“I never felt like I've made it. That paranoia of failure is always there for me. I don't know if that's healthy or not but it exists. After my Premium Blend set on Comedy Central in 2004, that was a moment where I felt like, 'Oh, okay, maybe I belong.' I had a couple television credits before that but all in all the paranoia never leaves me. Even now on The Daily Show. There's still the idea of, 'Okay, you're on The Daily Show. Well now don't screw it up.' For all that people talk about The Daily Show being a great institution that spring-boarded the careers of so many people, there's far more people that it didn't do shit for. And I don't want to be one of those people. So in order to not be one of those people, you gotta bust your ass; you gotta work hard.”
– Roy Wood, Jr.
Roy Wood, Jr.: Sorry about the sounds of the city in the background. It's New York. I can't do shit about it.
GM: Are you just out on the street?
RWJ: No, no. That's just how close my office is to the fuckin' road. How are things going up there in the Northwest?
GM: They're going well. I saw you at Yuk Yuk's not too long ago.
RWJ: Were you at the show where the guy got drunk and passed out and gave himself a concussion on the floor?
GM: No, I missed that one, but I heard about it.
RWJ: Yeah, the guy just literally fell off his stool. He just got drunk and fell off of his stool and there was nothing you could do about that. But yeah, I'm happy to come back and eat more Japadog.
GM: That was your first time here, wasn't it?
RWJ: No, it was my second. I came in '08 for one of those original JFL festivals that they had a long time ago, probably about ten years ago. There was an original festival that I think JFL had a hand in. If not, it may have been an independent.
GM: I think of you as a standup first. Friends of mine will ask me who I'm interviewing and I tell them somebody who I think is a big name in standup and they go, "Never heard of him." Yesterday I was expecting that, but my friend got excited when I said your name. Then I realized, "Of course, The Daily Show!"
RWJ: Yeah, that helps some.
GM: It's really helped your career. Is it in any way a hindrance?
RWJ: No, I think the only hindrance with The Daily Show is that I think people come to my show because a lot of what we talk about on the show dabbles in politics and dabbles in world issues. I think people expect you to talk more about politics in my show, and I don't that much. I'm no Lewis Black, I'm not Jon Stewart, I'm not Dennis Miller. I don't have 60 minutes of full analysis top to bottom of every bureaucratic issue. Sometimes I just want to talk about why Street Fighter is the greatest video game of all time. You know, mix it up. That's not to say that I don't talk about issues, but not nearly with the same angles or takes that we do on The Daily Show. It's kind of different. If The Daily Show is a 5-on-5 basketball game, my comedy is more like watching 1-on-1. It's still basketball; it's just a different speed.
GM: Big standup fans understand the difference, but the masses who might only know you from television wouldn't.
RWJ: Yeah. And I don't think the people leave disappointed; I just think they come with preconceived notions of what they think I'm going to talk about on stage. I think that's probably the biggest difference. But at the end of the day, as long as people laugh and have a good time, I feel like I've done my job. Part of the issue for me is that we consume so much politics at this job, it's refreshing sometimes to be able to talk about something different.
GM: I first learned of you on Last Comic Standing.
RWJ: Ah, yes, the good old days. Third place, baby!
GM: Bronze medal! You say 'the good old days,' was it a great experience for you?
RWJ: Yeah. Contest comedy is a different skill set. I call it contest comedy. In contest comedy, you're having a speed date with America and each joke is an opportunity to get someone to pay attention to your next joke. That's all fine and dandy but at the end of the day, it's not something I relish doing again but I know it's a necessary part of my growth and in exposing me to more viewers, to more fans. You have to tell shorter jokes, you have to tell broader jokes, and you have to hit as many punchlines as possible in 90 seconds. It's not an easy thing to do, especially if your style doesn't necessarily relate itself to it. If you watch either of my hour specials, there's not a lot of that material I could have done on NBC nine years ago. But being on NBC also definitely prepared me for what happened at The Daily Show. It's very similar. You have to condense your material and your thoughts and opinions into five minutes.
GM: You've been doing standup for twenty years, right?
RWJ: Right at, yeah.
GM: Along the way in any comic's career, there's a series of breaks. We mentioned Last Comic Standing but you were on Letterman, Def Comedy Jam, you did the New Faces at Montreal. Does any one of those stand out as the most important of the breaks?
RWJ: Hmm... I'd say that David Letterman was a very important milestone. Letterman and Def Comedy Jam. I started doing the homework on it and I'm one of the few comics to have done Def Comedy Jam and David Letterman.
GM: Not a lot of crossover there?
RWJ: Not a lot of crossover so to be able to have performed on both of those – and I actually took a joke from both sets. There was a bit I did on both shows and that was something I was very, very proud of, to be a part of two comedic institutions that were very diametrically polar opposites. That was something that I was very, very proud of because, you know, in the annals of standup comedy history these were two very coveted television credits. To be able to say you were a part of either one I think is a great thing.
GM: And it shows you can appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
RWJ: Yeah. When I used to perform in the South, I had to perform for a lot of different demographics because I didn't have the luxury of performing for one type of demographic so it forced me to make my material a little more well-rounded. So to start in that place and then end up doing both of those programs was just kind of a confirmation of what I thought early on, which was I'll just tell people what's funny to me rather than trying to figure out what's funny to them.
GM: That's always the best way of doing it, isn't it?
RWJ: Yeah, and even now that's my approach. When some people may not be into what I'm doing or saying or what some of my opinions are about the world, I get it. These might not be funny to you. And that's fine. There's other comedians. Netflix dropped 47 half-hour specials; you can find one.
GM: Exactly. In any language.
RWJ: Yeah, exactly.
GM: I was talking to Attell last week. He said he didn't realize he could make a living at comedy until seven years in when he did Letterman. When did you realize you could do this?
RWJ: I never felt like I've made it. That paranoia of failure is always there for me. I don't know if that's healthy or not but it exists. After my Premium Blend set on Comedy Central in 2004, that was a moment where I felt like, 'Oh, okay, maybe I belong.' I had a couple television credits before that but all in all the paranoia never leaves me. Even now on The Daily Show. There's still the idea of, 'Okay, you're on The Daily Show. Well now don't screw it up.' For all that people talk about The Daily Show being a great institution that spring-boarded the careers of so many people, there's far more people that it didn't do shit for. And I don't want to be one of those people. So in order to not be one of those people, you gotta bust your ass; you gotta work hard.
GM: You played Yuks here last time. This time you're going to be at the Orpheum, the biggest, fanciest theatre in the city.
RWJ: Oh, nice!
GM: It's part of the Howie Mandel gala.
RWJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did Montreal last year with Howie and I had a blast. Howie's a legend. Ironically I ran into him. We did Jimmy Fallon the same night earlier in January. I saw him in the hallway and he goes, 'Hey, what are you doing?' and he gives me a range of dates. I'm like, 'I'm around. I'm in New York.' He goes, 'Okay' and just walked off. Then the next day I get an email with the offer to perform in Vancouver.
GM: Doesn't he own JFL now or something?
RWJ: That I can't speak to because I don't know how all of that stuff works
GM: Was there pressure on you growing up as a junior? I've always wondered that about kids who are named after their fathers.
RWJ: I definitely grew up in my father's shadow because he was a prominent radio commentator and deejay in Alabama. My father said a lot of powerful things and inspired a lot of people and helped a lot of people along the way. Folks weren't shy about reminding me about that growing up. I wouldn't say there was pressure but the irony of it was that because my dad's name was so big, I didn't want to be a journalist but here I am on TV being a journalist and walking on stage and talking about the same opinionated stuff my father was talking about. The only difference is my stuff has punchlines.
GM: Is he still around?
RWJ: No, he passed when I was 16 back in '95.
GM: It could go the other way. Do you know Dick Smothers' son?
RWJ: The Smothers Brothers? He had two sons, if I'm not mistaken, right?
GM: DIck Smothers had a Dick Smothers, Jr. who went into the porn business.
RWJ: No, I did not know that!
GM: That's always the danger, I've felt, naming your kid after yourself is that they take a wrong turn or a turn you don't really like and then your name is out there.
RWJ: Yeah, it's like, 'Whoops!' That's why I didn't name my son Roy Wood III so he could have his own identity and be in his own lane in case my life goes south. I don't want him to grow up like a Walter Peyton, Jr or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jr.
GM: You have a Comedy Central special that just came out?
RWJ: Yes, it's called No One Loves You.
GM: Don't you know that Netflix has taken over?
RWJ: That's what they say. It premieres in Canada on February 22 on the Comedy Network up there.
GM: What conclusions of Vancouver did you come away with on your first two visits?
RWJ: Vancouver's one of the cleanest damn cities I've ever travelled to. It's right up there with Tokyo. Maybe it's because I'm coming from New York and it's such a polar opposite. In New York, there's literally video of rats walking the streets eating pizza, so I guess it's all up from here. But that's the first thing about Vancouver. That and great food. Oh, my God, man. Indian food and Asian cuisine over there is top notch. And the streets are clean. But at the end of the day, I just want a Japanese hot dog. I'm a simple man.
GM: Japadog started here. It's now in New York, isn't it?
RWJ: No, there's no Japadogs in New York. There's a Japadog cart in Los Angeles on the Santa Monica pier. And I know this because I've gone to that one as well.
GM: You can build your schedule around Japadog carts.
RWJ: Exactly, exactly!
GM: Do you know how long you'll get for your set here?
RWJ: No, I don't know. I imagine with the plethora of comics, no more than twenty or twenty-five minutes. I'm for sure it's not less than twenty, but I'm not sure.
GM: Is there a sweet spot for you?
RWJ: Theatre shows are great, especially the Just For Laughs, because it's almost a sampler plate of multiple comedians and multiple styles instead of committing to one. It's like going to a restaurant. Instead of committing to one entrée for 90 minutes, you get a bunch of little nibbles.
GM: It's like tapas.
RWJ: There you go. It's the tapas of comedy. I'm happy to be on the menu.
GM: Do you know what you'll be talking about?
RWJ: There's different stuff that I'll be thinking about. We'll see what happens with the world between now and then. I'll bring some of that in but for the most part, there's more material that I've written in the last seven or eight months since I taped my special. The material I'm doing at the theatre will not be the same material that airs on my new special that's coming out. None of the material from No One Loves You will be there.
GM: Wow, you've got time to write as well work on The Daily Show.
RWJ: At the end of the day, I'm still a comedian first, regardless.
GM: But no, or very little, politics in your set.
RWJ: There'll be some but not a lot. With Trump, anything can happen.