Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Roy Wood Jr.: Imperfect Messenger’ On Comedy Central,

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While most of Comedy Central’s top talent have taken their stand-up specials to Netflix, Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. has remained loyal to the ViacomCBS-owned network, releasing all three of his solo hours with Comedy Central. His third hour had a quick turnaround in post-production, premiering Oct. 29, less than two weeks after he filmed this live performance in Denver.

The Gist: I named Wood’s first Comedy Central hour, Roy Wood Jr.: Father Figure, the best stand-up special of 2017. He followed that up in 2019 with No One Loves You, and, right on schedule, arrives two years later with his third hour, which tackles topics such as police and prison reform, civil rights movies, the notion of the White Ally, as well as lighter fare such as Brazilian butt lifts, or why British Black actors somehow get to portray great American characters, both factual and fictional.

Comedy Central has rewarded Wood’s loyalty with a number of gigs in addition to his long-standing role as a correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In 2017, Wood took over hosting duties for Comedy Central’s storytelling showcase, This Is Not Happening. He also has created two digital series for them (Stand-Up Playback and The Night Pigeon), and since the start of the pandemic, hosted two podcasts: “Beyond The Scenes” of The Daily Show, and “Roy’s Job Fair.” Even if you’re not paying attention to Comedy Central, you still may recognize Wood from his recent guest-starring appearances on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, AMC’s Better Call Saul, and The Last O.G. on TBS.

What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: In a recent interview with one of his superfans, Tamron Hall, Wood said he considered Chris Rock the greatest stand-up because of due diligence in joking about race while also evolving his act and material over the years. Watching Wood, you can see where he has taken Rock’s influence and inspiration and run with it.

Memorable Jokes: Running through the hour, Wood lays out a metaphor for how we’re all just trying to feel good, or even just OK (pandemic notwithstanding, which makes this hour a bit more timeless for eschewing the pandemic references). Wood says we’re all trying to claw the meat out of the crab legs of life, “trying to find that one little nugget of feel good.”

A bit about whether you consider your family ancestors or forefathers leads into a callback to his Father Figure bit about identifying racists by their use of the Confederate flag; this time, upping the ante by noticing that some racists instead blanket their property with too many regular American flags. “I don’t know what the number is, but there is a number.”

Here’s an extended bit where he segues from the concept of the White Ally in real-life to how they’re portrayed in the movies, highlighting Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a brutal racist in Django Unchained as doing the real work. “They love to say, ‘Tom Cruise does his own stunts.’ Well, so does Leonardo DiCaprio,” Wood jokes. “That’s a wild stunt!”

Wood takes this idea further with two premises with their own callbacks. The first involves Wood’s case for why the best civil-rights movie of all might just be the first Fast and Furious movie. The second involves the revelation that many of the people depicted in famous civil-rights photographs are still alive and breathing today.

Wood also features a lengthy story about celebrities using their fame to free prisoners, which he turns around on himself in a stunningly sincere and personal way, but only after a ridiculous act-out and some silliness to illustrate how celebrities could make prison reform an even more popular or at least well-known exercise.

Our Take: Although he goes back to the crab leg metaphor throughout the hour, Wood gives his son the first and last word on the subject, bookending the hour by watching son on the phone, finding his enjoyment playing with a simple cardboard box. In the beginning, Wood’s amazed that “That’s all he f-ing needs.” By the end, his son crawls out of the box toward the camera, asking “What makes you happy?”

This hour is a masterclass for stand-ups.

His opening line onstage, uttered in the dark onstage before the lights come up, suggesting “I hope you’re OK” but refusing to ask you if you were really are — there’s not only a joke in there, but also a word to the wise for aspiring comedians not to ask too many unnecessary questions of your audience.

Wood takes the renewed focus on Black Lives Matter from the past year, and without resorting to lecturing or clapter, frames our race relationships in a much more accessible and funny way for even the most casual viewers to keep paying attention. Wood’s idol, Chris Rock, might rightly get a lot of the attention for his quarter-century body of work in stand-up. But over the past six years, Wood’s work has brought him right up there in the conversation for elite status.

As funny as he is, Wood’s not putting on an act, even if he’s put so much thought into the writing and structure of his material. It still just feels as though he’s having a conversation with us, speaking to the collective audience as if we’re all his friend or potential ally, sitting across the table from him. He’s come a long way from making prank phone calls on morning radio in Birmingham, Ala.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Only thing imperfect about this messenger, in fact, is the medium he’s chosen to deliver his message. Despite Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build out its streaming app Paramount+, you can’t find Imperfect Messenger there. Nuts, right? At least you can find Roy Wood Jr.: Father Figure and Roy Wood Jr.: No One Loves You there. That should just make you want to watch his new hour even more (which you can find on CC.com, so long as you have an active cable login.)

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.

Watch Roy Wood Jr.: Imperfect Messenger on Comedy Central



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