Roy Wood Jr. is leaving “The Daily Show” after eight years, and we sadly understand why

Veteran fake news correspondent Roy Wood Jr. is leaving “The Daily Show” after eight years, he said in an NPR interview released Thursday. Wood’s announcement comes less than weeks before the Comedy Central topical satire is scheduled to return to the air.

His reason? Since the network hasn’t offered him the job to succeed Trevor Noah as the show’s permanent host, his energy would be better invested in nurturing his next act.

As Wood explained to NPR’s TV critic Eric Deggans, “I can’t come up with Plan B while still working with Plan A.” Four months ago, however, Wood dropped hints he might be headed for the door in a conversation with Salon’s D. Watkins.

“In the short game, I just need to host me a damn TV show. If we’re talking next two years, there’s a one-man show I want to work on based on just the idea of fatherhood,” Wood told Salon in June. “But in the short term, man, I think there’s a book I need to write. There’s a stand-up special I need to shoot, and there’s a late-night show that I need to host.”

Wood would have been, and still could be, a superb choice to succeed Noah.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for “The Daily Show” provided this statement to Salon: “Roy Wood Jr. is a comedic genius and beloved teammate. His insights and hilarity helped us make sense of the 2016 election, the pandemic, and countless hours of Fox News. We thank him for his time with us and can’t wait to see what he does next.” 

Wood’s departure draws attention to the fraught nature of a host search process that, from the start, drew a few worrisome parallels to the highly publicized quest to find a successor to the late Alex Trebek on “Jeopardy!” While that was eventually revealed to be a mismanaged stunt that intentionally overlooked enthusiastic fan favorite LeVar Burton and Trebek’s handpicked candidate Laura Coates, the celebrity guest rotation through “The Daily Show” host chair that kicked off in January appears to be a more honest trial process.

The guest host run netted higher ratings for the program and continued until May 2, when the Writers Guild of America strike shut down all late-night productions. (This also occurred during the week Wood’s now-former colleague Dulce Sloan was to embark on her tryout period. She got one broadcast under her belt before the show went dark.)

Before production paused, however, Comedy Central provided ratings to NPR in April indicating that Wood’s week in the chair, during which former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart appeared as a guest, was the second-most watched behind Al Franken. The Wrap’s ratings roundup of celebrity guest hosts placed John Leguizamo in second place behind Franken, with Sarah Silverman coming in third.

Nevertheless, when Variety released a report in August naming Hasan Minhaj as a top contender to replace Noah as the new “Daily Show” permanent host, that may have understandably made Wood reconsider his future with the show. (Comedy Central never officially confirmed Minhaj’s status or identified any of the other top contenders for the job, a list rumored to have included Silverman and Chelsea Handler.)

In the wake of Noah’s departure, I submitted my opinion that the next “Daily Show” host should be a woman, preferably a woman of color. At present no women are hosting any late-night talk variety programs.

But Wood would have been, and still could be, a superb choice to succeed Noah.  

His departure from “The Daily Show” further draws attention to the white male dominance of this space, which has persisted since its inception. Within the last few years, talk variety interview shows featuring Ziwe Fumudoh, Wyatt Cenac, Desus & Mero, Robin Thede, Sam Jay, Lilly Singh and Larry Wilmore have come and gone. Peacock scaled back “The Amber Ruffin Show” from weekly episodes to specials.

Minhaj, who left the “Daily Show” in 2018 to host “Patriot Act” on Netflix, was listed by The Wrap as the fifth most-watched guest host behind Kal Penn. His odds plummeted substantially following a damning story in The New Yorker revealing that he fabricated major stories in his live, narrative-driven acts featured in 2017’s “Homecoming King” and “The King’s Jester,” which debuted on Netflix earlier this year.

Variety followed up the New York report with a story indicating Minhaj’s odds of clinching the permanent host job had been downgraded and producers were returning to square one in their search.

All along Wood was right there, ready and able to effect a smooth transition into the show’s next era and well-positioned to continue Noah’s mission to evolve “The Daily Show” into a nimble, fierce creature of the Internet age with an eye on content virality.

Wood told NPR that if Comedy Central offered him the permanent host job, he would consider it.

During his eight-year run as a “Daily Show” correspondent Jordan Klepper, who came to “The Daily Show” as an alumnus from the Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City, received his own short-lived half-hour, “The Opposition,” leading out from Noah’s show and subsequent specials.

Pointing this out is relevant. The relative speed of Klepper’s rise and Minhaj’s, for whom Wood offered nothing but support in his NPR interview, tells a quite familiar story as to how this industry (and many others) works.

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Wood, who earned a broadcast journalism degree from Florida A&M and worked in a radio newsroom before embarking on a career in stand-up, has a strong fanbase cultivated on social media and through relentless stand-up touring. Before joining “The Daily Show” he was featured in the seventh season of “Last Comic Standing,” placing third overall. (In the fifth season of that show, a relatively unknown comic named Amy Schumer, one of the candidates to take over for Stewart when he left “The Daily Show,” came in fourth.)

This spring Wood hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner to rave reviews, a major feather in any topical news satirist’s hat.

Wood told NPR that if Comedy Central offered him the permanent host job, he would consider it. But as industry analysts have noted, late night as a whole is contending with declining viewership numbers. Now that online producers have become the main players in headline-driven topical comedy, the genre is in dire need of an overhaul.

“I just feel like after every strike, there is a creative molting that happens within the industry, especially on the unscripted side,” Wood said in his Salon interview. “You got to be ahead of the curve on that. You just got to, man. Something is changing.”

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about the search for a new “Daily Show” host


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