Comedian Roy Wood Jr. performs stand up all over the country, but to him there’s nothing like the New York City comedy scene. The audience is honest and the vibe is pure according to the Birmingham, Alabama native. The 38-year-old has come a long way since starting his comedy career as a 19-year-old at Florida A&M University. Wood is a correspondent on “The Daily Show,” has performed in front of late night icons like David Letterman and Stephen Colbert and will be releasing his first one hour comedy special in 2018. He is also performing at the Gotham Comedy Club on December 9-10.
Wood chatted with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about his comedy career, how New York became the best place to perform comedy and why not moving to New York is of the biggest regrets of his life.
DJ Sixsmith: You began your comedy career as a 19-year-old at Florida A&M University. Who were some comedians that inspired you?
Roy Wood Jr.: If we’re just talking strictly inspiration, I studied Chris Rock, Sinbad, Martin Lawrence and George Carlin. That was my Mount Rushmore when I started. The most inspiring comic to me though was this guy Rickey Smiley, who now has a nationally syndicated radio show. Ricky was the first person from Birmingham to make it, if that’s what you want to call it. Ricky was this guy who was from the same city as me, was on cable and that was more inspiring than any joke I had heard up to that point. Rickey Smiley was proof that you could be from the hood and do big things. Birmingham ain’t go no rappers, but there were a lot of athletes. You could look at Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas or Charles Barkley. As far as someone that was doing what I was, Rickey Smiley was first.
DS: You mentioned all of the comics that inspired you and what you learned from them. How long did it take to develop your own comedic style?
RWJ: I’d say I was probably 10 years in before I even had something that was remotely what I consider to be my own style. I look back at a lot of my early material and there’s probably only one or two jokes I told in my first 12 years of comedy that I could sit down and watch again. I was 19 and when you start at that age, you don’t have a lot to draw from. You’re a funny person, but you can be funny and not relatable.
DS: Next week, you will be in New York to perform at the Gotham Comedy Club. What makes the NYC comedy scene different from the rest of the country?
RWJ: New York comedy is beautiful because it’s pure and the audience is probably the most honest audience. New York City is the best place to do comedy period. One of my biggest regrets is moving to Los Angeles in 2007 instead of moving to New York. I feel like I would’ve had an opportunity to grow even faster as a comic. I feel like my time in New York over the last two years has been making up for lost time.
DS: What can the audience at the Gotham expect from you on December 9 and December 10?
RWJ: I’m still working on my new hour, so there’s a lot of stuff I’m throwing around. We’ll talk a little bit about reporters standing in hurricanes, homelessness, gun control and might even delve into some of this sexual harassment nonsense that’s going on. The biggest difference between what I do at “The Daily Show” and what I do on stage is that I try to talk more about an issue than a person on stage. On television every night, you have the freedom to talk about people.
DS: Speaking of your special, what are the biggest differences between comedy when you first started out and the industry today?
RWJ: One of the biggest differences in the art form of stand up comedy is getting people to come out to a show. That’s probably one of the things that’s changed the most. 30 years ago, people were more prone to going out to have a night on the town. Now, there’s enough streaming going on to keep somebody indoors. Comedy is the one thing where everyone can be casual. As a comedian, there’s a lot of places where you can get a laugh. You can go on YouTube or Instagram where videos are well crafted and people on there do a great job of making you laugh. One of the other things that’s changed greatly in my 20 years as a comic is how comedians build edgier material. There’s a lot of comedians that live on the edge and the problem with living on the edge is sometimes you are going to cross the line. The penalties for that are much greater than they were 20 years ago. You have to be more precise in your thoughts.
Tickets for Wood’s performance at the Gotham Comedy Club can be found here.