If there’s one thing Birmingham has proven it knows how to do well these days, it’s vote. I’m not talking about the various elections that keep rearing their heads, turn-out is still woefully low for those occasions. I am, of course, referring to our uncanny ability to vote in winners of reality talent competitions on television. Though, I must say, our high score of two barely merits the boastful attitudes many Hamsters seem to bear. Three is the magic number, or so I’ve heard, so if you truly want to crown yourself lords of the dial, Birmingham, than say hello to Mr. Roy Wood Jr.
Many of you may know Roy from his twelve years as a comic, or from his stint a few years ago at radio station 95.7 Jamz making prank calls. Maybe you know him from around his old neighborhood in West End or perhaps, like me, you just changed the channel one Monday night, saw him spouting some funny on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and decided to stick around. His consistently funny brand of grumpy, exasperated comedy has gotten him into the top six contenders for the grand prize of $250,000. I recently had a chance to talk with him as he drove back to his current home in Los Angeles.
Birmingham Weekly: You started out doing road warrior comedy up and down the east coast, then you found a home here on the radio doing prank calls and now you’ve gone back to your stand-up roots. Do you like having a home or do you prefer being on the road?
Roy Wood Jr.: That’s a tough one. I like the road, I just like traveling and seeing all kinds of stuff, but it does drain you. I mean, there’s no real balance to it. There’s aspects of the road that I’ll always love, because as you matriculate through this, you tend to work better rooms, better hotels and better crowds, but it also means higher consequences. There’s something freeing about doing a random roach motel in Southwest Georgia on a Tuesday night.
BW: Because it’s less pressure?
RW: Yeah, it’s a lot less pressure. It’s more carefree, but ultimately that’s not a life you want to live for the rest of your days. If you want to have kids and a family, you can’t drive eight hours a day just to get to the next gig, and that’s what road warrior comedy is. A lot of long drives for very little money in very strange places. No one wants to do that forever.
BW: Is that part of what drew you to L.A., that there’s sort of a critical mass of comedy opportunity there?
RW: If I could do comedy from Birmingham, I would. Honestly, it’s not that I hate L.A., it’s just that, socially, I feel more at home in Birmingham, so it’s strictly out of necessity. Most television auditions come down the pipe with about 48 to 72 hours notice. So you know, flying to L.A. on a two-day ticket, when you’re only making $400 a week doing comedy—it just got to a point where the money I was spending out the ass on airline tickets justified the bump up in rent.
BW: The stand-up comedy that you do is fairly clean, but your prank calls often descend into an incredible barrage of profanity. Why the divide?
RW: Onstage, a comedy booker told me a long time ago that profanity should be the seasoning, never the main ingredient. When I’m performing I usually don’t curse unless it adds something to the joke. That’s not always the case with the prank phone calls, though nine times out of ten I generally do not curse until the person curses me first.
I mean some people are just going to be crazy and ignorant and I can say one curse word and sit back and let them go—and that’s funny, and I have a fan base that appreciates that kind of humor. People that are into my stand-up don’t always cross over to my pranks, but the people who like my pranks do cross over to my stand-up.
BW: This is your third attempt at Last Comic Standing. When you started this time, did you think you were going to get this far?
RW: No. Matter of fact, hell no. If you look closely at the first audition that I did in New York this year, where we go and do our one joke in an empty room, I didn’t even brush my hair. And it’s not that I was pessimistic about it, it’s just that I’d already been through the [audition process] twice, so I have a very different perspective on the show, and I’ve always been of the belief that you can control disappointment by controlling anticipation.
Well, the time for controlling anticipation is over, and Roy Wood Jr. needs you now Birmingham. Last Comic Standing airs Monday night at 8 p.m., and he will find out if he made the cut at the beginning of the episode. If he does, stick around for what I’m sure will be another hilarious set, and then get ready to dial. The numbers are toll free, and there is no texting involved, so you don’t have any excuses. Let’s cement our reality crown into place once and for all.
For more information on Roy Wood Jr., visit www.roywoodjr.com.
Sam George is the managing editor of Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.