Wyatt Cenac on Montreal Crowds, the New Daily Show and Political Comedy in the Age of Trump

Comedian and writer Wyatt Cenac has performed standup in a variety of venues over the years, some big, some small, some rather unique. But does the type of venue affect his performance?

“It’s not the type of venue as much as the type of crowd,” he said in a telephone interview, “that’s the wild card. If it’s a rowdy crowd, you have to adjust for that. In theory you want them to pay attention to you but if they’re drunk and yelling and all that, it’s hard to keep yelling a bunch of jokes if you’re not able to compete with everyone else. If it’s a small, intimate crowd, you can get a little more personal.”

When he performed at Just for Laughs for the first time two years ago, it was in the Cafe Cleopatre performance space upstairs from the strip club.

“The crowds were great,” he remembers, “they were really fun crowds. All the shows I did at Cafe Cleopatre were super fun. I don’t recall having a negative experience. Even at the small showcase shows I did, the crowds were always fun and they seemed like they wanted to be supportive.”

Around the time he was last performing in Montreal, an interview he did on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast started getting attention. Cenac told Maron that when he was a Daily Show correspondent and writer, at-the-time host Jon Stewart once yelled at him in the writer’s room after he was critical of an impression Stewart had done of Herman Cain.

The two “made up” on air during Stewart’s final episode as host and since then the Comedy Central flagship show has been under new management, so to speak. I asked Cenac what he thought of the current Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said, “with shows like that, it’s such a fun opportunity to get to make the show every night that you can comment on things and can also go and do field pieces. You can be very imaginative in what you do but at the same time be grounded in a reality that hopefully everyone has a context for.”

Cenac has previously worked with Noah and current correspondents Roy Wood, Jr., Ronnie Chieng and Michelle Wolf. He has high hopes for them and the people still working on the show who were there when he was.

“It’s a very interesting time for them,” he observed, adding: “They’ve definitely found their groove and what the show is and I’m very happy for all of them.”

Given all this, I asked Cenac if a return to The Daily Show was potentially in the cards for him.

“No, it’s it’s own thing,” he responded, “with shows like that, regardless of who’s behind the desk, when you do it you’re there for your time and when you leave it’s somebody else’s opportunity, somebody else’s ship to sail and I’m on the shore happily watching it sail…when you go, you go.”

Cenac’s comedy has always had a strong political undercurrent. With some of the current US administration’s actions just as ridiculous as satire, it could make doing political comedy tough. Cenac doesn’t think so.

“I think it’s still just as challenging as it’s always been,” he observed, “it’s funny because I remember after Barack Obama got elected in 2008 the conversation was ‘How can people do comedy when Barack Obama is President?’ He seemed to be such a well intentioned, nice guy that isn’t right for comedy, especially coming out of the Bush Administration where you had a bunch of ridiculous characters. I feel that comedy did well for itself for the last eight years. And in the previous eight before that, I think people were able to do well with characters that were equally as bizarre as the Trump administration has been.”

Cenac actually once did an impression of then-Senator Barack Obama. He didn’t think it was that good of an impression.

“The other problem,” he noted, “was I had to shave to do the impression. I kind of like looking like a werewolf, so I was not built for sketch comedy in that way.”

What he was built for is storytelling interspersed with astute political commentary that will have the audience laughing the whole way through. That’s what I experienced at his JFL set two years ago.

This year, Cenac will be across the street from Cafe Cleopatre hosting an All Access TV taping in Club Soda. If you want to know what to expect, well…

“I’m not 100% sure, I still haven’t figured it out,” he said (two weeks ago),  noting that he has been in Toronto for the past nine months working on a TV show, “it could just me me on stage trying to figure out the shooting schedule for when I get back.”

I’m sure it won’t be that, but if it was, I’m sure Wyatt Cenac could make it hilarious.

All Access Live hosted by Wyatt Cenac is July 29th at 7 and 10pm, tickets available through hahaha.com

* Featured image of Wyatt Cenac performing at Just for Laughs in 2015 by Jason C. McLean

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