Roy Wood Jr. wants you to know that he’s earned the right to sting you.
Wood has spent more than two decades in comedy, starting out in radio with prank calls and working his way up to being a correspondent for The Daily Show and delivering his most recent Comedy Central special, No One Loves You. As socially and politically charged as his comedy is now, Wood wasn’t always willing take on controversial issues earlier in his career as an up-and-coming black comic performing in smaller, southern cities.
“If you’re performing in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, do you really want to go on stage and go on this long ramble trying to explain why black people aren’t patriotic?” Wood says in the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation. “You’re constantly balancing trying to put food on the table versus true artistic expression. So when you finally get to a place creatively and fiscally where you don’t care no more, you can go, ‘Kiss my ass–this is what I’m saying.'”
That said, Wood is careful not to make his style of comedy just an angry tirade.
“How do I sting you, then soothe you?” is the approach he says he’s been taking in this phase of his career. However, even though he’s never felt more free in the creative sense, Wood admits he’s not quite where he wants to be with the performative aspect of his comedy. For Wood, how he’s saying something is just as important as what he’s saying.
In this episode of Creative Conversation, Wood explains what Solange (of all people) taught him about performing standup, and how he’s challenging himself to find new angles into a joke–even if they don’t land. Read highlights of the conversation and listen to the full episode below.
A seat at the soundcheck
“The most amazing musical performance I’ve ever seen was a Solange Knowles soundcheck at Essence Festival 2017. Her soundcheck was three hours for what was to be a 45-minute performance. So Solange runs the whole show on stage with her background dancers, 40-piece brass band. Then she goes offstage and sits out in the audience, and then makes everybody do the show again while she watches them from the audience to see everything as the audience would see it. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an artist do that. Jokes ain’t shit but music. And so I saw Solange and I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I have not been performing right.'”
Embrace the negative space
“Solange would finish a song and then would take like 45 seconds just relaxing in it. Erykah Badu does it too. [She’ll] let you just soothe and sit in it–let’s just enjoy this energy for a moment. I don’t have to constantly talk. And in that moment silence becomes the segue instead of sitting at home stressing and figuring out a way to connect this topic with this topic so everything can seem like one free-flowing narrative. No, just respect the silence.”
Roy Wood Jr.’s most important creative advice
“Try to do what no one else is doing. So even if I’m not the funniest, there’s some uniqueness or there’s an attempt at something that hasn’t been done before. That’s going to be a big challenge for standup comedy going forward, because comedy is the only genre of entertainment that everybody thinks they can do too. So you have to really challenge conventional thought on visually how it’s presented or tonally what you’re talking about.
“I’ve tried, creatively, to see issues and what people are talking about, and most issues are presented through the media and through blogs as A or B. Find C, D, and E and talk about that. A and B will always be there, and there’ll always be a discussion around A and B. But if you talk about C, D, and E and figure out other angles and things that people may not have considered, if nothing else, you’re at least interesting.”