ENTERTAINMENT ART

Roy Wood Jr. on Trevor Noah’s Exit and Why He ‘Can’t Say No’ to Hosting ‘The Daily Show’

When Trevor Noah announced he would be stepping down as host of The Daily Show, he cited a conversation with comedian Roy Wood Jr. as part of what made him decide it was time to move on.

In his return to The Last Laugh podcast, the longtime Daily Show correspondent, who started the same day as Noah, talks about this huge moment of transition for the show and addresses the speculation that he is on the short list to take over as host. Wood also opens up about how Jerrod Carmichael’s Rothaniel special lit a fire under him to put out his own deeply personal hour of stand-up and previews how he might cover Herschel Walker when The Daily Show travels to Atlanta for the midterms.

“It’s been a little crazy,” Wood says of these past few weeks. “And you know what’s weird? People don’t know what to say to me. It’s like, ‘How you been? Are you OK? Are you sad? Are you scared? Are you gonna host? What’s going on, man?’”

And while Noah’s decision may have been influenced by that conversation with Wood, the comedian confirms that he was just as surprised as everyone else. “I found out when y’all found out,” he says.

Wood wasn’t at the taping that day because he was attending the News and Documentary Emmy Awards ceremony where he was nominated for The Neutral Ground, a documentary about the Confederacy that he co-produced for PBS. When he went upstairs to use the restroom and the news popped up on his phone, he jokes “the steam was still coming off of the article, fresh out the oven, and I’m like, what the fuck is going on?!”

“So I find out Trevor is leaving,” he says. “Ten minutes later, I find out I don’t win an Emmy and then I’m just sitting.” Since no one else in the room had cell service, Wood says, “I am the only person who knows the asteroid is coming.”

Noah made his announcement on Thursday, Sept. 29, and the following week Wood jokingly confronted him about it on the show, saying, “You didn’t have to drag my name into it! Now everybody on my Twitter’s yelling at me, thinking that it’s my fault that you decided to leave the show.”

The bit was all in good fun, but Wood admits to me that “there was a little bit of truth in it.”

He adds, “I was joking, but it was kind of true that people on Twitter were playfully blaming me for Trevor stepping down. So I was like, we need to talk about this.”

In our conversation about a week later, Wood is not only unusually candid about what he would do if offered the coveted gig, but also has some big ideas about what the future should hold for late-night political comedy as a whole.

“Whatever the next shows are within the world of political satire, across whatever networks, we’ve got to figure out a way to be a bridge. We’ve got to figure out a way to use humor as a bridge,” he tells me. That could mean making the show more “centrist” or inviting on guests who have diametrically opposed political views from the host. “But then you try that and you book Kanye and you have to not release the episode because he was wilding,” Wood jokes, alluding to a recent episode of LeBron James’ The Shop that was pulled following Kanye West’s antisemitic remarks.

When it comes to political satire on late-night TV, Wood asks, “How much of this is actual discourse and legitimate conversation, and how much of this is corrosive and destructive to the stability of our democracy? And if it’s destructive to the stability of our democracy, whatever joke you have, it ain’t worth it.”

“Let’s not forget, all of these shows are just trying to make people laugh,” he adds, “but you still have to expose the bullshit.”

Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

What was that real conversation that you and Trevor had about The Daily Show’s seven-year anniversary?

It was fucking three sentences! It’s not like I pulled him to the side and said, “Hey, man, I just want you to know the journey has been…” I looked at my phone, it said September 28th. “Hey man, it’s been seven years, congratulations.” And he paused for a second and goes, “Yeah, it has… Anyway, what else are we talking about?” Then we went on to another topic. And you know, I’m not shocked that it happened, I think it’s more of the way he went about it. But at the end of the day, as a comedian I completely understand it. He is a traveler. He is a philosopher. Any late-night chair, for any show, can be a bit of a box if you want to go and do these other things and learn other things and discover other things. And The Daily Show, it’s not like Conan where Conan [O’Brien] could just go, “Fuck it, I’m going to Germany.

He eventually got to that point later on. I don’t know that it was like that for the first 20 years.

Of course not. But for it to remain interesting for Conan, creatively, he started coming up with different ways—and also because networks were restricting and hating on my dog—but it was something where he was allowed to evolve. And The Daily Show is The Daily Show, that car is the car. There’s not really much that you can do to change that. If you want to drive a truck, I’m sorry, The Daily Show is a car. You can put a spoiler on it, you can make it a convertible, but you’re not going to be able to completely change the chassis and the functionality of that vehicle creatively to the degree that I think Trevor needed. And so, you know, I think that was probably the right thing for him to do, because otherwise you’re just sitting and you’re bored and then you look like one of them animals in the zoo that shouldn’t be locked up like that.

So you understand where he was coming from?

A million times.

But people thought that you were actually pissed at him. People thought that there was actually some beef?

I think that as a correspondent it’s still your job to kind of mirror a little bit of what society is feeling.

You’re the voice of the audience.

And there are a lot of people who were mad, and that wasn’t a joke for them, so if I could embody that a little bit, even if it’s playfully, even if I have to pull Dua Lipa into it…

And there are a lot of people who were mad, and that wasn’t a joke for them, so if I could embody that a little bit, even if it’s playfully, even if I have to pull Dua Lipa into it…

Yeah, I love that you were the only one to bring that up.

Shout out to “Dua Lupita,” who is not a real artist. So, yeah, that day was myself and the writers just going, “We have to talk about what’s in the zeitgeist, we have to talk about last week.” And it’s the perfect place to mention it and be playful about it, and then get back on with the show. Because I think what what I don’t want people to lose sight of in the midst of Trevor’s decision is that there’s still a fucking midterm election coming up, man. There’s still a lot of serious issues that are dividing the country that need to be resolved, and that we need to bring attention to. So you know, as far as I’m concerned it’s time to get back to work. He stepped down, we made our jokes, it’s time to clock in. We’re still going to Atlanta for midterms. And we’re going to focus on a lot of issues that are going on there in Georgia, correspondents are already getting their assignments. It’s still full steam ahead on making a television show. The car is the car. We’ll figure out who the next driver is going to be, but the car is the car and it’s still racing down the road. So that’s what we’re going to turn our focus back to for now.

So Trevor is going to stay through the midterms, his last show is December 8th, and then Comedy Central confirmed that the show is coming back in January. Very quick turnaround there. When something like this happens, there’s so much speculation about what happens next, who’s going to host? Your name is getting thrown around a lot as a possible successor. Is that something that you would even want?

I think if you’re asked, you have to at least consider it. You can’t say no to an opportunity like that. You can’t turn your nose up at it at least. I think you have to sit and assess what you want to do creatively, and that’s something I haven’t thought about yet. How would I design the car? Would I put a front wing on it? Would I put some Fast and Furious neon lights on? Would I tint the windows? And then figuring out, creatively, if that makes sense. Because I think beyond The Daily Show, there’s a bigger discussion to be had about what the fuck the next iteration of late-night is going to be. I think this is bigger than Trevor Noah. I think that we are at a creative molting as an industry.

Whatever CBS decides to do with James Corden’s slot, I imagine, will not be a one-to-one to what James Corden did, that it’s going to be something totally different. I hope that Showtime, with the departure of Desus and Mero, find something else to put into that slot. I know they still have Ziwe, who is doing something completely different. Sam Jay, stylistically, is completely different. And low-key, I feel like shows like that, those are the shows that were kind of the precursor of the creative molting that is starting to happen now. Amber Ruffin, I would throw in that hat as well. So you know, it’ll be interesting to see, but to have your name in the hat is an honor. So I’m not going to sit here and act like that’s not a cool thing to have someone even consider that I could do it. But how would I do it? I haven’t thought about that. Creatively, I have no idea what Comedy Central is going to do. My job, in the meantime, is to just be a good-ass correspondent.

Well, one thing they’ve done this time is really put it out there that all of the correspondents are being considered, maybe because of what happened last time when Jon [Stewart] left. John Oliver had been filling in as host and ended up getting kind of poached by HBO. I’ve talked to Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj, who both told me that they were never considered, they weren’t in the running, nobody talked to them about possibly taking over. So it does feel a little different this time. Does that surprise you, how it was handled last time versus what we’re seeing now?

I wasn’t there. I didn’t come in until Trevor, so I couldn’t even give you the temperature in the building in those days and what those relationships were like. Right now, Jordan Klepper stands as the only on-air talent who served under both regimes. But for me, I don’t think they’ve asked anybody formally. “Hey, Roy, are you ready?” That conversation hasn’t been had. I know what y’all read. I go to the building and I just do my job as a correspondent. My big question right now is, what’s going to happen with these couple of field pieces that I shot a month or two ago that ain’t aired yet.

But for me, I don’t think they’ve asked anybody formally. “Hey, Roy, are you ready?” That conversation hasn’t been had.

You’ve got to get those up!

Yeah. But you know, in terms of them considering the correspondents, I think that’s a beautiful thing, because all of the correspondents—myself, Klepper, [Michael] Kosta, Ronny [Chieng], Desi [Lydic], Dulcé [Sloan]—we already have a pre-installed relationship with the audience. And late-night is a relationship. And having the correspondents be a part of the conversation, I think also helps to reassure the viewers. Jon to Trevor was definitely a lot more tumultuous of an exchange, of a transfer of power, because people weren’t completely familiar with Trevor.

And Jon was such a powerful force on television.

The only thing I can try to compare it to was Aaron Rodgers, when he came in after Brett Favre. When Trevor took over the question was, “Who is Trevor Noah?” The only question that will be asked now, I believe, in the transfer from Trevor to the next person is, “Can this person do the job?” Because there will be some degree of familiarity, if we’re talking about from the pool of correspondents.

Unless they go totally rogue and hire someone we’ve never heard of.

If they go totally rogue and it’s someone that’s a complete outsider, that’s a huge bet on the Paramount side. I think, regardless, it has to be a name someone knows, that we’re familiar with, if I’m running the network.

Roy Wood Jr. on The Daily Show

Comedy Central

You would think.

But I also have never run a fucking network before. So to sit and speculate, for me the biggest question is, if I’m there and I’m not the host, then what does the role of correspondent evolve into, or change into, based on the next creative iteration per the creative direction that the host sets forward? So I’m thinking more about that, if I’m being honest with you, bro. I’m thinking a lot more about, OK, what does my job change into?

Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about how you came in, started the same day as Trevor. So would it be weird to stay on with the new host?

It would depend on the host. It would depend on the creative direction of the show. What are you trying to do? How do I fit into that? And does that creative direction fit my comedic skill sets and give me an opportunity to show who I am? Because I think the thing that I’ve always been appreciative of in the seven years that I’ve been on The Daily Show is that I’ve been able to do segments and pieces that match with my real-life ideologies and my real-life curiosities. I’ve never been told no when it was a weird thing that you might not think has humor. So I would want to make sure that whatever I’m doing on television—and this is Daily Show and beyond—I want to make sure that it’s something that equates to the things I find funny, and the things that I’m curious about.

Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

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