Comedian and The Daily Show alumnus, Wyatt Cenac remembers driving through Los Angeles with a college friend and being pulled over by a police officer.
The men were in the gentrified town of Culver City in a white pickup truck after making a late-night food run. A fun evening quickly turned serious when the officer — who pulled them over for no specific reason — nervously asked for license and registration.
“[My friend Derek] was like, ‘It’s in the glove compartment,'” Cenac explained to a conference room full of reporters at HBO’s headquarters. “And having to do the thing of like, make a big slow gesture of ‘It’s in the glove compartment. We’re going to the glove compartment.’ And not doing it preemptively. Doing it because he starts to make a move. And we’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa.'”
“[We] have this whole experience, the cop drives away, and then I’m remembering… as we’re sitting there, we’re kind of like decompressing after that moment. And Derek, he was one of my closest friends from college, we moved to L.A. together [around 1999]? When we first moved to L.A, we got pulled over by cops and it was just weird… look at us now, 20 years later, we’re both living lives.”
He continued, “He’s got a daughter in college, he’s doing well for himself. I’m staying off the pipe. But it was this very weird thing of like, 20 years later, regardless of what we have accomplished in our lives —like, not even in an arrogant way— I’ve won trophies for things. I can get seated at restaurants slightly faster than most people. And to be kind of kicked back to this, ‘Oh, no. This is just like 20 years ago.’ Being 21 years old, getting pulled over for the same fucking bullshit that, like, we’ve aged. We’ve matured. The system has not matured with us.”
Cenac’s new show, Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas delves into situations just like this that have made Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland and Oscar Grant household names.
The late-night program deviates from the standard stage-and-audience format to present a researched, first-person narrative of issues facing America— with this first season exploring law enforcement. The Emmy award-winning comedian journeys to more than a dozen cities in an attempt to understand what issues are present and how they’re being rectified or exacerbated through policy and public outcry.
“The problems of New York, aren’t necessarily the problems of Ferguson aren’t necessarily the problems of Miami. And so, to really tell this story, it felt like it was good for us to go to all these different places,” Cenac said.
“Like Vanita Gupta said, there are more than 14,000 or 18,000 police agencies in this country. There is no network that they all have to sort of operate under the same guidelines. And so, to be able to tell the stories it felt like we needed to travel and part of me saying this, is I just need HBO to understand why I spent so much money on their dime.”
Premiering April 13 at 11 p.m. EST on HBO, Cenac’s goal with the show is not to create world peace in one sure-shot, but to at least make an uncomfortable topic something we’re all more informed about.
“To me it was interesting to talk about these problems but also try to see, are there blueprints for change? What do those blueprints for change look like? Are those things replicable? And that was part of the reason for doing something like this, it felt like we could talk about something, and talk about something that, while it seems intractable, there are perhaps ways to make a difference, that doesn’t just involve saying, ‘We’re going to wait for the midterms.'”