Roy Wood Jr. is arguably — he’s not the guy making the argument — the man for this moment. The Daily Show Correspondent and stand-up comedian is at his best when he’s reminding people that their feelings are bizarre, illogical, irrelevant, insane, and, for the most part, shared by millions. Wood Jr. dives for jokes in our shared reservoir of discomfort and comes up with gems.
A good example: “Dude at Best Buy thought I didn’t need a bag with my purchase…. ‘This has nothing to do with the Earth! I’m a black man in America! I gotta leave this store with a bag!… Not only do I need the bag, I need that receipt… and staple it to the outside!’”
But comedy is tough when tragedy hasn’t had time — or when it’s still looming. So there’s Roy Wood Jr., stuck in his Harlem apartment struggling to find a punchline in his 3-year-old son’s bathwater. He feels crazy and we feel crazy, but it’s not all that funny. It’s not funny at all, really.
The thing about Roy Wood Jr. that makes him perfect for the moment isn’t that he’s struggling. It’s that he keeps struggling and struggling and struggling until he finds something. Then, he shares it. This, from Twitter: “When ya elected officials switch from the blazer to the polo, shit bout to go down.” Yeah. That. For a second there, you laughed and your blood pressure went down. That’s a big deal.
Fatherly caught up with Roy Wood Jr. to talk about how he’s parenting, how he’s coping, and how he’s feeling about playtime.
How’s the family? How are you holding up? How are you coping?
We’re at home in Harlem. Everything’s comfortable, man. I’m just trying to keep my sanity. The hardest thing is figuring out cardio. I’m trying to do something in the hall. But, yeah, it’s a little weird. You know, coronavirus has a way of making you realize, Oh, it’s important to be away from your family every now and then. As humans, we need alone time. It’s cool to be around the kid, but it’s tough balancing my work with his play because the schedules don’t line up. Still, you want to engage so he doesn’t regress intellectually.
Are you finding work tough?
A lot of this boils down to the fact that I just need stillness as a comedian and writer. I need a different set of psychological circumstances to create satire. The Daily Show has the office. You don’t find solace in here, but I’ve found jokes that work in that space and place. But not in this. When it comes to writing material and stand-up, there’s no other way than a quiet, still home.
Everyone has to be asleep. I cannot write. I can’t do it and I’ve tried. It’s the way I’ve always written.
It’s not much to say, but I guess there’s always nap time?
Naptime is like a pit stop for parents. This is the time to rest or eat something I didn’t want to share with him.
It’s interesting how our sleep schedules have changed. I have him in the morning and she has him at night. I need to wake up early and start watching TV for The Daily Show. I have to be up to consume the world, so she gets extra rest. But if I choose to nap at nap time — I’ve earned that nap.
You’re famous for being funny and known for being thoughtful. What actually worries you most right now?
What concerns me the most is the homeless community and people who need mental health and the lack of education access. Remote learning isn’t going to be as easy as they make it sound on the news. Those are the largest concerns I have. It’s painful to see that. I saw a Tweet by a homeless guy in San Francisco just asking for help. That’s heartbreaking. And that’s the type of stuff that’s going to be out there.
There are also reports out of Texas that child abuse claims have gone up. With a stressed police force, these are crimes that people can’t even report.
It does seem like one of the realities is that coronavirus is putting family members in small, shared spaces and the results range from okay to bad to horrific. My wife and I have a nice stalemate going on right now, but we aren’t exactly laughing. How’s it going with you?
I liken quarantine to a great date that’s just lasted too long. But humor breaks tension. It’s the thing that breaks the ice and gets things back on track. As terrible as these times are, it’s 100 percent important. And if you’re not a funny person, put on a funny movie. When all else fails, people talk about themselves and I think that you’ll find some common ground.
So, how do you move forward despite the strain and stress of the moment?
I know that for me it’s about making sure that my child is happy. I’m doing that and everything else kind of falls into place. We watch Number Blocks. We like to play with a tennis ball. There’s a lot of reading and drawing. Playdough. Magnatiles. And when all else fails, I pull out the tablet. But that’s the last resort.
And are you worried about what your son will make of this? About him having bad memories?
I don’t think he comprehends it yet. Kids just don’t live in our spacetime. I don’t think there’s anything bad about spending all this time with your child. My job is to prepare him for the world. This is spring training. The game is outside.
Roy and fellow comedian Mike Birbiglia are raising funds for the displaced waitstaff at comedy clubs that had to close their doors and let go of employees due to coronavirus. Roy is specifically raising money for Stardome Comedy Club in Birmingham (he’s from Alabama) which is where he first got his start in comedy. Different comedians will go live each day to work out material and raise funds for waitstaff at a different comedy club. More info on the fundraiser here.
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