Taking on your boss isn’t usually the best course toward career development, but it appears to have worked wonders for Wyatt Cenac.
The usually mild-mannered comedian dropped a water balloon on the parties honoring Jon Stewart’s popular “The Daily Show” reign this past summer. On Marc Maron’s podcast, he revealed that his former boss once took umbrage over Cenac’s negative critique of Stewart’s Herman Cain impression — Stewart exploded in rage and stormed out of the writers’ room.
The two have publicly made up — Cenac appeared on Stewart’s final episode — but the incident remains the most prominent chapter in the 39-year-old comic’s bio, despite a career that includes writing for “King of the Hill” and earning top billing in a potential sitcom from TBS. Cenac, who was more interested in making points than making jokes in a recent phone interview, hopes you’ll check out his first stint at Acme Comedy Co. this week and do more than just gawk at the guy who got under Stewart’s skin.
Q: If you google your name, the first thing that’s going to pop up is that four-year-old fight. How does that make you feel?
A: What I took from all that, if anything, is how the story got repurposed and repackaged as click-bait for the online audience. If you listen to the entire podcast, it doesn’t sound like anything … you got from the Internet. It was weird, because Jon and I spent almost five years on “The Daily Show” railing against how the media manipulates stories and turns news into entertainment. Now I was being pulled into those same chum-filled waters. It’s just one of those strange things.
Q: And yet, you’ll probably sell some tickets in Minneapolis to people who are only there out of interest in that incident.
A: I hope that’s not the case, but at the same time, that always happens. I did a movie a few years back, “Medicine for Melancholy.” People will come up to me after a set and say, “I really love that movie. When are you going to do another one?” Or “I loved you on ‘The Daily Show.’ Why did you leave?” It’s kind of the same as saying, ‘I loved you in high school. You should have never left.’ I’ve done a lot of cool things in my life, but I hope the audience appreciates that I’m on a journey and that they’ll come with an open enough mind to see where I’m at now.
Q: One issue you tackled in that podcast that didn’t get as much play is how uncomfortable it is being the only black person in a writers’ room. Now we’ve got Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah hosting shows on Comedy Central. Has TV made progress?
A: I hope so, but let’s look at history. George Lopez had a show. D.L. Hughley, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Arsenio Hall all had shows. They all went away because people weren’t talking enough about them. Maybe it’s easier for us to rail against the lack of diversity or you can support the minorities who are out there. FX had a show produced by Chris Rock with W. Kamau Bell, but it didn’t get ratings and it wasn’t profitable so the network had to get rid of it. You can put executives’ feet to the fire, but we also have to hold our own feet to the fire.
Q: You just wrapped taping on a pilot for a sitcom in which you have top billing. Was that weird?
A: It was strange, but comfortable. We have Ana Gasteyer, who I worked with when I was interning at “Saturday Night Live” and one of the producers is Greg Daniels, who I wrote for on “King of the Hill” almost a decade ago. It felt like I had come full circle. Even if it doesn’t get picked up, at least we had fun.
Q: Do you feel like you’re in a position now to choose what you want to do?
A: Probably not. It’s not like I can say I want to make a movie about Black Panther and someone’s going to write me a check. Maybe I can be more selective, or maybe I’m just stupid and should be saying yes to anything that’s offered to me.
Q: Speaking of Black Panther, I know you’re a big comic book guy. Is there anyone else in the Marvel or DC universe you’d like to play?
A: Well, a) I don’t have the physicality so, right there, that’s strike one. And b) there’s not a lot of minorities in the comic book world. It’s weird. Chris Nolan can put Batman in full body armor, have him drive a car that looks likes a tank and make him political and everyone says, “Oh, that’s OK.” But try making him Filipino and everyone gets mad. I mean, you might as well draw a mustache on Jesus. You don’t have that reaction with Shakespeare. He’s been adapted so many different ways and all that matters is whether it’s good or not.
Q: You’re on Twitter, but the only person you follow is Questlove. Any chance you’ll get more involved?
A: Twitter is a stage and I just can’t put out 10 random things and not care how people react. I need to listen to an audience and see whether they are laughing or not. I do love Instagram, but even if I spend 15 minutes looking at stuff, I feel guilty.
Q: So what would it take for you to start following me?
A: It’s not about you, Neal.