For the second year in a row, stand-up comic and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah correspondent Roy Wood Jr. will host the Billboard Live Music Awards, honoring the stars and industry powerhouses who — like him — know there’s no substitute for putting in work on the road.
“Touring is the red blood cells of the music industry,” says Wood, 40. “You can put out all the songs that you want, but from a profitability standpoint and an exposure standpoint, you have to go out and press flesh.”
Wood’s return to the ceremony, which will take place Nov. 5 at the Montage Hotel Beverly Hills in California, comes on the heels of his one-hour special No One Loves You, which premiered in January and is Comedy Central’s highest-rated special of 2019, according to Nielsen.
In addition to hosting the awards, he’ll sit down earlier on Nov. 5 at the Billboard Live Music Summit with deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson for a conversation discussing his show Jefferson County Probation (in development at Comedy Central), the Daily Show’s 2020 election coverage and the state of live comedy. “I don’t care how many apps you have, I don’t care how many streaming sites there are,” he says, “there’s still value in someone paying anywhere from $25 to $50, going out on a Friday night and watching comedy.”
What can the touring industry expect from you as host this time?
I think we’re going to discuss all of the bodyguard fails this year. There needs to be an award for worst bodyguard. I want to know how someone got close enough to Lady Gaga to pick her up and then fell off the stage with her. We also need to talk about Elton John, because this has to be the longest farewell tour in the history of farewell tours.
How do you feel about awards shows like the Grammys asking musicians to host instead of comedians — or eliminating hosts all together?
A lot of people are scared of comedians because they think we’re all going to get onstage and say something crazy and make people angry. But I think that’s what comedians do. We bring an edge and something fun to the show. That’s no disrespect to musicians. A lot of these hosts can nail a joke. They are pretty damn decent. I just don’t want the gig to go to Siri or Alexa.
Who’s on your live-concert bucket list?
I would love to see André 3000 because he has been on this solo flute tour for the past year. André 3000 just keeps popping up in random places playing the flute. It is the worst-promoted tour of all time. If André 3000 said, “I’m playing a flute at Home Depot this Thursday at 10 a.m.,” I think it would be 80% presales and 20% walk-up.
You’ve been a touring comedian since the beginning of your career. How has that informed your comedy?
Touring is the most important part of the preparation for an hour special on television. The night before I taped No One Loves You, I performed at a small comedy club in Peoria, Ill., called the Jukebox. The thing about New York and Los Angeles is they prepare you for the business side. Touring is what keeps you connected to the consumer. It doesn’t matter how big you are, sooner or later you got to get your ass on an airplane or a bus and get out there, city by city, and meet the people. In New York or L.A., even Chicago and San Francisco, there is a tendency to perform within the bubble of your comfort, only performing at comedy clubs that attract the type of people that you know are going to agree with you.
How do your jokes change from city to city?
When you are on the road, it’s about learning and understanding what it takes to make them laugh in Columbus [Ohio] and getting the same laugh in El Paso [Texas]. A great example is Uber. You can do an Uber joke in Los Angeles and get an applause break, but if you do an Uber joke in Tulsa [Okla.], it is not going to get the same laugh. It is not a commonplace service. In a way, Uber jokes are becoming the new subway humor. Touring helps get that out of your system.
How has the abundance of comedy specials available on streaming services changed the market for live comedy?
People say Netflix is saturating stand-up with the volume of specials, but I would argue that is what’s driving the popularity of the genre. I definitely sell more tickets now than I did in 2017. As long as new comedy is being put on television, there are people who are going to want to go out. The thing that makes comedy so special is that for some money and a two-drink minimum, you get a reminder that you’re not alone in this world.
In between taping segments for The Daily Show, you still regularly tour. Are audiences getting snippets from No One Loves You?
Once the material is on television, it is never spoken again. Any comic worth his weight will hold the same policy. My ideology is very much still like the New York guys — you’ll get shamed by other comedians in the city if you dare to do something they have already seen you do on television. I understand doing some hits here and there, but you owe it to the people who came to see you to stay fresh.
What’s inspiring your material these days?
My son is 3 now, so I talk a little bit about potty training, and I talk about how there are too many Democrats running for office. You can’t even remember them all. We are at the point in this election where every debate, you’ve got to take a podium away. If you’re going to have 12 candidates, there can only be 11 podiums. Every debate will start with a sprint. It is musical podiums. I know that Bernie Sanders just had a heart attack, so the sprint may not seem fair, but these are the rules.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of Billboard.