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You probably wouldn't want cameras around while getting a lap dance in Las Vegas. But for Wyatt Cenac, that's part of the job. A writer and correspondent on The Daily Show since 2008, Cenac has helped a recession-weary rapper downsize his entourage, and nonchalantly entered a Virginia coffeeshop with firearms strapped to his chest. But while most of his colleagues offer exaggerated impressions of news personalities (e.g., Jason Jones's melodramatic voiceover), Cenac always seems himself—an easygoing, funny guy with a heart-shaped tattoo of the word hate on his arm. As he prepares to join Lewis Black and John Oliver at SummerStage for the stand-up event Comedy Central Park Presents The Daily Show and Friends, on Wednesday 21, Cenac predicts trends in tramp stamps and pulls his coworkers out of the closet.
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Your news team promises to be "unburdened by accuracy." Considering that, would you please explain the tea party?
I haven't seen this many angry people since the end of Cocoon. Maybe these are the ones in Florida who were visited by guys campaigning for Obama, and then once he won, they stopped visiting. So they miss their new friends.
Do you read headlines for content or for jokes?
I'm not watching every story thinking, Where's the joke? That would be very dark if you see BUS OVERTURNS, 18 DEAD. Although there are a lot of jokes there.
Politics is frequently that gruesome. Do you play for a team?
Not really. I don't get that boner, like, "There's two sides, and you gotta pick one, brother!" No one is ever going to blow a whistle and go, "All right, you guys won. Other side: Go to another planet."
Sounds like jeering at the media has made you jaded.
To a certain degree, yes: I'm a heartless robot.
You've said before that you're embarrassed by your Obama impression. Why?
The only thing I had in my head was, I'll enunciate a lot, playing on the stereotype that the one compliment people give intelligent black people is that they're articulate.
Seems a little subtle to us.
That's the best kind of comedy, when you have to explain it.
Can you explain why your on-air persona is so mellow? It's a departure from the formula in which Jon Stewart plays the straight man—
So the correspondents are all gay? Zing! Sometimes I feel I'm being animated, but it comes off differently. Unfortunately, I was cursed with these sleepy eyes. I constantly look like I'm half in the bag.
Appearances can be deceiving. Are your stand-up audiences disappointed when you show up without a newscaster's suit and tie?
Not really. Now, with the Internet, people know what they're getting into. Which is disappointment. And a two-drink minimum.
Is that what your fans say? Do you google yourself?
Occasionally. And then I immediately hate myself for having done it. The only time I would want to read it is if it's "Rosario Dawson has crush on Wyatt Cenac." When I used to put videos on MySpace, there'd always be someone posting something nasty. To those people, I'd send friend requests, and invariably, they accepted them. Trying to understand it only makes you more frustrated.
So you're saying we can be Facebook friends if we turn this into a hate piece?
I just hate the Internet. Oh, this is going poorly: "Wyatt Cenac is a Negative Nelly...."
"With sleepy eyes." And an angsty tattoo. Tell us about the HATE heart on your arm.
It's something I drew; it was during my dark period in art. It's not as much fun as this one. [He pulls up his other sleeve.] This is a character from my favorite cartoon as a kid, Dixieland Droopy.
No barbed wire?
There's this commercial where, jokingly, some guy has a tramp stamp. And I wondered why that hasn't taken off in Williamsburg yet. Like, "I'm so cool, I could pull off having a butterfly above my ass." It would be like guys who have cornrows: "I'm so tough, I can wear a little girl's haircut."
We'd describe that thought as "articulate."
Maybe the thoughts off the top of my head should run for President.
Comedy Central Park Presents The Daily Show and Friends is at Central Park SummerStage Wed 21.