When you think about Southern comedy who comes to mind? If it’s not Roy Wood Jr. It probably should be, because he’s one of the hardest working people in comedy today.
You’d recognize him from the Daily Show, from his many stand up specials, he’s all over Twitter, he hosts Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening,” and he has a new project in the works.
When we sat down earlier this year, we chatted about his plans to film a new sitcom in Birmingham, Alabama. Welcome to the very first episode of The Reckon Interview. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be exploring the modern South.
In this episode, Roy and I discussed stereotypes in Southern comedy, and the unique obstacles facing entertainers coming out of places like Alabama.
Here are a few interesting moments from the episode to get you started.
Roy Wood Jr. on The Daily Show
Just as a performer, I’ve never I’ve never had it in me to attack a marginalized group in my comedy and just go, “oh, Asians are this or gay people are all this,” or just gonna make just sweeping generic stereotypical humor. Or “ugly people are this,” or “overweight people are this.”
Especially, especially Southern, like bashing the South. I just, I just don’t do it. I can’t allow it. That’s one of the most difficult things at “The Daily Show” is when the South does something stupid.
And then I have to walk into the writers meeting that morning and go all right. “All right, how am I gonna spin this one? Alright, Jeff Sessions said what? Roy Moore did what at what mall? Okay, I can’t defend that one. All right. That’s fine.”
I don’t have the full veto power in any joke. But I would say that anyone that feels enough to stand up in a room of 25 people in the morning and go, “that’s not the right angle,” they are heard. And those things are all taken into consideration.
And I don’t necessarily win every single battle. I know it’s still news, and it has to be discussed. So it’s about figuring out ways to make jokes that are more on the issue than the people. That’s always been my approach. But that’s more of a stand-up protocol that I try to bring into the writers’ room. But if it’s not my piece, if I’m not on that chat, there’s only so much influence I’m going to have.
Because the morning meeting – just to give people an idea of how a morning goes at The Daily Show, you get in at about nine o’clock in the morning, you start with a blank sheet of paper and the writers and the producers and the studio segment people are all in a room. Segment producers show clips from last night, you know, here’s what happened. And here’s what’s happening. Those are pretty much the two questions we’re trying to answer every morning.
We watch clips, we all crack jokes about the clips. It’s no different than being around the couch with your buddies watching TV. And there’s a person in the corner transcribing everything. And once we watch everything, we decide what the shape of it… Well Trevor [Noah], and the EPs decide. “Here’s today’s show, we’re going to talk about the TSA. We’re going to talk about the government shut down and we’re going to touch on the Oscars and how can we tie the Oscars into this and make it two parallels?”
And, like, that becomes the task. And then the writers break off into groups and either work on segments for today or stuff for tomorrow. And that’s pretty much how the day flows. So if you’re in on a segment, like you’re going to do a desk chat with Trevor or do some green screen correspondent on location stuff, then you break off with that writer and that’s where you have the most influence is when it’s just you and three other people in a room.
Roy Wood Jr. on the moment he realized he could do comedy
The thing I lacked, growing up in Birmingham was a lack of sense of the size of the universe. And I’m sure a lot of that is to blame on there not being an internet, you know? And I wanted to do comedy when I was 14. But I just… Where do you go? How do you? I didn’t even know we had a comedy club until I started doing comedy in Florida. I never knew Birmingham even had that–I saw Sinbad on TV. Sinbad was performing up the street. And in those days when the club was on Greensprings, they did under-12 shows for Sinbad because he worked clean. They would do an early show where they wouldn’t serve alcohol. And parents could bring their kids/ I could have gone and seen that dude for $8 on Greensprings highway. But on TV, it’s a whole nother world and you think that you can’t reach that you think you can’t attain that because you’re just a kid in Alabama that’s walking down the street every day crossing railroad tracks. But if you show kids what it is and what’s going on, you demystify it a little.
Reckon: Where did the Rickey Smiley come into play in terms of your career ambitions?
Roy Wood, Jr.
He was the… you remember in the Matrix when Neo finally makes the jump across the building? That was me seeing Rickey Smiley on TV and screaming Alabama on Comic View. It was that moment where I go, oh, I can do this. All those other people that I’d looked up to were just superstar arena acts who… Wow, that’s crazy. I have a couple funny jokes. Should I perform at the high school talent show? No, I shouldn’t, I should just shut up and be happy I finally fit in. Then I saw Ricky on TV. And I don’t know if… I don’t know if it’ll mean anything to anyone else but when you’re not in Alabama and somebody from Alabama does something good. It gives you something to brag about because you get to attach yourself to that thing. It’s bigger than football. It’s no different than football. You know you live in, I don’t know, Kansas? Alabama does something good and everybody in the office knows you’re from Alabama, they give you a little pat on the back and go “yeah man, way to go you guys.” That’s what Rickey Smiley was. Rickey Smiley took, he took comedy by storm in the South and he went on Comic View and “I’m from Alabama man, Alabama up in here, Alabama.” So when we would watch Comic View in the dorm in the TV lounge. I would be screaming “that’s right man! Alabama!” And that made, it residually made me cool. Because he was from where I was from and internally, it It took the shine off of comedy. It took the luster off of it. It instantly went from something that was over the horizon to something that was next door. I’m from West End and Rickey Smiley’s from four exits up I-20. If he can do it? Alright, I’ll give it a shot.
For more on the obstacles Roy Wood Jr. faced as a comedian coming out of the South and for insight into his creative process, listen to the full episode here.