Since leaving The Daily Show in 2012, former correspondent Wyatt Cenac has done voice-over work, acted in a romantic drama, toured, and hosted a weekly comedy show in Brooklyn. His first special, Wyatt Cenac: Comedy Person, aired on Comedy Central, while his second, Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn hit Netflix earlier this month. He’s stayed busy without diving into the Hollywood spotlight, making him one of Jon Stewart Academy’s most interesting graduates.
With his low key deliver and casual demeanor, Cenac could easily be mistaken for a stoner comic or a slacker comic. He’s neither. He takes himself and what he does seriously. He’s introspective and vicious when roused to anger. Maxim talked to him about what he used to do and what he’s considering for his next act.
You’re best known as a Daily Show correspondent. Did the travel and research you did for that show change how you look at people and politics?
You wind up learning a ton. When you interview somebody, you wind up taking away so much. While it’s a job, and while it’s a comedy show, there is an element of real education. I spent four and a half years there and I learned more about civics and government than I did in high school and college.
Did your work on The Daily Show affect your stand up?
Yeah, it did. I’ve always been somebody who was much more aware socially than politically. It didn’t turn me into a person who’d open the newspaper like, 'Let’s talk headlines,' but it’s definitely colored the way I view things.
You’re engaged with the political process.
The crazy thing is, when I had got the show I had never voted at all. So, 2012 was my first election I voted in.
When I first started the show, I pitched a field story about my registering to vote in 2008. At that time there were a bunch of stories where reporters were doing personal journeys and for whatever reason, the personal journeys involved colonoscopies. Katie Couric got one, and the cameras followed her through it. Then someone from ABC and Good Morning America did it too. I wanted to reveal myself as someone at risk for voter apathy and then just keep cutting to colonoscopies.
And in 2008 we got too close and I missed the deadline to register to vote. After that, I realized the story might never run, so I registered and voted in 2012, 18 years after I was legally able to do so.
Are you interested in following the in footsteps of fellow Daily Show alumni Steve Carell and Ed Helms and heading to Hollywood?
I’ve already lived in Hollywood and Hollywood didn’t really want me. So hopefully, I’ll stay in New York. I like New York. I was born here. I have a lot of connections here. It feels like home to me. I lived in LA for a while and I never took to it as a city. I could go to LA for limited amounts of time, but I like New York too much. I like seasons. I like fall.
Your latest special is called Brooklyn so we’re obligated to ask about gentrification. Can it be a good thing?
It’s definitely ambiguous. I think it’s that strange thing where everybody likes nice restaurants. Everybody wants the ability to walk a block and get a nice meal or fresh produce. So, I get that side of it. Everybody likes the idea of having a responsive and respectful police force and great schools.
I think the problem isn’t as much gentrification as it is systemic deterioration of a community as it loses resources, like schools, secure streets, and regular employment, that weaken a community and allow for gentrification. You hope with gentrification that as new people move in, they take older populations into consideration.
There is positive gentrification. Wealth can get local city council people to help and advocate for everyone in the neighborhood; tax dollars can improve schools and increase the police presence. There’s also terraforming a neighborhood, where people buy and don’t get involved in the existed community or culture, and are just trying to drive those people out. That’s bad gentrification.
At least in your last special, it seems that you had a primarily white audience. Do you think that limits what material of yours will succeed?
I don’t know. I’m not sure what the demographics of my audience are. I feel like it was a mixed crowd at that special. I like to think that my audience is smart enough and open enough to hear and enjoy perspectives that aren’t necessarily their own.
Is there a certain part of your personal life you don’t use as material?
I feel like part of the gig is being open and putting yourself out there. So, if you’re gonna put yourself out there warts and all, warts are up for grabs.
I try not to do anything at the expense of somebody else. I don’t want to start a rap beef. I don’t want to get into the habit of saying, 'And then this woman broke-up with me and her name is blah and her number is blah.'
Who is your favorite comic?
There are a ton of comedians who make me laugh. Some are those that influenced me, like Bill Murray, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Lucille Ball. Plus, people who were around when I was coming up, like Sarah Silverman, who I learned so much from, and Colin Quinn. Plus, people I do shows with on a regular basis: Marty Murphy, Jena Friedman, Seaton Smith.
I’m very fortunate in that way, that there are too many people to name. There are so many people that just make me laugh.
Photos by Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images