Is Wyatt Cenac’s New ‘Night Train’ Series TV Or Stand Up Comedy? Yes It Is.
If you live in TV-land, Wyatt Cenac is that dude who made The Daily Show dryly hilarious with his incredible run as writer and correspondent before ultimately parting ways (and then briefly, awkwardly, touchingly reuniting with) host Jon Stewart. (Hell, if you live on Okayplayer TV-land, he’s that guy playing with kittens and interviewing Joey Bada$$, but I humble-brag.) If you live in Brooklyn, however, he is the guy you go watch as he induces a club full of people to hurt themselves laughing. There’s nothing dry about his long-running, open format stand up residency at Littlefield, or his talent for unearthing the most amazingly bad b-movies of all time for his Shouting At The Screen movie night series with Donwill.
Cenac returns to terrestrial TV this fall in the TBS series Earth People, described as an “alien abduction comedy” produced by Conan O’Brien‘s Conaco in conjunction with Warner Horizon and directed by Greg Daniels (of The Office and Parks & Recreation fame). But in between he is taking us on The Night Train–a new series which debuts on NBC Universal’s SeeSo platform tomorrow June 30th–and which is something not quite TV and not quite stand up comedy. Wyatt was gracious enough to take Okayplayer’s call and break it all down for us, as well as providing a glimpse into the behind the scenes preparations for Earth People. Read on–and if you don’t live in Brooklyn, hit play on clips from the series to learn just how lit dry can be.
OKP: So what is this new series about?
Wyatt Cenac: Well, I’ve been doing this residency at Littlefield for about four years now, so we basically put cameras on what I’ve been doing there, which is a good chunk of stand up from me but also a lot of guests coming through. We have some people probably know like Roy Wood, Jr., Michael Che, Janeane Garofalo, Eugene Mirman, Hannibal [Buress] and some great people who are less known like Sasheer Zamata.
OKP: Now as I remember, this is the same venue where in the middle of one stand up session, you screened Kanye’s unreleased HBO pilot [which you were cast in] correct?
WC: Yep, that’s correct.
OKP: Does the taped series include some surprises like that, or things where you just kinda scrapped a regular stand up routine and brought in other things to bounce of of?
WC: Yeah, there’s both. There’s a lot of just stand up, both from me and people I invited but also we had Ahmir [Questlove] come through and we challenged him with like a gameshow thing about sneakers? ‘Cause he’s known to have about 2000 pairs of sneakers, so we played a game with him to see if he could identify shoes he owns, as opposed to shoes he doesn’t own…
OKP: How’d he do?
WC: Pretty good. He was pretty good with picking out his own shoes. We also did a thing where basically just decided to cash in on the whole Hamilton phenomenon and so I wrote a hip-hop musical about Grover Cleveland that involves rap battles between Jean Grae and Shamir, of course Donwill from Tanya Morgan DJing and getting on the mic.
OKP: That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about the times I’ve seen you do stand up live, is the willingness to just go off-format, it’s kind of the best parts of a TV show and live comedy…which would you say is your focus? I know you’re always working on ideas for TV or script treatments on the side, do you hold some of those back, are you trying them out in stand up first?