It can be cathartic to dunk on your past. I use Facebook Memories as a shooting gallery for my previous “deep thoughts,” commenting that I’d like to go back in time to hit myself in the face with a toaster and things like that. And it’s fun! Anyway, Daily Show correspondent and comedian Roy Wood Jr. was propelled by a similar concept to launch the Comedy Central YouTube original interview series, Stand-Up Playback, wherein Wood chats with comics as they review some of their old clips (which he digs up) and pick apart their style choices along the way.
For Wood, the show is a natural extension of something he does to continue improving on stage, telling Uproxx, “Part of my process is to go back and watch stuff from two, three years ago, just to clock the evolution of the physicality of my performance.” Aside from playing MLB The Show at night, popping up on The Daily (Social Distancing) Show, co-raising his kid, and writing, Wood has extra time on his hands thanks to the quarantine. Time that he might have spent on stage or on tour, but which he’s now spending digitizing VHS tapes and DVDs of performances from a career in comedy that spans more than 20 years. As you can imagine, that kind of deep-dive has unearthed some wince-worthy moments tied to his penchant for bad suits. This includes Wood’s “youth pastor” look that he and Mike Birbiglia went all-in on a recent episode of the show.
Poking at Birbiglia as he acknowledges the crimes against fashion that he committed when he dressed like a barely keeping it together dad on Sears photo day helps Wood to keep his “comedy knife sharp.” But the look back also leads Birbiglia to talk about the change in the pacing of his jokes, his move to more biographical material, and getting a hand from John Mulaney on a punch line from way back. It’s comedy catnip, insight into comedy craft that, according to Wood, almost feels like “a director’s commentary.”
Wood knows that diving deep into such things isn’t for everyone, but he also posits that it doesn’t really matter. “I know that, to a degree, there’s a lot of nicheness to what we’re doing, but I just think the way content is now, it’s okay to be niche.”
Friday’s guest, the legendary George Wallace, helps to provide what Wood describes as, “one of the most meaningful conversations [he has] had with a veteran in the game.” In the episode (which you can preview below), Wood praises Wallace for his uncommon willingness to mentor younger comics after discussing the limits put on him when he made late-night appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (as well a quick thought on the rise of DefJam). This runs parallel to Wallace riffing on staying at home and Wood being stunned by Wallace’s purple leather jacket that needs to be seen to be believed.
Wood has big ambition when it comes to future guests, looking to bring on comics whose experience crosses multiple eras. He mentions Cedric The Entertainer, Chelsea Peretti, Chris Rock, Ellen, Michael Che and others. Dave Chappelle, of course, is mentioned as a dream fit.
While Stand-Up Playback launched as an answer to the insatiable need for fresh content during COVID, it’s not something tied explicitly to when things open back up and comics like Wood are able to get back on the road. Wood tells me that the idea for the show had occurred to him before COVID and that he sees value longterm with little change — which means keeping it at home as opposed to in a studio with the more lo-fi location providing a dose of intimacy that Wood believes comes through in the conversations. A take that’s hard to deny after watching the end result.
Episodes of ‘Stand-Up Playback’ launch Fridays on the Comedy Central YouTube channel.