Wyatt Cenac made us laugh for four seasons as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His adventures took him as far away as Sweden on a quest to discover whether socialism was destroying the attractive populace, and he manned the puppet version of former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who was forbidden by party muckety-mucks from appearing on the show during elections season. Suddenly last December, Cenac traded in his fake press credentials to pursue other interests like standup, which he’ll be doing Sunday night at the Friends of Nature Music Festival at Virginia Key.
What made you leave “The Daily Show?”
I had and have other aspirations and rather than have my attention split between trying to do the best I can and trying to work on my own goals. It seemed like it was a good time to take a leave and bet on myself. Hopefully I don’t come up snake eyes.
What was your favorite moment as a correspondent?
I remember doing a field piece at Sonia Sotomayor’s old high school. I didn’t have the awful pit of nerves that I initially had when you first start and you are interviewing people and they are not in on the joke. You always feel like ‘Oh, I hope I don’t make this person cry.’ And any of the ones when I got to do stuff with the other correspondents like when John Oliver and I went to Rhinebeck, N.Y., to cover Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. We just goofed off all day.
You came back to tell John Oliver how bad he was doing as a sub for Jon Stewart this summer. Was it like a family reunion?
It was great to see everybody. They changed the office after I left. They put down a nice wood floor in part of the studio, which I took personally, like they thought I would pee on the new floor. But that happened to me in high school; the year after I graduated they changed out the carpet and did a bunch of renovations.
You co-starred in an HBO pilot with Kanye West that never got picked up. Can the rapper add comedian to his list of titles?
I got to spend a good amount of time with him. He was the first to admit that he wasn’t the best actor or improviser, but he had an idea about what he thought was funny and he really deferred to everyone else. He wanted to surround himself with people that he knew were good in the hope that he would rise to meet them. There’s a certain genius in knowing these are my weaknesses and if I surround myself with talented people they will cover for me.
Is standup addictive?
There’s definitely an addictive quality. If you have a bad set you have a hunger to get back on stage and wash the taste out of your mouth. If you have a great set you have a hunger to get back on stage to recapture that feeling. It is unique: The way you can make a connection with the audience where they bear with you every step of the way even when you go for a long chunk without a big laugh. When the big laugh comes, they feel it and the laughter becomes the release of all this tension. In that way it creates a bit of an endorphin rush.