If you're looking for a gimmick in Roy Wood Jr.'s stand-up act, you won't find one. He doesn't use props. He won't embroider his jokes on musical interludes or catchy songs. You won't hear a merchandise-ready catchphrase.
For Wood, the root of his comedy comes from a mix of experience and openness.
"I don't have just a one-sided view of the world," he said. "The more sides of America you are exposed to, the more people in America you will be able to relate to. As long as you're talking about what you see and how it makes you feel, as an artist, it's hard to fall into one particular box."
As a comedian, Wood's resistance to being pigeonholed has served him well. It has allowed him to appeal to a diverse audience. A top-three finisher on NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2009, Wood has landed appearances on late-night talk shows The Late Show with David Letterman and Conan. He has provided comedic commentary for the Bob & Tom Radio Show and Chelsea Lately, and he has opened for comics as wide-ranging as D.L. Hughley and Ron White.
Wood, 32, initially had more serious aspirations. Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., he attended college at Florida A&M University to study journalism and become a news broadcaster, and he began to do stand-up on the side. After graduating in 2001, Wood returned to Birmingham to become a writer for The Buck Wilde Morning Show, a popular radio program.
The gig required Wood to do more than just write. Prank calls were an essential element to the show, and crafting them was one of Wood's strengths.
"It became a necessity," Wood said. "As sure as Burger King has the Whopper, The Buck Wilde Morning Show has prank calls."
The prank calls proved to be quite a platform for Wood. He has released three prank-call albums (2003's My Momma Made Me Wear This, 2005's Confessions of a Bench Warmer and 2007's I'll Slap You to Sleep), filled with his expertly crafted showcases of communication madness (a prized example was when he called a pet store to inquire about buying shock collars for a day-care center). Many of these calls can be heard on more than 40 radio shows nationwide. Wood says that even though they are phone conversations, prank calls have helped him gain popularity in the Internet age.
"Career-wise, it was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me," Wood said. "The Internet is a very jumbled thing. Something that's as silly and short as a prank call stands out and stands out pretty fast."
For his stand-up, Wood said he has moved from modeling himself after Chris Rock, George Carlin and Paul Mooney — the early professors in his "comedy college" — to storyteller-types: Louis C.K., Steve Martin and Bob Newhart.
In a lot of ways, Wood hasn't left the hard-nosed spirit of his early journalistic pursuits behind him. He said that a lot of his laughs come from an investigative nature of the way people live and interact, and finding that unforeseen angle.
"I've tried my best for my stand-up to overanalyze the world in which we live and really break things down to very simplistic levels," he said. "That's been my place — to just have the most unique perspective on things."
Wood can't be considered one of stand-up comedy's biggest names, but he has managed to keep busy. He hosts the Roy Wood Jr. Show on WBHJ radio in Birmingham, often via live remote between his stand-up gigs. He said he's looking forward to performing this weekend at Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington, a club he has worked since 2003 and one of the first venues where he gained headlining status.
"That was one of the first comedy clubs to give me the proverbial keys to the store," he said.
With Wood's style and work ethic, it's safe to say that he might not be a household name, but he's certainly not a flash in the pan — a point of pride with him.
"There's a lot of guys that were doing it when I started that aren't doing it anymore," he said. "I think for a comic now, it's more a marathon. You stay funny, you stay insightful and you have as unique a take on something as possible. That's what gets you to stand out."