New media has been a virtual playground for funny people, and more comedians are becoming household names off the strength of their web series and podcasts. But while Wyatt Cenac‘s recent special, Brooklyn, was distributed on the uber-modern Netflix, it’s a look back at both stand-up comedy’s roots and his own.
Brooklyn is being distributed on vinyl and while wax appreciation has run rampant in the music world, comedians have not embraced that medium with the same enthusiasm. Yet, somehow it seems appropriate since Cenac spends a good chunk of the special reminiscing about his childhood, when he started to collect comedy albums. The story-oriented hour veers dark as he relates seeing a mug shot of his father’s killer and confronts his failure as a Big Brother. But it’s also a love letter to his borough and the people he’s met there.
“Live In Brooklyn In (Insert City Name Here)” closes out its run at the Black Cat on Sunday. Arts Desk caught up with Cenac earlier this week to talk about why the puppets in his special are not coming to town and what strange things he’s experienced during his live shows.
WCP: I have to ask—-are you bringing the puppets with you?
Wyatt Cenac: I am not bringing puppets with me. That was for that special and to tour this, I’m not doing anything from the special. That’s the odd thing of when you put out a stand-up special and when you go on tour in support of it. You want people to still watch the special, so everything I’m doing is a whole new hour of stuff. So no puppets. That would also be very expensive because it would mean that you’d have to bring puppeteers and it’s a whole production.
So you do have a whole lot of new material. How is it similar or different to what you did for Brooklyn?
I don’t know. I think it’s probably different. I feel like the thing that people have said about the special and I tend to agree with is that it’s probably more of a personal nature. That doesn’t say that this hour has been impersonal but it’s perhaps a bit more of other stuff in the world around me and not so much about my childhood and that kind of stuff. And maybe more fart jokes. Definitely more fart jokes.
The special does seem very personal, and we also don’t see anything like quite as political as the extended metaphor about the Tea Party like on Comedy Person. Do you still write a lot of socially conscious or politically themed humor, or was that something more in your mindset when you were on The Daily Show?
I definitely think I still do. I think even with the Netflix special there’s still a fair amount of political things and social things. They just maybe came off in a bit more of a personal way. But I still look at things and talk about those things and I think in this hour that I’ve been doing on the road, there’s been a bit more of that type of stuff.
How did it feel to return to The Daily Show as a guest rather than a correspondent?
It was a lot of fun, ‘cause it’s always fun to get to go and see everybody there and it was fun to goof off with Jason [Jones] and Sam [Bee] and to see them behind the desk. For me, it was a lot of fun.
Going back to the Netflix special, how much of the decision-making were you involved with regarding things like how it was shot? I noticed a lot of shots from the crowd where silhouettes of people’s heads were noticeably in the foreground. Was that your decision?
I hired a team, and it was something that we had talked about. We talked about that in the shooting and the guys that I worked with, Ryan [Simon] and Justin [Barber] who kind of put the crew together. I was trying to capture the sense of what the world is like being in a venue like Union Hall. To me, that was important. That was definitely an important thing to do.
Union Hall is smaller, but it’s similar the Black Cat, where you’ll be on Sunday, in that it hosts various live events and not solely comedy. What are your thoughts venues like that as opposed to traditional comedy clubs?
Me, I personally like them because I think for me there’s a lot of shows that happen in places like that. I think when you even look historically, before the days of comedy clubs, it was little jazz rooms that comedians would perform in and they’d usually perform with a musician or after a musician so I like it. I think of it kind of as where the roots of it are.
Did that also influence your decision to put out the album on vinyl?
It did. I think for somebody who was a fan of comedy, I bought a lot of comedy records. So, having a lot of comedy records, there’s something very nice about listening to comedy on vinyl. So I wanted to try to capture that if I could and do that with this particular album.
D.C. comedy fans who watched Brooklyn may have been excited to see that your opener was local comic Seaton Smith. Who are some of the other comics you enjoy watching?
There are a lot. Seaton is definitely somebody that I call a friend and somebody that I’m a fan of. There are a lot of very funny people. Michelle Wolf I think is great. She’s somebody that I enjoy watching. Jen Kirkman is somebody that I knew in L.A. and actually, when I went to L.A. to do a show there at Largo for the tour, I had Seaton and Jen both perform on it. I feel like there’s a ton of great people like Hannibal [Buress] and Eugene Mirman. There’s Jena Friedman, there’s Tig [Notaro] and there’s so many talented people. The beauty of it for me is that I get to see a lot of people on a fairly regular basis. I see people all the time and I’m like, “Oh yeah, the Lucas Brothers! They’re great.” I get to be as much a fan and a participant.
Did you get to do that when you came into town for this year’s Bentzen Ball?
This year, I only came in for my show and was gone that night, but it was a fun show. Retta was on it and there was a Shetland pony, which was a little bizarre.
Yeah, they brought a Shetland pony onstage. Retta did not ask for it but they did that and tried to pass it off as Li’l Sebastian. And then it pooped on the stairs.
Wow. Have you experienced anything weirder than that at a show, or is that the peak?
I definitely feel like you do this stuff long enough, you have weird things. Like, I did a show once where I was sandwiched between a reggae band and an all-male line-dancing group. I was sort of the middle act for that. So, there’s definitely a lot of weird things that you can end up with show wise. A Shetland pony wasn’t too much of a shock.
Photo by Eric Michael Pearson