Fans of The Daily Show know poignant, meaningful humor cannot be expressed in 140 characters or less. Comedy of a higher order necessitates well-articulated ideas, counterintuitive analogies and word play; in other words, it craves patience. Wyatt Cenac, a writer and correspondent on the show, is an unexpected posterboy of this old-school approach to jokery, speaking in paragraphs instead of soundbytes and subtly working his way to a point. A tweeter he is not, but Cenac is relentlessy in touch with modern culture, whether it's underground music or the political zeitgeist. You've gotta be when you're a part of The Daily Show's Best F*#@ing News Team.
We recently caught up with Cenac before a four-night stint at Cobb’s this weekend that promises as many aha! moments as chuckles.
Are you still in NYC? Is life returning to something resembling normal there?
It did very little except kind of (mess) up travel. The day after any big storm like that it’s beautiful and there’s not a cloud in the sky, so today has been just the nicest day. It’s always such a strange thing because you’re think, ‘aw man what a great day, we should have hurricanes all the time.' It’s such a strange kind of residual. Wait, why is my flight canceled?'
All of the hurricane coverage made me think of the weatherman bit you did on the Daily Show, where you made light of meterologists. Were there any explanations for Irene you heard ad nauseum?
The only recurring thing was the parade of reporters standing outside telling everybody else not to go outside, which is weird cause it seems like, ‘wait, well then you should be inside.'
Another bad example from the experts.
Exactly. And then there was a lot of self congratulatory talk — we tracked the storm properly — I guess this was the first time for the Weather Channel where they felt like they were properly able to chart the storm and where it was gonna go, so good for them. If Al Roker could figure out a way to jump into the eye of the storm and stop it, I think that’s how you win the weather game.
That skit is an example of something the show does so well, which is picking apart the media and criticizing its lack of imagination. But to do that takes a lot of work and time spent actually watching all of these news shows for trends like this, doesn’t it?
It does. It’s a job that you kind of take it home with you. When you’re at home you find yourself watching the 8 and 9 o'clock shows, whether it’s Rachel Maddow or Anderson Cooper or (Sean) Hannity, you find yourself watching the regular nightly news or on the weekend because you wanna get a jump on these things. Sadly there’s not a robot that can compile this footage and say ‘here’s a funny thing, here’s a funny thing, here’s a funny thing.’ It's the writers, the producers and even the PAs all watching this stuff and saying ‘hey I saw this thing, there might be something in it,' and then compiling all of that footage into something we can watch the next morning and make jokes about.
It seems like a lot of people might label you as “the African-American correspondent”; on the show, but I tend to see your role as having more to do with your generation. Do you feel like it’s partially your job to explain the attitude of your peers in the context of modern culture?
Somewhat. The five everyday correspondents — Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver and myself — we, for the most part, are there to get in the show as needed for unspecific things. There are people like Larry Wilmore or John Hodgman who have more spcific takes, or Kristen Schaal who are, say, problem solvers or even (former SF comic) Al Madrigal who's now the senior Latino correspondent. Because I’m a writer on the show as well, I think I can insert my own perspective and speak to a lot of different things, whether it’s generational or racial or cultural.
I’ve been reading that you’re a big hip-hop fan. Obviously you’re comfortable performing as an entertainer, but did you ever toy with any fantasies of being a musician?
Sadly, I did. And I still love being around music and I like live shows and I like going to see DJs perform.If I still have any romantic dreams of doing anything with music it would be with DJing.
Is there an artist or a movement that you’re following closely right now? Anyone from NYC the world should watch out for? I’m also wondering if you caught any of the MTV Video Music Awards over the weekend.
To me, it was weird, even the little bit I saw, I think I am now perhaps too old to watch MTV. Not like I can’t watch it, but I’m not their target demographic, so I think what little bit I saw was a sign I shouldn't be watching this. When they were like, “and now, the hottest actress around…” and it was Selena Gomez, who I’ve never actually seen her do anything. It was weird to see people scream and go crazy for her. So it was this moment where, “MTV, we’ve grown apart, haven’t we?” There are some things like [Kanye West & Jay-Z's] Watch the Throne album and I’ll listen to that, then I’ll wind up finding other stuff. Somebody just turned me on to this guy Skipp Coon, Game Rebellion, Soft Pipes, Tanya Morgan.
I looked for you on Twitter and couldn’t find you. Are you wary of social media or too busy or something else?
I’m not on Twitter. I don’t personally have anything I wanna say via Twitter. I kind of do that onstage, and I’m not limited to 140 characters. I know a lot of comedians who will go on Twitter and they’ll just have a silly one-liner joke. For me, I’m thinking "meh, I could throw that out there, but why don’t I just sit with it and try to figure something out? See if maybe I can make it into something bigger." If not, if it’s just a one-off joke, maybe I’ll just tell it onstage and be done with it.
Do you have any conceived notions of SF, and how New Yorkers tend to view the city, if they even think of it at all?
I base everything I know about SF on what I’m told on Fox News, which is that it is the hub for great societal ills that face this nation that we live in. It’s where socialism was born and communism was bred. It’s filled with hippies that want to take my guns and pick-up truck away from me and force me to hunt with a taser and not animals and eat nothing but vegetables. That’s basically what I know from Fox News. From my own personal experience, I love SF. I love going to Rosamunde for Bratwurst. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time and it’s always a treat to be able to go back, despite the fact that it’s this socialist playground that’s ruining America. But that’s Fox News saying that. Not me.