Talking weather, Robyn, and child porn 

A conversation with The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac

click to enlarge SETH OLENICK
  • Seth Olenick

The Reader-sponsored Tomorrow Never Knows music festival is expanding into comedy for the first time this year, and Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac is one of the headliners along with Todd Barry and Chicago's own Hannibal Buress. (Three other local funnypeople will be opening for Cenac at his two sold-out shows: Cameron Esposito, Tony Mendoza, and Gabe Wallace.) Cenac's fake reporting is strong, but the former King of the Hill writer is funny off-camera, too.

You live in New York, you lived in LA before that. What do you think of Chicago?

I like Chicago. I've only been a few times. The last time I was there it was summertime, for the Pitchfork festival. That was a lot of fun. Prior to that I've been in the winter. That was really cold, and I'm trying to prepare myself for that again.

It's been pretty mild lately.

That's good. But mild by Chicago standards is probably a blizzard anywhere else.

How'd the Pitchfork gig go?

It was a lot of fun. I've done shows outside before, but it's weird when there are two other stages playing music at the same time. There was a little bit of—well, I'm performing, but I'm also having to try to be more interesting than Robyn, who I believe was on her stage at the same time as me. It was very difficult. She puts on a good show. It was like, hmm, you could hear the exciting music of Robyn or the lackadaisical musings of this guy.

You're known for your work on The Daily Show, but not as much for stand-up. What's the highlight of your stand-up career so far?

A couple years ago I got to perform at Central Park, which was another outdoor show. I doubt I'm ever going to be doing anything at Madison Square Garden, so Central Park is about as close as I'm probably going to get. I was like, oh, OK, that's pretty cool. And also cool because afterwards someone from the park told me they got a lot of complaints because I was cursing. If you weren't at the show, and you were just roller-skating or in a canoe nearby, you heard these random curse words really loud for no reason, ruining your picnic.

You've got some great stories. Would you share the one about Jeffrey Jones, the actor who played the high school principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and got in trouble later for taking dirty pictures of a 14-year-old boy?

I met this woman and asked her out one Saturday. She said she'd love to; her friend is in this play, maybe we can go see that. She showed up to my spot—this was a first date—and her mother was with her. Her mom wasn't just dropping her off. My date was like, "Oh, yeah, this is my mom, she's coming along too."

Immediately, I'm not sure if this is a date that's been kicked in high gear—because I'm already meeting her mom—or not a date at all. Or a third option: this is a date with her mom, who was a very flirty lady who kept showing off her cleavage. That could've been a possibility.

We all get in my car and drive to the theater. We get to the theater and the friend is a seventh grader. It's a play with just seventh graders. Now it's turned really weird, and there's an element that makes me wonder, Is this a Big situation? Am I dating a 13-year-old girl trapped in a 26-year-old woman's body? 'Cause this is strange. They explain that the seventh grader is a friend of the family, and that's why the mom is there, too.

So we get there and get to our seats. This guy comes in as the lights are starting to go down, and it's Jeffrey Jones from Ferris Bueller. And the other thing I know about him is he got arrested for child porn.

I don't even remember what the play was about because the whole time I was freaking out that Jeffrey Jones is two rows in front of me and I feel like I need to say something. There's a fucking guy who's been arrested for child porn looking at a bunch of children—and they were doing an adult play, like it wasn't a child's play. It had to do with religion, it was something serious.

I wound up sort of tapping my date on the shoulder, because I felt like we needed to rally people, like we needed to stop the play and get the dude out. We had to do something. If a criminal showed up at a birthday party, you'd be like, "Oh, no, we can't have Jack the Ripper here! We gotta get rid of him!" So I have to tell her. Something has to be done. "Hey, Jeffrey Jones, the dude from Ferris Bueller, is two rows in front of us." And her immediate response was, "Oh, Jeffrey, he's great! He's a friend of the family, too." And now it's like, OK, there's not gonna be a second date here.

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