Roy Wood Jr.’s Father Figure (airing Sunday, 2/19, at 11pm EST on Comedy Central) opens with him in a hallway, trying in earnest to impart crucial life wisdom to…someone. Just before taking the stage for his first hourlong special, we learn that “someone” is his infant son. And indeed, Father Figure succeeds in providing wisdom, while lightening the load that “the talk” typically carries.
As we chatted ahead of the special’s release, Wood shared that the parallels between his special and that seminal moment of racial reckoning that so many black kids go through was “somewhat” intentional. “For me, it was about how much of an analysis on race [I could give, in] comedy for people who don’t understand the Black experience and the Black journey.” Through jokes about tour guides at the African-American History museum, the telltale cues of a good civil rights movie, and James Brown’s musical list of black sanctuary cities, his goal was to strike a balance, sharing “enough of the race stuff before I went into my views on the world.”
The “race stuff,” as he puts it, factored into where he eventually ended up filming the special – Atlanta, GA’s Center Stage Theater. “I wanted it to be in a predominately black city,felt and looked familiar to black people, and to be talking about things that affected a lot of communities. Atlanta and Cleveland (which, “even before Tamir Rice, was a powder keg”) were the only two cities he ever considered when taping, but Atlanta ultimately won out due to an additional perk: its proximity to his mother, who drove in for the show.
Lest you believe, however, that Father Figure might isolate non-black viewers, rest assured Wood did not write or approach it as such; his goal is not to shame or segregate. “I’d hope it offers some understanding into the black psyche,” he said. “I’m not going to say one way of thinking is right or wrong, but [for] you [to] better understand why people don’t stand for the anthem or block a freeway.” His aim is not to change minds, but rather to make sure you finish the special a little more informed than when it began.
While Wood’s televised stand up hasn’t previously provided time to fully explore these themes, he does credit his work on The Daily Show with helping him to articulate his ideas better. “The Daily Show has changed the way I write, my whole ideology of jokes,” he admits. “Having a punchline is cool, but what are you trying to say? What is your deeper opinion? That’s changed some stuff.” Between the more nuanced correspondent reports he’s been delivering since 2015, and his many late-night appearances (including The Tonight Show and four appearances on Conan), he has had time to hone a take on the world that is at once unmistakable and hilarious.
But at the end of the day, Father Figure was truly designed to be a love letter from a dad to his young son. When asked what he hopes his son will take from the special – when he’s old enough to watch it, of course – Wood said,
“[I want him to know], whatever he feels on any side of any issue, that he feels okay in knowing it’s not wrong. It’s important to me that he knows that’s okay, and to not let people vilify [him], and that [he] understands people.”
It’s a sweeping message to deliver in an hour, but Father Figure expresses the sentiment beautifully and with big laughs.
Roy Wood Jr’s Father Figure premieres at 11pm EST on Sunday, February 19th, on Comedy Center and on the Comedy Central app.