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"I need to host": Roy Wood Jr. talks "The Daily Show" and why late-night TV needs change


„Salon Talks“ video interviw with Roy Wood Jr.
Late-night TV shows used to be at the top of the food chain. It was a significant accomplishment for an entertainer or athlete to be invited to appear on a late-night show and be interviewed by greats like David Letterman, Arsenio Hall or today’s Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. But has the rise of streaming lessened their relevance? How many people are tuning in at 11 p.m. to watch anything?
With Trevor Noah’s departure from „The Daily Show,“ the ending of „Desus and Mero,“ and the cancellation of HBO’s „Pause with Sam Jay“ and Showtime’s „Ziwe,“ comedian Roy Wood Jr.—who himself is in the running to be the next „Daily Show“ host — is questioning how the remaining late shows will survive the current Writers Guild of America strike. (Salon’s unionized employees are represented by the WGA East.)
„I think late night needs innovation,“ Wood told me on „Salon Talks.“ „I don’t think that the way we’ve constructed late night will continue to be the way we see it post-strike. There’s going to be a lot of cuts, in my opinion, fiscally. I hate to talk like that, but I’m a realist, bro.“
He continued, „This idea of having a daily conversation about the things that have happened in this country and are happening and holding people in power accountable, that avenue still is viable. How you present that has to evolve into a way that I’m guessing needs to be cheaper and faster to be truly resonant with people.“
This spring, Wood threw zingers at Joe Biden, Clarence Thomas and Tucker Carlson while hosting the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner. Wood is most known for cracking us up as a correspondent on „The Daily Show“ and his comedy specials including „Father Figure,“ „No One Loves You“ and „Imperfect Messenger.“ He is currently on the road with his Happy to Be Here tour. 
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
I’m happy to see you, man. Over the pandemic, I was in the Twitter space listening to you talk about „The Wire“ with our great friend, April Reign. I’m like, „Man, this guy knows his s**t.“
I’ve watched that series I think four times now, front to back. Three for sure, because to me, that’s like when you meet somebody new, you all start dating, „All right, first thing we got to do as a couple is watch ‚The Wire‘ front to back.“
You got to vet her.
We got to understand our love language.
It’s a great show. Just being from Baltimore, I’m always just interested how people from different places react to it. You started your career in Alabama at 18, 19 years old, and now are crushing White House Correspondents‘ Dinners.
That was crazy.
What was that moment like? 
„There’s a book I need to write. There’s a stand-up special I need to shoot and there’s a late night show that I need to host.“
The Correspondents‘ Dinner, to me, is an opportunity for the constituents to say something back to the elected officials. It was a dope opportunity. Whether they laugh or not, that’s really something you can’t worry about as a comedian. You just got to go up there and say what’s funny to you and what you think is fair and balanced and attacking both sides of an issue. Then just leave it at that, man. Either they love it, or they don’t. Ain’t nothing you can do about it.
Were you worried about Joe Biden rushing the stand?
No. I wasn’t worried about Joe. First off, if Joe Biden rushed the stage like Will Smith, you can see him coming. You get slapped by Joe Biden for talking crazy, you was waiting on that slap. But I think the material about Kamala [Harris], the vice president, you’re trying to thread needles that are moving. It’s not just threading a needle. It’s threading a moving needle because the political tones change every day, what people want to talk about. Half the jokes that I did that week, we wrote that week, because the Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon stuff happened that week. The Clarence Thomas stuff was only two weeks old because a lot of that Harlan Crow stuff, more information was still dropping.
You took me out with that Clarence Thomas as an Instagram model joke.
Is he not? Calling the man a NFT, that might have been too far, but it felt right and funny at the time.
Now we know what an NFT is. You’ve been telling the hard truth for a long time. Do you feel like we’re at a space where people are finally starting to pay attention?
Yeah, but I think you’re always going to have people who just don’t care. You’re always going to have people because now, in a weird way, the truth has become something that you can outsource to fit what you believe in. The question now is, what is truth? Is truth the truth, or is the truth what you choose to accept? A lot of people choose to deny truth. They live in that denial. When you look at what’s happening with [critical race theory] and people just going, „Oh, well, slavery, that wasn’t that big of a deal,“ if enough people say, „Slavery wasn’t that big of a deal,“ then you have a part of the country that’s just straight up living in denial.
„I don’t feel like comedians are under attack. Every comedian that people say has been canceled is making good money.“
Now you have the advertisers and companies who have to decide how to get money, how to appeal to those people. You have politicians still having to decide how to get the vote of those people. The thing that sucks is that you can deny reality, but somehow your vote still matters. So if your vote still matters, then people have to figure out a way to appease you. To some degree, that means meeting you in the middle a little bit, even if it’s infuriating and crazy. When you take a company like Target putting Pride Month merch in the back of the store, that’s the middle ground. That’s because they’re trying to appease people who live in a totally different reality. They’re just trying to sell clothes. The truth is, most of these corporations probably don’t care about half the causes that they’re selling merch for. They just know we’ll buy it.
Juneteenth tank tops.
Definitely. Need to put that in the back of the store, unless it’s Black-owned. Then, of course, I’ll support the Juneteenth tank top.
I think what makes me upset is that you’re right. People, they will deny the truth, or they will put the need to make money over top of honesty, but then get offended when you call them out.
I just think that corporations are in a rock and a hard place because, in an effort to please one group, another group has all of a sudden, just out the blue, by the way, it’s not like Pride Month merch is a new thing, but now all of a sudden they’re mad. Now the corporations are having to choose. I think what the eventual regression would just be corporations not taking any political stances ever again.
Most of these stores will become issue-neutral. We can say we’re going to boycott the store, but if all the stores take the same stance, what you going to do? You going to make your own toilet tissue? You going to grow your own medicine?
Something big happens, and it shifts culture to move in certain ways. You can tell me I’m out of my mind, but I was shocked when I was watching TV during the pandemic and saw Mitt Romney at a Black Lives Matter march.
So the pendulum, it swings, right?
Yeah, but then the question becomes, „Should I ask what Mitt Romney’s ulterior motives are? Or should I just accept that Mitt Romney pulled up to the event and take that as the beginning of something hopefully genuine in terms of bipartisanship?“ Don’t show me Mitt Romney at the march. Show me his voting record within Congress or within the Senate, rather. What are you doing? What’s happening? What are you voting on, bro? That, to me, is the real telltale. It’s like it’s progress, but you know as a Black person, we’re just like, „Is that progress, or is that symbolism?“ There’s a difference.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t moved. I was just shocked.
Yeah. Because he’s a Mormon. Ain’t Black people the devil or something?
We need you fixing the Nike sneakers app.
Yeah, the real issues. Freaky a** app giving everything to the resellers. I’ll talk s**t. I don’t care. It ain’t like I’m ever going to get a Nike endorsement deal. I hope they see this s**t. Fix your app.
I think about the joke you told at the dinner about school shootings. You got some groans, and you’re like, „Pass some policy.“
A lot of groans.
Then you’re like, „I’m Mitch McConnell. I have no soul.“ Right?
Yeah. I ain’t got no soul. What are you going to do? You’re going to boo a joke about school shootings instead of passing policies that stop school shootings? Come on.
Do you ever feel like you have any ability to be able to just speak truth to power or is that under attack?
No. I don’t feel like comedians are under attack. Every comedian that people say has been canceled is making good money. They’re showing up to cities and people are still paying money to see them.
Just no camera crews and specials and all that. 
„As a performer, I have to be prepared for groans and accept that as part of the game.“
Yeah, you may not get as many specials. You may not get the glitzy TV show.

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