Stand-up Roy Wood Jr. has returned to the stage for his third Comedy Central special, “Imperfect Messenger,” where he takes on the hilarity of humanity’s current interpretation of “the pursuit of happiness.”
“The more I was looking at what I wanted to talk about, the more I felt like I wanted to connect to the collective idea of happiness and what does happiness look like now,” the 42-year-old comic told PageSix. “That’s what I wanted to explore.
“Some people are putting filters on their face to feel good,” he continued. “Some people are bingeing documentaries, some people do public service, some people do mass shootings, plastic surgery, it’s a lot.”
Wood’s observations were crafted during a time when happiness took a back seat to survival for many, as COVID-19 changed the zeitgeist in such a way, that material written pre-pandemic felt “old, dated and of a different ideology” to the stage veteran.
“There’s maybe 10-15 minutes of material on police reform that was already there, but that’s pretty much it,” Wood explains. “Covid was like, everybody went to war, and now we’re all back. It’s hard to tonally match that with older material.”
One issue with crafting a special mid-pandemic was finding rooms to work in while workshopping his bits. With his regular New York spots — The Comedy Cellar and Gotham Comedy Club — shut down along with the rest of the city, Woods rented out his own space and did a series of shows he deemed “The Test Kitchen.”
“It was understood that these would be new jokes, and we bagged everybody’s phone,” Woods shared. “It actually helped me to refine my process faster than I would have in a traditional comedy club.
“The cool thing about being off-site is that it was almost strictly my fans who already understand how I think, so I can get to the center of the joke faster.”
The crowd is irreplaceable within comedy, something many a television host learned once they had no choice but to spew their best bits to exhausted staffers during the pandemic.
While some shows have re-introduced the in-studio audience, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” where Wood is a senior correspondent, is back in-studio without the roar of the crowd — not good for a man who is used to instant feedback on his material.
“The Daily Show: At Home” was one thing, because we’re all at home,” he explains. “You’re not expecting the laughter. On-set now, Trevor wanted to do something a little more intimate than what we were doing previously, pre-COVID. Now, when the crew laughs, it’s like, ‘oh, OK, someone is listening,’ but it’s just difficult to do comedy in a vacuum.”
“The numbers show that people support the new format, which is great, but as a performer, you always want the laugh now,” he stressed. “I don’t want the laugh in the internet comment section.”
He certainly got the feedback he needed while filming his latest special, killing the Denver crowd with a well-balanced mix of poignant observations on everything from Brazilian butt lifts to performative white “allies” who just don’t know when to STFU already.
There is one ally, however, the comic believes deserves more recognition, though he’s unsure of how the Oscar-winner will take the name drop.
“I just hope Leo DiCaprio ain’t mad at me.”
“Imperfect Messenger” premieres tonight, Oct. 29, at 10:30p.m. on Comedy Central.