The Daily Show With Jon Stewart writer and correspondent Wyatt Cenac is also a stand-up comedian (his one-hour special, Wyatt Cenac: Comedy Person, aired this week on Comedy Central) and an actor (he starred in Medicine for Melancholy, a love story about two African-American 20-somethings dealing with the conundrum of being a minority in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco).
AOL Black Voices’ Jozen Cummings talked to him about how race fits into his career in an interview discussing everything from the segregated world of stand-up comedy to why he thinks it’s “stupid” that people describe him as a black comedian.
Read some excerpts here:
JC: In your stand-up and in the things you write, are you conscious of when your work is being put through that race prism or do you try to present work that transcends race?
WC: It definitely crosses my mind, because my race is a part of who I am. In one sense, it’s very easy to get mired in that. At the same time, the reality is if you look at me, you see a black person, so in that way race will always be there no matter what. It’s like, “Oh it’s the black correspondent.” Well, no, I’m just a correspondent, but regardless of how I present it, people will always attach a racial element to it. But this is my story: A kid who’s black, who grew up in Texas, who is of West Indian descent. There are very specific aspects of my experience that are not the “black experience” and to me, that’s what transcendent is.
JC: So you understand race is always going to be a part of the way people describe you, but you hate when people use it to describe you?
WC: I’m just somebody doing comedy like the next person. If you think it’s funny, great. That was the point. But putting a qualifier on it — that this is a black person doing comedy or this is a lady doing comedy, that always used to skiv me out. For a while, when I would do a club, a lot of times I would have the host intro me with “Who’s ready for a lady?” just to call out how stupid it was.
JC: But in the 1990’s black comedians kind of embraced that whole black comedian/comedy thing. There was BET’s Comic View and Def Comedy Jam. Do you see having those stages as an advantage?
WC: I think it’s great that those platforms were there, but there’s an aspect that seems like Hollywood either doesn’t look at a show like Comic View or if they just think, “They’re over there, they’re taken care of.” I don’t know what that mindset is, but it seems [they think] they don’t need to worry about booking black comedians on The Tonight Show or whatever bigger shows there might be, because [we’re] taken care of. That’s a question worth asking Hollywood at large.