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Roy Wood Jr. says he's leaving 'The Daily Show' but he doesn't hold a grudge

Roy Wood Jr. during election coverage on <em>The Daily Show with Trevor Noah </em>in 2016.
Jason Kempin
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Getty Images for Comedy Central
Roy Wood Jr. during election coverage on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in 2016.

Comic Roy Wood Jr. says he will not return to his position as a correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show when the show resumes new episodes later this month, ending a job he first started eight years ago.

The reason: Since he hasn't been offered the job as permanent host of the show, Wood wants some time to figure out his next act.

"I can't come up with Plan B is while still working with Plan A," says Wood, who has decided he doesn't want to be on The Daily Show as a correspondent waiting for someone else to take the top job. "The job of correspondent...it's not really one where you can juggle multiple things. [And] I think eight years is a good run."

When asked about Wood's departure and the issues surrounding his decision, a spokesperson for The Daily Show sent a brief statement: "Roy Wood Jr. is a comedic genius and beloved teammate. His insights and hilarity helped us make sense of the 2016 election, the pandemic, and countless hours of Fox News. We thank him for his time with us and can't wait to see what he does next."

Wood says he doesn't know if his name is under consideration for the top job and he has already informed Comedy Central of his intention not to return. ("What could they really say?" he adds when asked how the cable channel responded. [They're] not going to give me the job just to keep me.") But if Comedy Central offered him the permanent host job now, the comic says he would still consider it.

"If you're offered the chance to host The Daily Show at any point in your life...you have to stop for a second and consider that," he says, adding that he has not informed The Daily Show of his decision. "The next question becomes, 'What does The Daily Show look like in 2024? And what does late night look like in 2024?'"

Fans have debated online whether Wood should get the permanent job, particularly following reports earlier this year that former correspondent Hasan Minhaj was a leading candidate to land the position.

The show began presenting a succession of guest hosts starting in January after South African comic Trevor Noah left the job. But those appearances ended in May after the Writers Guild of America strike halted production.

Wood seemed to make a strong case for taking over the top job earlier this year, after a successful week guest hosting The Daily Show in early April and an attention-getting set at the White House Correspondents Dinner at the end of that month.

"How Roy Wood Jr. crushed the toughest room in comedy," gushed a story in the Washington Post; notables ranging from Stephen Colbert to departed Daily Show host Noah all said Wood should be a strong contender to lead the program permanently. According to figures provided by Comedy Central in April, Wood had the second-best ratings of the show's first 11 guest hosts, second only to Al Franken and beating Minhaj.

Comedian Roy Wood Jr. at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2023.
Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Comedian Roy Wood Jr. at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2023.

Still, Variety broke news in August that Minhaj, who guest hosted the show the week of Feb. 27, was a leading candidate for the job, according to several unnamed sources. Other comics who had guest hosted the show, like Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman, were also rumored to be in contention.

But Variety reported last month that Comedy Central "is going back to square one" in its search for a permanent host after The New Yorker published a story revealing Minhaj had fabricated and exaggerated autobiographical stories in his standup specials, including incidents involving islamophobia.

Wood says the Variety story about Minhaj — which Comedy Central has not publicly confirmed — made him think more about his future on the show. And he still thinks Minhaj is a strong candidate for the job, despite the New Yorker story.

"I think Hasan checks a lot of boxes that the network would want and people would want," Wood adds. "Hasan's young, he's global and he has the political I.Q."

The Daily Show's process of finding a permanent host has likely been extended by the Writers Guild of America strike, which led the show to stop production of new episodes in May just as correspondent Dulce Sloan began her stint as a guest host. The show announced it will return to new episodes on Oct. 16 with a new lineup of guest hosts, with plans to install a permanent host in early 2024.

Wood, 44, joined The Daily Show as a correspondent in 2015; one of the first performers hired by Noah as he arrived to succeed Jon Stewart as host. Raised in Birmingham, Ala., he's starred in three standup comedy specials on Comedy Central, also appearing in TV shows and films like Confess, Fletch and Only Murders in the Building.

He stresses that he doesn't hold a grudge against Comedy Central, which he credits for working with him on several non-Daily Show projects, including the standup specials, two podcasts, a filmed pilot for a TV series that never aired and three scripts they bought but never produced.

But late night TV has seen a recent exodus of non-white stars — from Desus and Mero and Ziwe to Trevor Noah himself. And Wood remains concerned that, as the genre contracts, people of color are stuck in a "last hired, first fired" position.

"I don't believe diversity to be the paramount priority [anymore]," Wood says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.