangers are you referring to, specifically? How do you think a young man such as your son should carry himself? What advice do you give him?
ROY WOOD JR: Dangers like racism. Dangers like people… ya know… hating him. Disease. Unemployment. Poverty. You can’t protect people from problems. What you can give them is the path to understanding how to handle the adversity. Things to do while you’re down and ways to emotionally pick yourself back up. Self-doubt. Low self-esteem. Depression. Danger. Ya know? These are all plausible possibilities that could befall not only my child, but anyone. So, at the end of the day life is about, again, finding the North Star. Finding your emotional North Star. And, more than anything, doing everything in your power to constantly work towards that. It’s important to surround yourself with people who make you feel good and make you feel…you know…positive! And you have to be in a situation with people where there is reciprocity in those emotions. Don’t be around people who make you feel bad, or feel like you shouldn’t be yourself.
PHAWKER: You told the New York Times that you have no problem with Louis C.K. resuming his stand-up career. (Editor’s Note: Wood’s publicist later clarified that he had been misquoted by the New York Times. The point he was trying to make was “not that he thinks it’s fine for Louis to come back to the stage but that it’s not his call to make.”) As a movement that originally seemed to begin with the best of intentions [to hold abusers accountable and to support and encourage victims], there seems to be a newfound emphasis on “cancelling” the accused without a chance for a learning moment. As a person with a rough upbringing who has benefited from chances for redemption, what are your thoughts on this situation and the #METOO movement in general, and how these instances should be handled?
ROY WOOD JR: Well, for what I said…and I don’t know if [The New York Times] framed it right. What I said was that it’s not my place to judge regarding when Louie gets his second chance. And I’m not in charge of that, as a person whose entire life is structured on a second chance. My entire existence is a second chance. So, I’m thankful I got mine. And, if Louie does the work, then he’ll get his. And…beyond that…that’s not my place. So, in terms of whether it’s time to come back to stage or not, that’s the call I’m never going to make. What I do is pray for the victims and hope that they get some level of…restitution is not even the word, because…ya know…how do you fix that? How do you repair that? I don’t know. But…I would say, as opposed to what we had in place before cancel culture — cancel culture is probably a better place to be. And I think, at some point, there will be some scaleback relating to who is canceled for what. But, for now, you gotta figure it all out. It’s a social fumigation.
PHAWKER: So basically, if there’s an over-correction, it’s better than the way things used to be…right?
ROY WOOD JR: At some point, there’s a societal correction on everything, but…what did we have before cancel culture? Nobody said nothing about anything regarding women getting abused. What do we have now? Accountability. And…in some regards, if you look at R. Kelly, criminal charges. If you look at Weinstein…if you look at Spacey…none of that happens without cancel culture, either! So, it ain’t all bad. It ain’t all bad. And society has a way of rounding up people to be more egregious than others. But since we live in a society where no one has been heard and no one had anything resolved…you gotta treat things with a certain level of aggression to fix that. It is what it is. And, ya know, I think a lot of things start in extremes and then work their way back.
PHAWKER: Yeah. And I’m sure that’s a frustrating question to answer, but thank you for answering it and clarifying.
ROY WOOD JR: But I want to make sure that it’s clear that what I’m saying with regards to Louie is that it was never about, “Hey, come on back! Welcome back, Louie!” I’m just saying that shit ain’t my business. That ain’t my call to make. I’m fortunate enough to live in an existence where, if you’re a convicted felon, you got canceled! It didn’t matter what you were arrested for. So…I’m one of the few comedians that, I think, can speak to it from that position…which is far more unique and far different. And therefore it’s a conversation that I don’t choose to have…regarding when a given asshole can return to their old form of employment.