Roy Wood Jr. Speaks Out After ‘Daily Show’ Exit, Defends Hasan Minhaj and Questions the Future of Late-Night TV

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During the recently ended writers strike, many people who worked on the staffs of TV’s late-night shows wished things would get back to normal. Roy Wood Jr. was surprised to find that he was not one of them.

Wood, one of the team of faux news correspondents on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” since 2015, says the strike got him thinking about his place at the venerable series — and about late-night TV in general. He decided to exit, even though he has been seen in some circles as a candidate to take over as host of the program, which has been without a steady on-air leader since Trevor Noah left in late 2022.

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“I do not believe late-night as we know it will be the way we continue,” Wood tells Variety. “Budgets are changing, and we are going into the age of some people, demographically, who did not necessarily always grow up with late night. So how do you engage those people and bring those people to the art form?” It’s an idea Wood says he wants to consider, and could not tackle if he were to remain with the program — especially with the network in the midst of what has become a protracted selection extravaganza, one that has tapped guests ranging from Sarah Silverman to Marlon Wayans.

“What was clear to me with Comedy Central is just that choosing a host is going to take a lot longer than the time I need to get answers,” says Wood. Meanwhile, he wants to consider new ways of reaching fans of topical humor, particularly as the nation moves closer to the 2024 presidential election. Writing a book, trying out ideas for film or leading a sitcom are all avenues he’d like to explore, but so too are comedy opportunities that might involve digital extensions or stand-up concepts.

Comedy Central declined to respond to a query seeking comment. In a previous statement, the network called Wood “a comedic genius and beloved teammate.” The network is expected to rely on guest hosts and other ”Daily Show” correspondents through the rest of the year before anointing a new host in time for the start of 2024. Already, there is new speculation: Sarah Silverman and Leslie Jones have each agreed to guest host for a second stint, prompting guesses that the network may want to see more of them behind the “Daily” desk.

Wood is just the latest late-night mainstay to consider new territory as the venerable format continues to be undermined by new viewership patterns. Johnny Carson dominated TV’s wee-hours schedule because he had limited competition. Today’s late-night crop — Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, “Daily” and Seth Meyers – – have exponentially more. Some of it is themselves. Fans can watch clips of their shows on YouTube or X without having to watch the hosts’ programs after the late local news. That has undermined regular viewership and forced a culling of the time slot. NBC is no longer running a show at 1:30 in the morning, as it did for decades. CBS is expected to replace James Corden’s “Late Late Show” with a comedy-game show hybrid that appears less costly to produce.

Executives at Comedy Central and its parent, Paramount Global, had originally hoped to name a new host in time for this year’s recent “upfront” presentations, where TV networks unveil their new programming schedules to advertisers. The recent writers strike forced the show — and its contemporaries — to go dark. The network was believed to have identified comedian Hasan Minhaj as its lead candidate for the “Daily” job, only to cast a wider net after a New Yorker article that suggested Minhaj had embellished some of his autobiographical comedy material.

Wood says he has no insight into who has been identified as a potential Trevor Noah successor. “I have no clue,” he says. But he thinks Minhaj has the necessary qualities to succeed in the role. “I don’t believe Hasan could never host because of his situation. I don’t necessarily agree with that,” says Wood. “I definitely think there is a place for him to clarify his intentions, but nothing about what Hasan did, none of it has to do with the content he presented on ‘The Patriot Act,’” a show Minhaj did for Netflix. “Can he show up and do the job? I say ‘yes.’”

Wood has just as interesting a background. He is versed in both comedy and news, just like “Daily.” One of his first jobs was working as a news reporter for an Alabama radio station. But he also quickly immersed himself in stand up and comedy through a morning-drive radio program, eventually gaining more national exposure.

A job on “Daily” is not an easy gig. Wood tells some aspirants that “I guarantee you don’t want to do it, because it’s real work, and it’s twice as much work if you’re already rich.”

Most other late-night shows seek first to entertain, he says. “Daily” has to tackle the news, whether it’s light or, more often that not, dark. “No one wants to be the show that has to talk about the tough times,” Wood says, “Everybody wants to be the show that counterprograms tough times.” At “Daily, “he adds, “we are more like the Marines. We are running in head first into some of this shit.” With “Daily” back in production this week, Wood has sympathy for his former colleagues, who will likely have to address the conflict between Israel and Hamas as well as dysfunction among Republicans trying to elect a new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“These are not easy topics to dissect and they are really tough to make poignant and funny,” says Wood. “As a host, you have to carry way more than the correspondents, because you’re supposed to be the steady hand.”

Wood believes he could have stayed longer on the show, but he worried about his place in things in 2024. “You can’t answer the question of whether or not you’re going to be a correspondent until you get the host, and let’s be real — the host may not want me. I might not fit into the sensibility of the host,” he says. ”So that idea of waiting around for that question to be answered, that really was more the motivation for leaving than the idea of choosing me as host.”

He says he now has time to figure out ways to reach an audience that likes late-night humor, even if it won’t always watch in traditional late-night hours. He and “Daily” colleague Jordan Klepper will do a “town hall” type show in January for live audiences, “kind of debating issues with locals with two-man conversations about the state of America. It’s sort of an alternative to stand up but it still gets me out in the world and talking to people and interacting.”

Wood believes there must be a format that will resonate with younger audiences. But it has been hard to find. Netflix, Hulu and Apple have tested late-night-adjacent programs with everyone from Chelsea Handler to Jon Stewart, but few have made the mark of the traditional TV mainstays. With young viewers getting their news and information from outlets other than newspapers and cable TV, he says, the shows may need to reconfigure themselves to reflect modern behavior.

And if he has to look elsewhere? Well, says Wood, that’s OK. When it comes to using comedy to analyze the state of the world, he says, “late night is not the only way to do that.”

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