Over burnt ends at Joe’s Kansas City we dished all things Daily Show with comedian Roy Wood Jr.

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Diving in with Roy Wood Jr. // Photo by Liz Cook

Roy Wood Jr. has had a banner year. The comedian and long-time Daily Show correspondent has hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, embarked on a multi-city stand-up tour, and been floated as a frontrunner for replacing Daily Show host Trevor Noah after his departure.  

What Wood Jr. hasn’t had is a burnt end—ever. So we caught up with him last week while he was in town for his “Happy to Be Here” tour. In between bites at Joe’s Kansas City, we asked him about political comedy, regional barbecue, and what he might bring to The Daily Show’s host chair. 

The Pitch: It’s been a long time since you’ve visited Kansas City. What’s on your agenda for this trip?

Wood Jr.: I’m going to do the Negro Leagues Museum and a Royals game. I’ll probably try to get some barbecue at the Royals game. 

[His barbecue arrives: a Z-man with slaw, beans, and a side of burnt ends.]

What’s the verdict on the burnt ends?

It’s good. This is very good.  It’s almost not fair to call it a “burnt end” because it’s so moist and so delicious.

It’s a branding problem.

Yeah, you’re going to call it a burnt end? Why not “edge piece”? Me never having a burnt end, I’m like ‘burnt end’? What’s this, crackling?

You’ve lived in a couple of cities with distinctive barbecue traditions—Memphis, Birmingham. Do you have a favorite regional barbecue style? 

I don’t know if I have a favorite style, I just know I’m not a fan of vinegar sauces. That’s the only one I haven’t been able to do. What I don’t like is Southern- or Midwestern-style barbecue served outside of that region. I feel like you have to eat that style in that region. Like, if I were in Birmingham, I would not want to get Kansas City-style barbecue. Even if you can do it, it’s just not—same thing with Texas. There’s a [Texas-style] barbecue spot in Los Angeles, and the only reason I’ve ever eaten there is because it’s run by a guy from Texas. He’s on foreign soil, cooking what he knows. 

You’re known for your strong food opinions on The Daily Show. You’ve had recurring bits on the chicken sandwich wars and the Chaco Taco, which you pointed out was never all that good—it’s just a nostalgia thing.

Food isn’t so much about nourishment as it is also about creating moments. One of the things I’ve tried to do with my son, subliminally, is to ensure that he has memories around food and travel.

I came up in a house that was very transient; everyone was doing their own thing. The only time we ate together to sit down as a family was Sunday breakfasts. So I try to make sure we have a pizza spot. We have a diner we go to. So even if the food isn’t that great, you remember those moments and can draw on those memories and conversations. Food is a wonderful glue to cement life moments in our subconscious.

So talk to me about the tour you’re on right now. What can audiences expect?

You know, I’m so happy to be out after a few years, and without the pressure of having to prepare an hour-long special. So I really can talk about what I want when I get to the city. Just grab a local paper and see what real issues are going on here. 

The irony is that I work on a politically divisive program, and I just headlined one of the largest potentially politically divisive events—though I tried to keep the jokes middle-of-the-road and joke on everyone. But I don’t think the average person wants to hear about politics for 60 minutes, so my show isn’t that. I’d say I’m probably only political like 10 to 15 percent of my set. I think the tour’s going to be a fun time slinging as many jokes as I possibly can. But don’t come to my show thinking it’s going to be a town hall, because it’s not.

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Diving in with Roy Wood Jr. // Photo by Liz Cook

You just obliquely referenced your role hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Did preparing for that feel different from preparing a Daily Show segment? 

Preparing for the Correspondents’ Dinner is by far the most meticulous and curated comedy set I’ve ever done. You’re creating comedy that is specifically for politicians and the media that covers them. The humor must be about everyone in the room, but the humor cannot overly attack any one person on the room. And that same joke concurrently must connect with a viewing audience who doesn’t know what it’s like to be a politician or political journalist. And you’ve gotta do 20 minutes. And also, curveball, the news is changing every two days. So the joke you wrote yesterday could be about a topic that has no relevance in the zeitgeist tomorrow. We were literally—myself and my writers—we were writing up until the day before. And then on the day, still tweaking jokes here and there.

Did you have to get the set reviewed ahead of time?

No. No one from the White House, no one from the Correspondents’ Association. The only person who knew what I was going to say before I walked up there was the prompt operator. And he didn’t get the script until two hours before go time. 

You told a joke at the beginning of that set about Trevor Noah leaving The Daily Show. And I know you’ve said in interviews before that you’d be up for taking the host job if it were offered to you. How do you think your style would differ from Trevor’s in the chair? 

I don’t know. A lot of it comes down to, what are the budget limitations? The thing that Trevor and Jon Stewart had that I think the next host of The Daily Show will not have is a flourishing budget. The economics of television are changing to a place where things have to be done for a lot cheaper to be considered worth the trouble from a corporate bean-counting perspective. I think that restricts a lot of what we will want to do. You know, one of the biggest differences between Trevor and John was that Trevor was a huge proponent of sketches. Jon Stewart never really did them—not at the volume that we do, and not at the frequency, either. So that’s probably something that goes away, the budget to shoot a lot of sketches that make the same points the host could have made at the chair.

But I’m very interested in how state and local politics are affected by national news. I think there is a way to tell the national story at the local level, so I’m very intrigued by that. Even if I’m not chosen as the host, I think there’s still time and space for me to be able to speak to the issues in this country that hopefully resonate with people. There’s gotta be a way to do that even if it’s not on Comedy Central. I cannot spend this time during the writer’s strike thinking about where I want to go. I just need to think about what I want to do. And that will inform what’s the best place for me to do things. 

Roy Wood, Jr. is on tour through November 18. Tickets to future shows are available here

Categories: Food & Drink