Pitchfork profile: Wyatt Cenac

A&E caught up with the political funny man of “Daily Show” fame to discuss sexism, “Chocolate Sundae” and doing comedy at festivals.

Raghav Mehta

Stand up comics can seem out of place at a noise-filled environment like the Pitchfork music festival. But this year marked the first time comedy made it to the festival. Fortunately, break-through comedians like Wyatt Cenac and Hannibal Burress managed to draw a decent turn out at this yearâÄôs Balance stage. Known for his quirky, racially charged humor, Wyatt Cenac has become a crowd favorite as one of the younger correspondents on âÄúThe Daily ShowâÄù with Jon Stewart. After his set, A&E caught up with Wyatt to talk about Pitchfork, the movie industry and âÄúDaily ShowâÄù sexism. How do you like performing at festivals as opposed to the club setting or being on the Daily Show? TheyâÄôre fun. It seems like at a festival the crowds are always intoâÄì whether its comedy or musicâÄì they seem to be really engaged andâĦ if theyâÄôre coming out to see you it seems that they really are invested and interested. This is the first time there was open air. ItâÄôs is weird doing it out in the open just because you can hear the other music. I kind wanted to see RobynâÄôs show so itâÄôs weird because IâÄôm hearing it and then I remember âÄòoh I need to be telling jokesâÄô. WhatâÄôs it like telling racially charged jokes to a predominately white audience here at Pitchfork? I feel like the thing I always hear whether itâÄôs at a place like this or Bonnaroo or Bumbershoot, I always hear minorities who are like âÄòoh yeah I go to thatâÄô and theyâÄôre like âÄòI love hearing people talk about those things.âÄô I still feel like itâÄôs something that people should still talk about. Whether youâÄôre in a club or in a festival, youâÄôre called a minority for a reason and so if you just kind of stopped and gave the most homogenous stand up that you could it would be probably a little unfair to yourself as a minority. And hereâÄôs your chance to at least expose a mostly white audience to a perspective they donâÄôt know about. And to the minorities that are here, it makes them feel like âÄòyeah I do belong here as much as anybody else, IâÄôm not alone.’ You were in a movie a couple years ago, Medicine for Melancholy, what made want to get involved in that? Initially because I was dead broke. They offered me some money to do this movie and I had no money and needed to pay my rent and they were going to put me up in this place for like a month. I also liked the story and I liked the script and when I got to sit down with Barry Jenkins the director he was a really cool guy and I could see what he wanted the movie to be and it felt like that was a movie IâÄôd want to see. So if I had the opportunity to get involved in it IâÄôd be an idiot not to. Do you plan on doing more film? IâÄôd love to. ItâÄôs ultimately one of those things of how those opportunities present themselves. I think, unfortunately, IâÄôm not the guy where people are like banging my door down to do âÄúHangover 2âÄù or âÄúBeverly Hills Cop 8âÄù but IâÄôd love to do more films. IâÄôve often been told I donâÄôt necessarily fit one box and unfortunately I think as far as casting is concerned itâÄôs very much about what box you fit into. So IâÄôd love to do more things but IâÄôd probably have to make those things happen myself rather than wait for whatever Hollywood tastemaker to call. How do you feel being apart of the new generation of black comedians? Do you feel pressure? I think you just feel pressure as a comedian. Whether youâÄôre black or white or Asian or anything, I think you feel pressure to just be as funny as you can. You go out to every show with the intention of killing. So to me thatâÄôs the pressure I feel. I donâÄôt necessarily feel it because of my race itâÄôs more like âÄòno I just want to be the funniest person I can be.âÄô Chris Rock is considered one of the funniest stand ups and I would guess the thing heâÄôs always chasing is trying to top himself, not necessarily being the standard bearer for his race. Because I think at the end of the day people just say âÄòwow heâÄôs one of the funniest stand upsâÄô and donâÄôt necessarily qualify it and I think thatâÄôs probably what every comedian hopes. Do you think black comedians become pigeonholed when they start? Yeah to a certain degree. I think it depends on where you start out as a comic. There are the theme nights. Like in LA it was âÄúChocolate SundaeâÄù and âÄúRefried FridayâÄù and there are things like that. Sometimes if you start out there thatâÄôs the track you get put on and because comedy can be a little bit of a segregated world in that way the comedians who do the âÄúChocolate SundaeâÄù shows arenâÄôt always doing shows that are like âÄúComedy Death ParadeâÄù which is considered more of an alternative show. ItâÄôs very rare that those audiences and those comedians, that their world overlap. I think that often is the problem. There arenâÄôt enough shows where theyâÄôre like âÄòlets put funny people, regardless of where they came up, lets put them on one show together and let the audience appreciate them as funny people.âÄô WhatâÄôs it been like to be working on âÄúThe Daily Show? ItâÄôs been really cool; itâÄôs been a lot of fun. I like making a show from the ground up every day. ThereâÄôs something that is kind of stressful about it and our work environment is such a good one in that we donâÄôt get too stressed out about it and we just focus on the task at hand. Like at 6 oâÄôclock we have to make a show and thereâÄôs something nice about that and thatâÄôs a lot fun. Working with everybody on that show is really talented from the field producers to the writers to the other correspondents to Jon. There are so many talented people I get to work with on a daily basisâĦ I really enjoy it. So how sexist do you have to be to work on the âÄúDaily Show?âÄù That whole thing was a very weird article. I understood the point the writer wanted to make. I feel like the point she was trying to make goes beyond our show and is one of an institutionalizedâĦ whether or you want to call it sexism or an institutionalized lack of diversity. I think she wanted to use our show as the model of that but I feel like she unfortunately overlooked that there are a lot more women that have contributed to that show, both through its inceptionâÄì the two women, Madeline and Liz who created itâÄì to the many women who have worked there over the years, not just as writers or correspondents. She overlooked our field producers who are just as much writers on the show, our segment producers who are just as much writers and even discounted people like Samantha Bee. I thought that was probably the most unfair thing. It seemed that she totally discounted SamanthaâÄôs contribution as like âÄòyou know what there are five correspondents on the show and one of them is a woman but I donâÄôt want to talk about how amazingly talented and funny Sam is and the fact that sheâÄôs had two children and is now about to have a third and still comes to work everydayâÄô. She gives her all to the show and I thought that was really unfair. I donâÄôt know. That was maybe a little sexist as the writer of that article. So maybe in that way, maybe that qualifies her to work on the show. So I donâÄôt know if thatâÄôs what she was going for at the end of it all and was just like âÄòhey now you know my name hereâÄôs my writing packet!âÄô