- Wyatt Cenac lives and stands up in Brooklyn.
The Netflix special Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn is all about the comedian’s Brooklyn, from its intimate venues (including Union Hall, where the show was filmed) to its gentrified enclaves. The borough is also the backdrop for musings on Cenac’s personal shortcomings. He combines biting bits about past and present Brooklynites with “why I’m still single” lines and delivers a performance that’s more observational than political, and hilarious overall.
Cenac’s Brooklyn bona fides extend beyond his current Fort Greene residence; though he grew up in Dallas, he summered in New York (Crown Heights, not the Catskills) with his grandmother. There’s plenty of regional humor, but it remains pretty inclusive: it shouldn’t be hard to get what’s funny about a designer mayonnaise store showing up in Brooklyn, especially since a decade or two prior to that “if you wanted anything that was small batch and artisanal, it was just drugs.” But since his Fort Greene address places him squarely in the same gentrified areas he’s riffing on, this particular section doesn’t end in incitement.
The second half of the special is a bit more confessional, and includes a stretch of jokes that ends with the comedian talking about his father, a cab driver who was shot and killed while on duty. Mining painful memories is pretty standard in comedy, but Cenac’s approach isn’t exactly therapeutic; I mean, there is puppet accompaniment. Thanks to his trademark deliberate delivery, this brief look into his past ends up feeling natural, not like oversharing.
Brooklyn debuted on October 21, and is also available on limited-edition vinyl. Cenac is currently touring in promotion of the special, and he took some time to talk with me by phone about his Netflix release and his upcoming Chicago show at the Laugh Factory on October 25.
On puppetry and parting gifts:
“In theory, the best way to experience stand-up comedy is at the show. The second best is to listen [to audio] and close your eyes, picture what’s happening, and get wrapped up in it. But watching others watch someone else can pull the [at-home] viewer out of the show, so I added the element of puppets to make it more dynamic. I had this very nicely made, incredibly expensive puppet of myself (made by Puppet Heap) that I took with me when I left The Daily Show. And I’ve always been a fan of puppets, so I just thought it would be a strange, new way to experience the show.”
On finding the right time to “joke” about tragedy (his father’s murder, in particular):
“There’s no specific amount of time that has to lapse to talk about it in that context. I wasn’t waiting for the right time; it was more about having all of the pieces come together in just the right way, and then having the chance to look back.”
On his limited-edition vinyl LP:
“We filmed at a smaller venue that had a really intimate feel, and I think [a vinyl release] kind of reflects that. It requires more attention, more focus from the audience than a download, which is something that people can listen to passively in their cars while sitting in traffic. I’m a fan of comedy records and have a fair number of them; there’s just something about hearing all the background noise—the laughter and clinking of glasses—that really appeals to me.”
On working with Netflix on his second comedy special:
“It was great; they were really supportive and didn’t balk at any of my ideas. They just allowed me to do my thing. I had lots of freedom with the material and in the editing process. And my hope is that even if it takes some time for people to watch this, they will have a great time and will want to share it with others.”
Wyatt Cenac: Brooklyn is now streaming on Netflix.