“Roy Wood Jr. Is One of Comedy’s Best Journalists”

From a story on forbes.com by Rashad Grove headlined “Roy Wood Jr. Is One of Comedy’s Best Journalists”:

Roy Wood Jr. is one of the comedy’s best journalists.

Giving his hilarious takes on race, fatherhood, pop culture and politics, Roy is one of the most sought-after comedians working today.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama and a graduate of Florida A&M University, Roy has been performing stand-up comedy since he was 19-years old….

I spoke to Roy about why comedy is an effective form of journalism, how podcasting is a great medium for storytelling and his two podcasts, Roy’s Job Fair, and Beyond The Scenes.

Grove: I read once that you said that comedy was a form of journalism. Can you explain that further?

Wood Jr: I think comedy is one of the most effective forms of journalism. Not every comedian is a journalist but if they want to be, they have the people’s undivided attention and they’re able to deliver a perspective or truth in a way that most people wouldn’t consider or wouldn’t have even thought about getting it that way. If comedy was for real, for real journalism, I think Chris Rock would have already won a Pulitzer Prize. Katt Williams too if we really keeping it a buck. Katt Williams can talk about something that’s political and turn around and talk about his fur coat. So he can, he can mix things up. But yeah, I really do think that comedy is one of the best forms of journalism.

Grove: Speaking of that, journalism is in your blood. How did your father’s work influence you ?

Wood Jr. What’s wild is that Stuart Scott influenced me more to pursue journalism because my dad was so in tune with the issues. My dad was, I don’t know if civil rights journalist is the right moniker, but he definitely was a news commentator and he was very opinionated. He covered everything relevant from back to the 50s, the riots, he was in Rhodesia, covering the Civil War, he was in Vietnam volunteering to be embedded with Black platoons, he was in Chicago to document the racism that they were experiencing. His style of journalism was definitely tearing the bandages off the wounds of Black America and showing them not only to us, but white people. So as a teenager it was stressful when I would go with him to a speaking engagement and I would be in the corner, trying to focus on my Game Boy but I understood the work that he did.

When I was 19, my jokes were about college bookstore book buyback and roommates eating your food. When I turned the corner in my 30s, I really started looking at the world differently. Everything that my dad has been talking about, which is permeating back in. So now and a lot of ways. I’m just a funnier version of my father.

My father was in Chicago in the 60s when it was all going down and he definitely saw a lot. It gives me more perspective in what I do. So when Trevor wants to send me off to some wild sh*t to find the jokes, I consider it an honor. Because, you know, I’m able to use a little bit of humor and still talk about things that have a little bit of gravity.

Grove: You mentioned Stuart Scott who was beloved by our generation. What was it about him that resonated with you?

Wood Jr: Stuart Scott was the first black man I saw on TV that talked the way that me and my friends talked around the high school table. For me, I said before, there were like four journalists that really influenced me on what I was trying to do early on. It was Stuart Scott, it was Fred Hickman from CNN. There’s something very astute about Fred Hickman but there was a snark about him, he was having fun. He didn’t have a stick up his ass and he was definitely you know, having fun with that. Jeanne Moos who was at CNN Headline News at the time did a lot of offbeat stories and she used to make me laugh. I loved her. Then there was a guy Van Earl Wright, who did sports on CNN Headline. The way he just did his VO reads was just magical. He would put all of these crazy intimations and inflections on syllables and he could pronounce a word and would add emphasis on a weird syllable in the word, which got your attention. So it’s a trick that I stole comedically decades later on stage. When I started figuring out, sometimes you can have a phrase, that’s not the phrase, but the cadence, the pacing of it, and how you hit the inflections of the syllables can add something and get people’s attention. Journalistically speaking, I wanted to do what everybody else has been doing but I need to figure out a way to do it differently and to me, those four people were very much the pinnacle.

Grove: How was it being in the lunchroom when you’re developing your comedic voice, as well as studying broadcast journalism?

Wood Jr: Becoming a comedian and a journalist at the same time didn’t get me a lot of allies in the classroom from professors. Where I am now, believe it or not, I wasn’t much of a class clown. I was very introverted. I started with people that I had the most intimate relationships with, which is basically my neighborhood and my baseball teammates. I was so focused on going to this class and graduating, that I didn’t really play around a lot. I had professors that were supportive and saw what I was trying to do but then there were also professors that wanted me to remain straight-laced and appropriate, like a traditional journalist. It’s weird. How can I put it? It’s weird when you’re inspired by Stuart Scott but some of your professors want you to be Ed Bradley.

Grove: Would you say that’s a part of the Black respectability that sometimes happens in those spaces? 

Wood Jr: Correct. I just think in college in general that there’s two types of professors. There are the ones who give you the tools and the space to figure out how to use the tools and what to do with those journalistic tools. Then there are those that give you the tools and tell you exactly how you should be using.m Eventually, you get old enough to realize that you have to do it your way because the landscape changes too much.

Grove: Why has audio content such as radio and podcasting been so important for you as creator?

Wood Jr: The podcast world is important because for the people that are into podcasting, they are willing to look at the nuance. Podcasts are a great form of media because the nuance is not ruined. There’s no sensationalized headlines, there’s no crazy footage to go with anything. I will put it right up there with print journalism, as being very important….

Rashad Grove is a freelance journalist, media consultant, content creator, and T.V. host based in Princeton N.J.

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