Welcome to Influencers!
Roy Wood Jr. is a nationally recognized comedian and correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. But his entire career was created for a single outrageous gamble, hear the wild stories and incredible journey of this master of laughs.
Listen To The Podcast Here:
Getting a Laugh with The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr.
Welcome back, listeners. For those of you who have figured out who Roy was, we’re in for an amazing interview today. Roy, please introduce yourself.
My name is Roy Wood Jr. I’m a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I also released my first one-hour special, Father Figure, two rave reviews. I’m a dad. I like cheese grits. I also like cheddar bay biscuits from Red Lobster but then again who doesn’t. That’s not exactly a fun fact of me.
First of all, I really just want to say what a treat it is to have you on. I have a ton of respect for anybody who has the grit to keep standing up week after week and refining the craft of humor because it is so incredibly difficult. You do it at such an impactful level. The fact is the show you’re a correspondent for I think does more to educate probably people between the ages of 20 and 35 about what’s happening in America and politically than maybe a header outlet. Thank you for everything that you do.
I appreciate it. We try our best to have some levity in it. It is a dark world, so you’ve got to do the dark work.
When people discover what you do, what’s their first question?
The biggest question I get as a correspondent is are the people we interview real. We’ll sit down with some people that have some fairly incredulous or not popular viewpoints on particular issues. I’ll give you an example. We had a man who is supporting the right to carry a gun on a college campus at the University of Texas. He is pro-gun. He is anti sex toys. He is anti-dildos. On the same University of Texas campus, you cannot carry a sex toy but you can carry a gun. I interviewed this guy, “How are sex toys bad? This makes you feel good?” The joke in the run that I did with him was trying to get him to touch a sex toy and he would not do it. He wouldn’t do it. That was one of the greatest moments of joy I’ve had in my two, three years here at The Daily Show. At the end of the day, I think what people forget is that we’re interviewing people who have real opinions and this is just what he believes. It doesn’t matter if what he believes is something that everyone else finds incredulous. For him, that is his truth. In that, there is no crazy. It’s just that’s how it looks to the viewer. In the room, you’re just having a conversation with a man who refuses to touch a dildo. It’s very normal.
Besides your dildo experience, what were some of your favorite pieces to film?
The most meaningful piece that I’ve shot with The Daily Show is one on Chicago violence where we did a walk and talk with violence interrupters who basically go up to gang members who have been incensed on a previous shooting and talked them down from the ledge on retaliation. It’s been statistically proven that CeaseFire’s work has reduced crime in the areas in which they patrol. To see that and be able to bring that truth to screen and somehow make it remotely funny, that was very rewarding. The weirdest piece was we did a piece on racism and pornography. Somehow, I ended up in a room with Ron Jeremy who was wearing no pants. He had underwear on, but still.
It’s just a thin layer between the two of you at that point.
He’s built like a hedgehog. It’s very funny to see. He’s very, very hilarious. He’s just a very wacky dude. We were shooting a fictitious orgy that included people of all races to show that there should be more racial inclusion in porn. Basically what happens is that black people are demeaned more on porn or they’re not given opportunity. It’s the same in any other workplace. Black people at the bottom. We’re like, “No. Everybody can love everybody. Come on.” You have Ron Jeremy and it’s supposed to be a fake orgy and he comes in the room with his pants down. My producer is like, “Who’s going to tell Ron Jeremy to go put his pants on?” I’m like, “I’m not.” He’s a real porn star as we’re shooting this with. Somehow it’s an honor to have Ron Jeremy rubbing up against you. It’s like if Jordan came to the park and asked you to play 21 with him. You can’t say no. It was a fun piece to do. You can YouTube that one. It’s called racism and porn.
There’s been, if we’re on the topic, a few really hilarious comedy porn stunts. There are some website that found all the Ikea furniture in the background of porn and then properly labeled it and priced it so it looks like advertising.
The funniest thing I ever came across was, have you ever seen Nathan Fielder’s show Nathan for You?
Yeah. Love it.
Nathan is a comedian who has an MBA from a second-rate Canadian college and he got third-rate grades. The entire thing behind his show is that he goes around giving advice that seems reasonable but when you really think about it, it’s completely insane. He ends up proposing to a hotel chain that if they want more family business, because they spend more nights at hotels than business people, they need to figure out a way to let parents have sex if the kids are in the room. He spent something like $60,000 creating a sealable bed with toys, games.
It was a kid’s bed/soundproof booth.
With its own oxygen supply so that the kid could be sealed in there and that way the kid could play while the parents had sex. The craziest thing was to prove it out, he had an actual family bring their kid, put the child in the box to play and then hired a collection of porn stars to test having an orgy in the room and see if the kid hears it. Brilliant. What you guys produce is incredible. First of all, there are few more prestigious places to be than The Daily Show. It seems that everybody as a correspondent there either ends up with their own show or producing something, everything from Jessica Williams has a movie on Netflix to Jordan Klepper now has his own show. It’s essentially the show that can launch a comedian’s career at this point. If somebody really wants to get on it or succeed in your industry, what are the most important things that you, recommend besides laying your way onto stage?
I think emotional perseverance and surrendering yourself to the fact that it is a very long road. I don’t care how much you can get skit to the front of the line with social media or what you can do, your buddy hooked you up and got you connected with a guy who knew a guy or whatever. At the end of the day, it’s about number one, figure out what it is you want to do and get in to the comedy clubs. If you want to write, then write a web series. The most important thing, the biggest mistake that I made coming up as a comedian or as an entertainer is that I did not surround myself with other motivated people. That’s probably the biggest mistake that I made. I was down south for nine years doing stand-up. It became a situation for me where you tend to adapt other people’s dreams. That’s nobody’s fault. It is what it is. At the end of the day, you have to be around people that want more out of life than what they currently have. If you’re around content people, they’re going to bring you down to their level.
If you’re a writer, I’m not saying go and hang out with other writers. That would be ideal but hell, if you’re hanging out with a janitor that wants to run his own janitorial services company, he’s going to be more driven and that’s going to push you. Those people are the ones that will show you opportunities and you learn from those experiences. I think that’s the most important thing, is be mindful of who you surround yourself with. Friends, family, anybody that’s not driven has to go. I don’t care how much you love them. I don’t care how far back you go, “How cool is Ben? That’s Dave. He’s always been there for me.” No, he wasn’t. He was just there because you like to drink a lot back in the day. Eventually, the roads are going to split and you’re going to wish that you were around people that were more motivated.
Fewer truer words have been spoken. I have to say it’s one of the fundamental things that drives me to run The Influencers, is that the people who are creating extraordinary things fundamentally operate differently and desire more from life. As a by-product, my life has become exponentially better year by year because of the people I surround myself with and the relationships that we develop. I think that it can be really unpopular to say, “You should stop hanging out with somebody that you’ve known for a while.” But if they’re toxic, if they’re not in line with what it is that you actually care about, it doesn’t mean that you never see them, it just means that maybe you need to focus on people who are really committed to the things that you care about.
These people are forcing you into boxes that makes the relationship convenient for them. You should return the favor. If it’s a loved one, if they really love you, they’ll understand and they’ll come back around. There are going to be days where you’re not going to be able to hang out because you have a goal. There are going to be days where you’re going to miss something that’s important to them and they’re going to be ticked off that you didn’t show up. I missed everybody’s birthday for at least a decade. You send gifts and cards and that’s cute, but eventually all they’ll remember is you not being there. Then on the backend, all those people, they respect and they understood, thank God.
Besides curating the people around you, what other advice do you have for people who really want to succeed in the industry?
I think one of the main things is you will be shocked at how many people and the relationships that are forged solely off of just being a good person to someone, being polite, looking at someone else’s situation and figuring out a way that you can add value to their situation instead of looking for ways to help yourself.
I love this advice because it’s so aligned with Adam Grant’s research. Adam Grant is a super famous researcher at Wharton and he wrote a book called Give and Take. He looked at who the most and least successful people are: givers, takers, or matchers. Givers are people who give disproportionally, takers take disproportionally, and matchers will repeat whatever behavior they are presented with. What he found was staggering. The least successful people are the givers but they’re also the most successful people. What separates the two groups are those that can give but not so much that it ends up being detrimental to them. You can give and support people and help them develop their sets and work on their routines but not to the point that you’re so tired that you perform badly the next day. I really love this because I believe that if you want a functional community, you really have to contribute to it. I think it’s a phenomenal advice. What’s something completely unexpected about reaching this level of success?
For me, the thing that I never really expected was the amount of responsibility that has been levied at me. With The Daily Show, the thing that caught me off guard is that some people will come up before this and they’ll say, “You’re funny. I like what you do. It’s funny. You were funny on the thing that I saw.” But now people come up and they say, “Thank you for your work,” which is a compliment that I don’t know how to process that one because that one is rooted in so much more of a higher level of social responsibility that I just can’t even wrap my head around sometimes. It’s such an honor but then it also shows me the gravity of the situations and the topics that we’re tackling on The Daily Show and how I’m trying to bring a little bit of levity to this insanity. It’s cathartic for some people and I would have never considered that. It’s something I would have never even thought about if not for people coming up and just telling me thank you. Not wanting a picture or anything. Just coming up and just shaking the hand and just going, “Thank you.”
I can absolutely understand their perspective because I think especially when times are hard and issues are large that being able to examine them with an air of humor really makes it digestible. Jon popularizing the show so much really brought that to the forefront and now what you guys are doing and Trevor at the helm really carries the mantle forward. I definitely appreciate it. I want to talk a little bit about what’s inspired you over the years. Was there a certain book or lesson you learned that really keeps you going?
There was this book that I enjoy, an autobiography. It’s one of the first books that really connected with me, Rise and Walk, the Dennis Byrd story. Dennis Byrd was a defensive lineman for the New York Jets. He became paralyzed on a play. The autobiography basically walks you through his time in Oklahoma and the doctors telling him that he wasn’t going to walk again. With graphic detail, he describes the process literally from the time he fell motionless on the field to the time that he took his first steps. He talked about how frustrating it was and the stress it puts on their marriage and trying to be a father. All of these different things and he still defied odds and walked again. That’s probably one of the most inspirational books. It’s always something that I’ve always gone back to and drawn on when there’s a lot of dark days. When you’re working for yourself and supporting yourself, there are going to be a ton of dark days. You have to be able to have something. You need a North Star per se to help you through that and I’ve been thankful to have that. That’s a book that I flip through every now and then just to stay refreshed.
Is there someone you consider your hero?
My mom. I know it sounds cliché but my mom worked really hard to make sure that I had a decent existence. Without going into a lot of detail, I feel she’s sacrificed a lot of her own happiness to make sure that I had what I needed. I didn’t realize the gravity of the choices that my mother made in raising me until I had my own son and now I’m like, “That was a sacrifice you made. You didn’t get any sleep for a month.” Now, I’m really starting to realize that, but my mother hands down. I’ve always been thankful for the faculty and staff at Florida A&M University for believing in me. He’s a gentleman, bless his soul, God rest his soul, Dr. James Hawkins. I was a bit of a cut up in college. I didn’t really get straightened out until maybe junior, senior year. Thankfully, there was faculty and staff there that were attentive and understood that I was a kid that just needed to be pointed in the right direction and they definitely did that for me.
I want you to imagine for a second you get a random email from a complete stranger in your inbox. The stranger wants you to meet them for coffee. What would be in that email that would have you accept the invitation?
The main thing would be an intent and purpose of the conversation. Why am I showing up to talk to you and what are we going to talk about? I don’t need a full layout of the conversation but it would be very nice and appreciated.
What if it’s somebody seeking your advice or wanting to understand how to succeed better in your industry? They don’t offer any potential for a gig or anything like that. This is a complete stranger and they just want to get your advice. What do they have to write?
I’ve always appreciated people that seem to be knowledgeable about what I do or my craft and a complimentary.
You want a bit of an ego boost, is that what you’re saying? “Roy, you’re smart and handsome. Will you come on my podcast?”
Not in that sense but I have to know you’re not crazy. Like you say, a complete stranger and I sit down with a complete stranger. A complete stranger is a very wide centrum. If I know that you are to some degree normal and you introduce yourself, you tell me who you are and I know you’re just not catfishing me then that’s what I’m part of. Another thing that I’ve always appreciated especially with younger comics that’ll reach out and want to talk or want to go somewhere, comedians or people who can figure out an arrangement that doesn’t cost me much of my time, I’m more inclined to talk and network with. I’ve had comedians who wanted to talk with me and they go, “I see you’re performing at Gotham Comedy Club at 9 PM. I’ll get there at 8:30 if you have any time.” I’ve had guys who’ve literally gotten into an Uber with me as I headed to my next gig just so we could talk for twenty minutes. They weren’t headed to Brooklyn but that’s where you’re going if we’re going to talk. That adaptiveness has always been cool.
I often ask guests to share their most embarrassing moment just to show that we’re all human. Some people have shared that they suffer from anxiety and things like that. What’s a super embarrassing moment of your life that you feel comfortable sharing?
I almost got booed on Showtime at the Apollo. That was pretty embarrassing. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as it looked but at the time, I wanted to crawl underneath a rock. I got on the train to go back to my hotel room in Jersey and missed my stop. I feel a lot of people that are just sitting on the train got booed at the Apollo and they just never recovered emotionally and just still on the train years later. That one ranks pretty high. A lot of my stuff is more failure than embarrassment. I was performing in St. Louis a week after the Ferguson riots. I was attempting to do some newer material about black people and police relations and at the time, the joke wasn’t new. It’s a joke that shouldn’t have been developed at ground zero of where so much hurt was existent. The joke wasn’t fully developed. There were some missteps and a black lady in the audience stood up and told me about myself in front on 250 people. There was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I can say because I’m the one who rolled the dice and tried to do an edgy joke and see if I could stick to landing and I rolled my ankle. I rolled my ankle bad and that was pretty embarrassing. For anyone to ever think that I’m not for protest and that I’m not for those things, it was just a joke that needed to be more properly manicure so that people knew where I truly stood on it. To be misunderstood is one of the most confounding and frustrating things that a comedian can ever have happen to them. I apologized to the lady and everything was cool but it took me about fifteen minutes to get out of that hole.
I can’t imagine digging myself out there. Now the question that everybody is really curious about: Who’s the funniest person on the team?
The writers, all the writers.
I’m not naming names, everybody.
He wants to keep his job so he’s giving us the politically correct answer. Out of the correspondents, you’ve seen them in action, who cracks you up the most?
You’ve got to go back to the drawing board now that Jordan Klepper has left. Klepper was the only one that I ever did two main pieces with. When Jordan Klepper and I were out there doing stuff, it was always a pleasure. He was always doing something new that you didn’t expect, that you never saw coming. He just knew how to always add an extra curveball and extra beat. Half of the stuff that you see me and Jordan Klepper do, I guarantee you was not in the script. It wasn’t planned at all.
That’s no surprise then that he has his own show now, The Opposition.
He deserves it.
Everybody on that team is so talented that I am constantly impressed. Roy, thank you so much for coming on. I’d love for you tell the audience where we could find out all about you. Are you on Instagram or Twitter? Where can people follow you around?
It’s just @RoyWoodJr.
Do you have a website?
Last but not the least, the name of your comedy special was?
People who have video-on demand, they could probably find it. It was Comedy Central?
Yeah, wherever you go to steal stuff.
If you guys torrent, just look for Father Figure by Roy Wood Jr. and try to get the non-pornography version of it because I’m sure everything on torrent is really just porn. Roy, thank you so much. Listeners, stay tuned we have another anonymous interview coming up.
About Roy Wood Jr.
Roy Wood Jr. is a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In 2017, Wood premiered his first one hour standup special, ‘Father Figure,’ on Comedy Central and a live album of the same name. In the same year he was named the new host for Season 4 of Comedy Central’s storytelling series, ‘This is Not Happening.’ In 2017, Roy Wood Jr.’s first
Entertainment Weekly described the thought-provoking comedy of Roy Wood Jr. as ‘Charismatic Crankiness.’ His comedy has entertained millions across stage, television and radio. Prior to The Daily Show, Wood starred for three seasons season on TBS’ Sullivan & Son,
Anonymous Guest Interview
Now for my favorite part. We have the absolute pleasure of having Seanne on. What I’m really excited about was I grew up with a specific product in my house that I would play with all the time, and Shauna managed to popularize it to a whole new level, and we got to host her today. Seanne, thanks so much for coming on.
Thanks so much, Jon. I’m delighted to be here.
Let’s get some basic information so people can start trying to figure out who you are. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a bunch of places. I grew up in Germany and England and Israel, Palestine, and ended up moving to the states when I was eighteen.
Were you in a military family?
No. My dad’s a philosophy professor and a minister, so I grew up globe-trotting for a bunch of different reasons and getting to experience cultures all over the world.
Was there an incident or teacher something that inspired you to go down the direction you went career-wise?
I thought my entire teenage years that I was going to study English literature. I’ve done the entire pre-req list for Cambridge in England and thought that was what I was going to go to study and do. One of the things about growing up internationally is that you realize that one of the things that every culture holds and every person can relate are stories. Those are the bridges that combine us and that bring out empathy and create new friendships with people that you don’t know yet, and being able to tell stories was a big part of that. When I was seventeen, I was invited to emcee at the World Fair in Hanover, Germany. People from all over the world had come together to talk about and show their culture in these beautiful pavilions. Every night we would get together and we’d watch movies together. I realized that the myths and the stories I’d grown up loving in books were being told in films, and so I followed that dream of how do I tell stories that build bridges, and it took me to LA.
Was there a certain accomplishment in your career that you’re most proud of?
I think that for me, one of the ways in which as artists we tell the best stories are when we surround ourselves with really incredible collaborators and we provide an environment where they’re able to take risks and do their very best work and show up to work and be able to be really brave and really courageous. I think my greatest accomplishment is the films that I’ve worked on, we’ve been able to create that kind of culture where people get to show up with all of themselves and be a little bit messy and take really big swings and not be shamed for doing things that might not seem conventional at the time but sometimes have really great payoffs creatively or financially. Being able to create that kind of a culture I think is my biggest win so far.
Considering you work in the movie industry, this might be a little bit of a funny question, but who do you think would play you in a movie? There’s the Seanne Winslow Life Film or your character makes a cameo, who plays you? I actually have an idea.
Please help me out.
I was just with her at fall’s Future of Storytelling and I could totally see Maggie Grace.
Interesting. That would be delightful.
She has the platinum hair like you do, and I want our listeners to get the sense of what you look like, and she’s slim and delightful and I see the resemblance there.
I love it. I also love her husband, Brent Bushnell who’s rad.
He’s the coolest guy in the world.
He’s so cool.
Brent had created something called Two Bit Circus, which is like an all-digital circus that’s immersive. If you’re ever in LA, you have to check it out, it’s incredible. He also happens to be the son of Nolan Bushnell, the guy who created the Atari and was the CEO of Chuck E. Cheese. You can imagine how fun it was growing up in the Bushnell house. He was like one of eight or six kids or something.
Yeah, it’s insane. A friend of both of ours. He’s rad. I feel like when I was really young and I first started working the first film that I interned on was Garden State. People would walk into the office and they’d say, “You look just like that new actress Scarlett Johansen,” and it annoyed me so much. I love her, she’s incredible and so talented, but I was trying to be taken very seriously as a writer-director. I ended up dyeing my very, very blond hair dark brown in order to be taken more seriously. I’ve resorted to that at different junctions in my career, so maybe I have a soft spot for her. Maybe she would be someone too that I would look to.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done that actually led to your success? I’ll give you an example. The last interviewee, Roy Wood, Jr. from The Daily Show, launched his radio career where he spent twelve years being a comedian on a popular radio station. He lied to a comedy club telling them that he worked for the radio station and then he lied to the radio station telling them that he’s opening for a famous comedian. Otherwise, there would be no way he’d open and if the radio station didn’t think he was opening, they would have never auditioned him. It was like a Parent Trap-esque completely ridiculous scenario where he lied to everybody, impressed everybody, and actually got a job out of it.
When you first asked me the question, I had this playbook of maybe the 50 crazy things I’ve done that have been intersections in my career that have led me to where I am today. I think the first one, aside from packing up at eighteen and moving to America all by myself, was my very first job out of college was as a screen writer. I looked around and I was like, “I don’t have the power to tell the type of stories that I want to tell. I need more power.” I looked around and I thought, “Oh, producers, they have power. I want to be one of them.”
In order to get there, I felt like the most strategic job that I could take would be at a major talent agency. I worked at CAA and I was in pre-production on this documentary in Africa that I was directing. I was 22. I got called down to HR and as I’m walking down to HR, financing for this documentary had just come through. I’m thinking about maybe in six months I’ll leave for Africa and I’ll go make this documentary and I’ll come back and figure my life out. As I’m walking down HR though, I’m asking myself, “What have I done recently that was particularly stupid? Whose agent’s office was I partying in? What have I done recently?” I walked in and the head of HR said, “Richard Lovett, who’s the head of CAA, would like you to come and work for him.” I looked at her and it was one of those junctures in my career where this is a job that people spend years trying to get, working as an assistant and trying to get that specific job. I said I need two hours.
I walked back to my desk and put my head down, thought about it, said a prayer, and walked back down to HR and said, “You know, Elizabeth, I am putting in my two weeks’ notice. I’m leaving for Africa where I’m going to direct this documentary.” She looked at me and she didn’t say this is the end of your career but she said, “You’re turning down one of the greatest opportunities that you’re going to be offered.” I looked at her and I said, “Really? Because I feel like this is the first of a lot of offers and I feel like if I said yes to something that wasn’t the drum beat of my heart, I would be doing a really poor job of living my life.” So I quit. I quit the day that I was offered a huge promotion.
You’re quite really brave, Seanne. I’m super unsurprised, knowing you, but at the same time, wow. I wanted to take the internship when I heard it, and I’m not in entertainment, but it was like, “I get to intern for them? Wow.”
It wasn’t just an internship, it was a full paid, making enough money to pay rent kind of job instead of going to Africa and living in mud huts for six months.
Good for you. That’s super impressive. Was there a moment that you felt like you had arrived to some degree, besides being asked to be somebody’s assistant?
I think for me, starting my own company has been the sense of arrival. This is the other story that I thought about when you said what is the crazy risk you’ve taken. In 2015 I was working on a script that I will be directing with my writing and directing partner, Adam Sjöberg, in the spring. We were just getting off the ground and had been in the final round for the Sundance Labs, and we’re just in the process of refining it and we were invited by one of the main characters the movie was based on to Italy. We dropped everything, took a month of vacation. I was still working at the company that I was working at previously. We went to Italy for three weeks to write. While we were there, David Jacobson, who’s now our third partner, flew out, and proposed to us and said, “Guys, we work so well together, we’ve moonlit a bunch on each other’s stuff. Let’s all quit our jobs and let’s start this company together.” We founded our company on the banks of a Venice canal in Venice, Italy.
That risk felt like a huge risk and it was in a way turning my back on the glitz and glamour of mainstream Hollywood in order to be able to build a community where great stories are told and authenticity prevails and people are able to come to do their best work. I feel like for the last two and a half years at our company, that’s been what we are building and what we’ve been able to create in a lot of ways. That’s a really special moment of arriving, of being able to actually make decisions of how we treat people and honor their ideas and create an environment where they’re doing really great work. Having my own company with two partners that I deeply admire and respect feels, in a way, like arriving, but it also feels like just the beginning.
Last but not least, what hint or riddle would you give people to figure out who you are?
I produced the first of its kind album release party that launched a fashion show that Naomi Campbell walked in, featured over 1,000 fully styled and personally dressed extras, and became the largest piece of performance art in history with over 20 million views. We crash title and live streamed in over a thousand packed movie theaters. We were also live on Time Square. I also produced this movie that everyone thought would be a big commercial and instead it ended up being an incredibly funny, sacrilegious, authentic piece of story-telling that was built out of bricks made by one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world.
Listeners, you have tons to go on to figure out who Seanne is. One last hint, she doesn’t spell her name phonetically. It might be a little hard to find her based on the spelling of her name, but I think you can do this and if you can, you can win an invitation to The Salon By Influencers, and hang out with industry leaders such as Seanne and all the other wonderful people that you keep hearing on The Influencers Podcast. Best of luck.