Why It’s So Difficult for Black Comedians to Be Political in Late-Night Sets and a Comedian Who Broke Through

By
Amanda Seales.

Tuesday afternoon, stand-up comedian and Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. did a quick Twitter thread about what it’s like being a black comedian performing on a late-night show, inspired by the unflinchingly political set by Amanda Seales on Late Night With Seth Meyers Monday night. Wood — who has performed on The Tonight Show and Conan multiple times — explains how a late-night set comes together as a sort of negotiation between the comedian and the show that books them. For shows with dedicated stand-up bookers — like Conan and The Late Show — the booker also works with the comic to land on a set that makes sense for their show. It’s a pretty classic way of running a late-night show, especially those where the host likes to have a good amount of control over the tone of the show. Wood says a lot is lost in the process. “Half of my first hour special is just a compilation of race jokes I couldn’t do on late night shows,” he writes. Currently Late Night doesn’t work this way, largely because they don’t book as many stand-ups as other shows, so they wouldn’t have a person in this job. Also, considering Meyers has always showcased others’ perspectives as opposed to having them fit into his (like with his regular segment “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell”) this sort of filtering just wouldn’t jibe. Seales’s material feels perfectly at home on a show that also gives Amber Ruffin a platform. Ultimately, Wood’s thread, which you can read below, gives a fascinating look into one of the many gatekeepers in comedy.

Black Comedians’ Struggle to Be Political in Late-Night Sets