Wearing a blue ribbon tagged with the logo of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), comic Roy Wood Jr. joked that he wished the ribbon was a direct connect to ACLU’s crisis hotline, like “OnStar for civil rights.”
The audience howled as Wood, known for his weekly rants on The Daily Show, performed at Aasif Mandvi’s All Star Deportation Jamboree. Wood Jr. explained how the ribbon should work:
“I’ll be in the car and [notice] the police turned the corner with me two times, and no no —rings OnStar— ‘We see your location Mr. Wood. What seems to be the problem?’ They are following me!”
More laughter came from the New York City crowd gathered in support of ACLU and the International Rescue Committee, two organizations with decades long commitments to ensuring the rights of marginalized communities, immigrants and refugees.
Comic heavyweights Wanda Sykes and Lewis Black, as well as Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata and Crashing’s Aparna Nancherla, plus rising rap duo Swet Shop Boys (comprised of The Night Of’s Riz Ahmed aka Riz MC and Himanshu Suri aka Heems) peppered the night with well-timed jabs at President Donald Trump’s administration and the micro-aggressions of being Black and Brown in America.
Right before hitting the stage, ESSENCE chatted with Wood Jr. about fighting the good fight, performing at ESSENCE Fest 2017 and (still) believing in Black love.
ESSENCE: How did you get involved with Aasif Mandvi’s All Star Deportation Jamboree?
Roy Wood Jr: Aasif Mandvi is a The Daily Show alum and of course he hit up a lot of comedians over at The Daily Show to see if we were able to take part of this event. I’ve seen him a couple of times during my time at The Daily Show so we have a little bit of rapport. For me, I’m happy to be a part of this because, let’s be honest: you’ll never know when you’ll need the ACLU.
ESSENCE: During the show’s opening, they showed a clip of the work the ACLU has done—from Brown vs. Board of Education to Loving vs. Virginia to more recently, securing marriage equality for same sex couples. But back in January, the ACLU was front and center during the first days of Trump’s Muslim ban. Were you affected by this?
RWJ: For me, and I’ll probably talk about this sometime tonight, the protests for the Muslim ban was the first protest I ever went to that didn’t affect me. Because it’s interesting, as a Black person, let’s be real about it, we probably need to save our energy for some of your stuff because we have a lot of fighting to do. I saw that and said, “You know what, that’s not right and I should be out there.”
So definitely, this has been an exciting time to be active. It’s depressing because you have to march for a lot of stuff, that’s honestly how I feel that we already marched for. You know? It’s almost like if America was a TV show and someone just created a reboot and said let’s bring back all the evil stuff.
ESSENCE: You do a lot of parody on The Daily Show. How is it reporting and doing your comedy at this time? Is it harder to find the humor in today’s world?
RWJ: There’s always a joke, no matter what’s going on, there’s always a joke. But powering through and having the emotional wherewithal to find the humor, that’s the first battle. Thankfully, it’s been easier and easier and easier since Election Night. On Election Night, we did a live show and like most people, we thought Hillary Clinton was going to win and 10 to 15 minutes into the episode, we were like “I don’t know if this is going to happen.”
ESSENCE: I remember your face that night – it said everything that everyone was feeling.
RWJ: I just sat there, sipped Pepto-Bismol, and watched the results roll in. It’s definitely a time where, as a comedian, especially on The Daily Show, you take time to absorb what’s happening and be real with your emotions. I feel and I experience this world the same as everyone else—and then you pick your ass up and know that you have an opportunity to educate and affect change in 2018, to affect change in 2020. So if I’m going to sit and be in my feelings, what am I truly doing to help?
ESSENCE: Are you going to bring some of this messaging down to New Orleans when you host the Essence Fest
RWJ: Oh, I’m going to bring as much comedy as I can to ESSENCE Festival 2017. Now I don’t know how much politics Black folks wanna be hearing. But I’ll tell you one thing I’ll be talking about at ESSENCE Festival: All this Black love out there because I’m the only person praying that Mary J. and Kendu get back together and renew their vows on Saturday night. I hope Mary J. and Kendu get back together. I hope Nick and Mariah get back together. There are rumors.
ESSENCE: I believe in that reunion, more than Kendu and Mary.
RWJ: So what Kendu spent half a million dollars on a chick? Hey, we’ve all spent half a million dollars of another person’s money on a woman. Who hasn’t done that? Ok. Probably nobody.
RWJ: But I’m quietly praying that Mary J. and Kendu get back together. I’m hoping that T.I. and Tiny get back together. The only one that I know is a lost cause is La La [Anthony] and Carmelo. They ain’t getting back together. That divorced was announced and La La was out two days later with the ring off.
ESSENCE: Yes, she was out in her body conscious dress.
RWJ: Listen, when your girl step out with no wedding ring and a tight dress, go on and call your lawyer, brother. It’s a wrap.
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